Tomatoes Get the Sweet Treatment

Though tomatoes are classified as fruit — berries, technically — they’re sorely lacking in the thing we primarily associate with fruit: sweetness. Your typical farm stand tomato has as much sugar as a Brussels sprout. Some tomatoes, depending on the variety and the degree to which they’re allowed to ripen on the vine, can achieve a greater degree of sweetness, though certainly not enough to make them competitive with the sorts of berries we sprinkle on ice cream. But that hasn’t stopped some chefs from trying to fashion dessert courses with them. As reader Lee points out, Alan Passard did just that in the 90’s, creating a dish that’s elegantly described in this eGullet post:

They take a tomato, sort a very large cherry tomato, blanch it, peel it, remove the insides, and then slowly sauté it over a low flame for two hours all the while basting it in orange caramel. They then make a filling of a dozen flavors like pistachio, cinnamon, clove, pineapple, etc and stuff the tomato with it. They heat it at tableside and our version was flambéed with Calvados just before serving. A small scoop of soft mint ice cream is served alongside it.

The finished dessert looks like this. I’d be curious to try it, though most of the reviews I’ve found for Passard’s creation are rather tepid. Reader Lee, who tried making the dessert at home, describes it thusly: “more than anything else, it reminded me of my grandmother’s fruit cake, which is not necessarily a good thing.”

This is not to say that tomatoes always fail in a sweet context. Long-time readers of might remember the tomato jam recipe I put up a couple of years ago. It’s so sweet and delicious, little three-year-old Joan Pastry won’t eat southern biscuits without it.

Even so, few will deny that the tomato ultimately belongs on the savory side of the menu. For what it lacks in natural sugar it more than makes up for in its abundance of glutamic acid. Those of you who’ve read previous posts on glutamate may recall that these are the sorts of compounds that are responsible for stimulating the umami (rough translation: “meaty”) taste receptors on the tongue. No wonder tomatoes marry so well with steaks and burgers. They were practically made for each another.

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