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Many people are surprised to learn that tomatoes aren’t vegetables. Nope! Tomatoes are actually fruit. Take a look at one and you’ll quickly notice that they contain seeds. Regardless, you can use tomatoes in a variety of healthy recipes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Here’s more about tomato nutrition, if it’s safe to eat canned tomatoes, and what simple recipes you can start making today.

Tomato nutrition

Your summer garden may be bursting at the seams with tomatoes. Eat them up! One-half cup of fresh tomatoes contains just 15 calories and gives you 15 percent of your daily recommended amount of vitamin A. It also contains 20 percent of the recommended vitamin C and 2 percent of iron.

If summer is still months away, you can hit your local market in search of juicy beefsteak tomatoes or colorful heirlooms. But in the winter months, fresh tomatoes can be hard to come by and pricey to boot. Canned tomatoes are available year-round, inexpensive, and stay good in your pantry for years. Nearly 80 percent of the tomatoes eaten in the United States are canned. And get this: They may actually contain more of certain good-for-you nutrients than their fresh counterparts.

Why canned?

Canned tomatoes contain much higher levels of vitamin E and carotenoids, like lycopene, than fresh tomatoes. While one slice of raw tomato will give you 515 micrograms of lycopene, one-half cup of canned puree contains a whopping 27,192 micrograms. The top lycopene-containing foods include canned tomato puree, canned tomato juice, and canned tomato paste.

Why is lycopene important? It’s a mighty antioxidant that may help eliminate damaging free radicals in your body. Researchers are crediting lycopene with lowering the risk of anything from stroke to prostate, lung, and stomach cancers.

Safety and storage tips

  • Store canned tomatoes in a cool, dry place, like a pantry.
  • Once you’ve opened a can, store leftovers in the refrigerator using a tightly covered glass or plastic container.
  • Do not use metal or the original can to store canned tomatoes — they can cause the container to pit.
  • Always use tomatoes by the expiration date printed on the can.

What’s the buzz about BPA?

You may have heard that canned goods often contain an industrial chemical called bisphenol A — or BPA — in the vinyl lining of the cans. This is a valid concern because researchers have linked BPA with certain cancers. The good news is that you can purchase BPA-free canned tomatoes at your grocery store.

BPA-free tomato brands

Now, let’s get cooking!

1. Roasted tomato soup

A photo posted by Julia Kiener (@jucaletta) on

Yes! You can roast canned tomatoes. Doing so brings out the sweetness in them. This roasted tomato soup recipe calls for a 28-ounce can of whole tomatoes. Preheat your oven to 425°F (128°C). Then drain and rinse the tomatoes before crushing them by hand. Top them with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and place them in a roasting pan with garlic for 35 to 40 minutes.

You’ll then cook the roasted tomatoes with a mixture of cooked onions, canned tomato paste, chicken (or vegetable) broth, and rosemary. Let it cool slightly and puree in your blender before serving with toasted bread.

2. Slow cooker chili

Like a more hands-off approach? This vegetarian chili comes together fast in your slow cooker. Combine a 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes with a variety of beans, veggies, and spices. Set your cooker to low for six to eight hours or high for three to four hours. Add in some couscous about 10 minutes before serving. Then top with shredded cheese.

3. Tomato Caprese

Impress your friends with a fancy-looking fire-roasted tomato arugula caprese appetizer. You’ll need one 28-ounce can of fire-roasted tomatoes, a baguette, arugula, fresh mozzarella, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper.

Cut the baguette into half-inch slices. Drain the tomatoes and cut them into slices that will fit atop the bread. Then assemble by drizzling a bit of olive oil and layering arugula, mozzarella, and tomatoes, roasted skin up for presentation. Top with the balsamic vinegar and seasonings, and enjoy.

4. Homemade tomato sauce

You can make a dynamite homemade tomato sauce to use on pasta or pizza with two 28-ounce cans of whole peeled tomatoes. Cook chopped onions in a large pot until they are translucent. Add garlic and cook a couple more minutes. Crush whole tomatoes with your hands and add both the pulp and juices to your pot. Then add oregano and simmer your sauce on the stove for 30 to 45 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

5. Baked eggs in sauce

You can use some of your leftover homemade sauce in this simple baked eggs dish. Preheat your oven and grease two small baking dishes. Divide around 15 ounces of sauce between the two dishes and crack one or two eggs into each. Cook for eight to 10 minutes, until the egg is just how you like it. Then top with fresh herbs and serve with crusty bread.

6. Chana masala

Chana masala is a savory Indian dish made with chickpeas. You’ll need a 28-ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes and a good dose of spices. Starting in a Dutch oven or large pot, heat oil on medium and cook cumin seeds until they pop. Increase the heat and add the onions, garlic, ginger, and serrano pepper. After five minutes, add your spices, including garam masala, coriander, and turmeric.

Add tomatoes, breaking them apart using your spoon. Be sure to leave some chunks for texture. Then add your chickpeas and simmer everything for 10 minutes. Serve this dish with basmati rice, and garnish with lemon and cilantro.

Bottom line

Canned tomatoes are affordable, versatile, good for you, and tasty. Plus, they’re available all year. So, what are you waiting for?!