Green tomatoes: Edible or poisonous?

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Green tomatoes are poisonous and should not be harvested until they have fully matured and turned completely red - this is a common gardening principle. But not only since Jon Avnet's "Green Tomatoes" 1991 film, in which deep-fried, green tomatoes are offered as the specialty at the Whistle Stop Café, many wonder if they are not edible. For example, in some regions, pickled green tomatoes or green tomato jam are even considered a delicacy. We'll tell you how much poison is actually found in green tomatoes and what it can do if you eat them.

The protective mechanisms of unripe fruit plants

If it is in the plant world to protect against predators, especially bear fruit-bearing plants special precautions. In tomato it's camouflage and a chemical cocktail. The unripe fruits are green and therefore harder to recognize between the leaves of the plant. Only when the fruits and the seeds contained in them have ripened enough to allow them to reproduce the tomato will they turn red or yellow depending on the variety. Even inside the fruit, all sorts of things happen during the ripening process. The green tomatoes contain the poisonous alkaloid solanin. It provides a defensive bitter taste and the immature fruits are still eaten in large quantities, soon become poisoning symptoms.

Green tomatoes

Unripe tomatoes are hard to spot in the foliage of the tomato bush - but good camouflage is just a protective mechanism of the plant

Green tomatoes contain the toxic alkaloid solanine

Solanine is one of the alkaloids. This chemical group includes several thousand active ingredients, most of which are contained in plants as antibodies. These include, for example, the colchicine of the autumn timeless and the strychnine of the vomer already deadly in small doses. However, capsaicin, which is responsible for pungency in chillies and hot peppers, or the sleep hormone morphine used in pain therapy also belongs to this group. In small doses of a few milligrams, many of the substances find application in medicine. It is usually dangerous when the parts of the plant containing the substances are consumed in larger quantities or otherwise consumed.

Pickled green tomatoes

Sweet and sour pickled tomatoes are tasty, but also to be enjoyed with caution, since the Solaninanteil is very high here

How toxic are green tomatoes really?

Since only the green plant parts of the tomato contain the alkaloid, there is a risk of intoxication even if it is consumed. The first serious signs of intoxication, such as drowsiness, heavy breathing, stomach discomfort, or diarrhea, occur in adult humans when they consume about 200 milligrams of solanine. If you consume more, your central nervous system will also be damaged, causing cramping and paralysis. A dose of around 400 milligrams is considered fatal.
Green tomatoes contain around 9 to 32 milligrams per 100 grams. In the case of the highest concentration of the alkaloid, 625 grams of unripe tomatoes would have to be eaten raw in order to produce the first strong signs of intoxication. However, since Solanin tastes very bitter, it is very unlikely that you inadvertently eat such a lot.

In the case of semi-ripe tomatoes, ie tomatoes that are already ripe, only 2 milligrams of solanine are contained per 100 grams of tomatoes. So you would have to take 10 kilograms of raw tomatoes to make it dangerous.
Once tomatoes have reached full ripeness, they contain only 0.7 milligrams per 100 grams at the most, which means that you would have to consume around 29 kilos of raw tomatoes to get into the zone of marked poisoning.
In summary, it is therefore relatively unlikely that one involuntarily poisoned with solanine due to the bitter taste and the relatively low concentration in semi-ripe tomatoes. However, in some regions green tomatoes are sweet-sour or jam is made from them. These products should be used with caution as Solanin is heat resistant and the bitter taste is masked by sugar, vinegar and spices. Especially with the variant of pickled tomatoes, it is assumed that up to 90 percent of the solanine content is still present, which can lead to poisoning even at consumption levels of 100 to 150 grams.

Ripe tomatoes

The more intense the red shade of a tomato, the more mature it is and the higher the content of healthy lycopene

Ripe tomatoes are healthy

As soon as tomatoes reach maturity, they are not only non-toxic but also very healthy.They contain a lot of potassium, vitamin C, folate and are also very low in calories (only about 17 kilocalories per 100 grams). Particularly interesting, however, is the contained lycopene, which also gives the ripe tomato an intense red color. It is one of the carotenoids and is considered radical scavengers. It is said to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, prostate cancer, diabetes mellitus, osteoporosis and infertility. According to one study, a daily intake of 7 milligrams has already improved endothelial dysfunction (dysfunction of the lymphatic and blood vessels) in cardiovascular patients.

These green tomatoes are edible

Even if you only harvest and consume conventional red or yellow-fruity tomatoes when they are fully mature, you do not have to give up green tomatoes altogether - if only to spice up a dish in color. Meanwhile, some green-fruiting varieties are commercially available, for example, the yellow-green striped 'Green Zebra', 'Limetto' or 'Green Grape'. They are not only characterized by a green outer skin, but also have green pulp and are completely harmless. Tip: For the right harvest time of green tomato varieties you recognize that the fruit gives way slightly under pressure.

Video Board: 5 Poisonous Foods You Love.

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