Tomatoes are a staple ingredient in many Hispanic dishes. As a fruit that originated in South America, the tomato has become deeply ingrained in Hispanic cuisines over centuries of cultivation and cooking. From Mexico to Spain, tomatoes lend their bright flavors, colors and textures to some of the most iconic Hispanic foods.
Why are tomatoes so popular in Hispanic cuisine?
There are a few key reasons why tomatoes are so ubiquitous across Hispanic cuisines:
- Tomatoes were first cultivated in South America, so they have been used in regional cuisines for hundreds of years.
- The climate of many Hispanic countries, like Mexico and Spain, is ideal for growing tomatoes.
- Tomatoes add vibrant color, tangy flavor and varied textures to dishes.
- As a versatile ingredient, tomatoes can be used in everything from sauces to stews to salsas.
- Tomatoes are nutritious, providing vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
With their deep roots in Hispanic food culture, it’s no wonder tomatoes are found in so many signature dishes from across Latin America and Spain.
Iconic Hispanic Tomato Dishes
From hearty stews to colorful salsas, tomatoes shine in many classic Hispanic recipes. Here are some of the most popular tomato-based dishes found across Hispanic cuisines:
This chilled tomato soup hails from the Andalusia region of southern Spain. The bright red soup is made by pureeing fresh tomatoes with cucumber, bell pepper, bread crumbs, olive oil, garlic and sherry vinegar. Tart, refreshing and perfect for hot weather, gazpacho is a beloved Spanish classic.
Pico de Gallo
Meaning “rooster’s beak” in Spanish, pico de gallo is a fresh Mexican salsa made from chopped tomatoes, onion, cilantro, lime juice and chilies. The tomato-based salsa adds vibrant flavor to tacos, meats, tortilla chips and more. Pico de gallo offers a tasty showcase for ripe, juicy Mexican tomatoes.
This Tunisian and Israeli breakfast dish features poached eggs simmered in a seasoned tomato sauce. The red sauce is made with tomatoes, olive oil, onions, garlic and spices like cumin and paprika. Shakshouka makes a satisfying, protein-packed start to the day.
Spanish Romesco Sauce
Originating from the Catalonia region, romesco is a thick sauce used to top everything from fish to sandwiches to vegetables. The sauce combines tomatoes with roasted peppers, garlic, almonds, olive oil and vinegar. Smoky, nutty and slightly sweet, it’s a versatile tomato-based sauce.
A popular Mexican comfort food, chilaquiles are made from fried corn tortilla pieces bathed in tomato-chili salsa. The tortilla chips soften in the salsa and absorb the flavors. Protein, cheese and other toppings are added to the tomato-tinted dish.
Hailing from Andalusia like its cousin gazpacho, salmorejo is a puréed tomato soup thickened with bread. Onions, garlic, olive oil and sherry vinegar round out the flavor. Toppings like hard boiled egg, Serrano ham and croutons are common.
Cherry Tomato Salsa
This salsa features sweet, bite-sized cherry or grape tomatoes instead of larger varieties. The small tomatoes are chopped along with onions, cilantro and chilies to make a chunky, flavor-packed salsa for dipping tortilla chips.
A Spanish dish similar to paella, fideuà uses short noodles instead of rice. The noodles are cooked in a seasoned tomato-based seafood broth along with clams, mussels, shrimp and squid. Fideuà is a Valencian specialty that relies on the flavors of ripe tomatoes.
In this popular Mexican breakfast, corn tortillas are topped with fried eggs and an intensely flavored tomato-chili sauce. The sauce is made from tomatoes, onions, garlic and chilies like serrano, poblano or jalapeño. With its spicy tomato topping, huevos rancheros makes for a fiery morning wake-up call.
While fillings vary widely, tamales from Mexico and Central America often feature tomato-based salsas and moles as fillings or toppings. These hand-wrapped steamed masa dumplings pull deep flavor from tomato-based sauces and salsas.
