Why Tomatoes Only Killed The Rich

Before tomatoes became the most popular vegetable (though technically a fruit) in the world, they had to overcome a deadly reputation.

Tomatoes are thought to have originated in the Americas back in 700 AD. By the 16th century they had found their way to Europe where they were met with mixed reviews.

The red fruit was embraced by the those living in the poorer regions but met resistance with the wealthy and for good reason.

Back in the 1500’s the wealthy were able to afford pewter utensils and plates, while the poorer regions made due with wood. Unfortunately the pewter of the time was heavily laced with lead.

The acidic nature of tomatoes caused lead to leach out of the pewter dinnerware resulting in lead poisoning. This led to the conclusion by the rich that tomatoes were deadly. And, for them, they were. Just not for the reason they thought.

Their lethal reputation followed tomatoes back to America where people grew them as ornamentals but were reluctant to put them on the menu.

Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson of Salem, New Jersey put those fears to rest on September 26, 1820, when in a widely publicized stunt, he stood on the steps of the Salem courthouse and proceeded to eat an entire basket of tomatoes in front of a wide-eyed crowd.

Had the Colonel ate the tomatoes with lead contaminated dinnerware, history might have been quite different. However, since he ate the tomatoes with his bare hands, fears were put to rest and tomatoes soon became a staple the world over.

*Fortunately, today’s pewter is made from lead-free sources.