Tomatoes Across Hispanic Cuisines
Beyond iconic dishes, tomatoes make their way into countless other foods across Hispanic cuisines. Here is a survey of some common ways tomatoes are used:
From pico de gallo to salsa verde to habanero salsa, tomatoes are the base of countless Mexican, Tex-Mex and Central/South American salsas. The tomatoes provide flavorful liquid to blend with onions, peppers and herbs.
This Latin American raw seafood dish marinates raw fish and shellfish in citrus juices, including lime, lemon and bitter orange. Diced tomatoes and tomato juice help provide liquid and complementary flavor.
Quesadillas are a staple of Mexican cuisine, made from tortillas filled with cheese and other ingredients. Chopped tomato and tomato-based salsas add moisture, flavor and color to basic quesadillas.
These Latin American hand pies can be filled with various meats, cheeses or vegetables. Tomato-based sauces and salsas often flavor empanada fillings, providing acidity to balance out the richness.
Moles are complex Mexican sauces made from chilies, spices and nuts. Tomatoes offer additional depth of flavor, color and texture to rich moles paired with meats and poultry.
A traditional hominy stew, pozole is found throughout Mexico. It often contains pork and can be topped with lime, onion, cabbage and radish. Tomatoes in the base bring acidity and richness.
This Mexican soup features sautéed tomatoes as its base, along with garlic, onion and chilies. Fried tortilla strips are the signature garnish for the boldly flavored tomato broth.
Spanish-style chorizo links and patties are flavored with paprika, garlic and other spices. Tomatoes are often added to chorizo recipes for additional moisture and to complement the spices.
This aromatic Latin American sauce made from tomatoes, peppers, onions and herbs forms the flavor base for many dishes. Used alone or in stews and rice dishes, sofrito showcases the savory flavors of slowly cooked tomatoes.
A Mexican bread pudding, capirotada utilizes tomatoes in the form of tomato sauce along with spices and cheese in between layers of bread. It makes for a comforting, lightly sweet tomato-infused dish.
Thinly sliced raw beef is drizzled with olive oil, lemon juice and Parmesan cheese in this Italian-inspired Latin American dish. Tomatoes and tomato juice are also often used to marinate and moisten the beef carpaccio.
Key Tomato Varieties in Hispanic Cuisines
Hispanic regions have access to a wide range of delicious tomato varieties that lend themselves to regional cooking:
Also known as Italian plum tomatoes, Roma tomatoes have a thick meaty texture with few seeds, making them ideal for cooking down into sauces and salsas. This oval red variety appears in many iconic Hispanic dishes.
Known for their large size, juicy red beefsteak tomatoes are delicious sliced fresh in salads and sandwiches. Their robust tomato flavor also shines when they are charred, roasted or stewed.
Oaxacan Pink Tomato
As the name suggests, this heirloom variety has a deep pink hue when ripe. With a good balance of sweet and tart flavors, it’s used for salsas and moles in its native Oaxaca, Mexico.
Unripe green tomatoes have a tart, vegetal taste that pairs well with spices in salsas verdes and green moles found in Mexican cuisine. Fried green tomatoes are also popular.
Cherry and Grape Tomatoes
Bite-sized cherry and grape tomatoes offer sweetness and poppable texture. They work well in fresh salsas or as toppings for bruschetta, tarts and pizzas in Hispanic cooking.
San Marzano Tomatoes
Grown in Italy, San Marzano tomatoes are prized for their thin skin, few seeds, meaty flesh and bittersweet flavor. They excel when canned or cooked down into rich sauces.
Tomatoes From Mexican States
Mexico grows many excellent tomato varieties in states like Sinaloa, Baja California, Sonora, and Jalisco. These local tomatoes have incredible flavor when eaten simply with lime and chili powder.
Tomato Production in Latin America
Latin American countries are major producers of tomatoes, supplying many of the tomatoes used in Hispanic cuisine worldwide:
Mexico produces around 3.7 million tons of tomatoes per year, making it one of the top tomato producers globally. Sinaloa and Baja California are major tomato-growing states.
Chile exports over 800,000 tons of tomatoes annually, with peak season from December to March. The northern desert regions are ideal for growing tomatoes.
Though not a top global producer, Peru still grows significant tomato crops in coastal areas south of Lima. Tomatoes anchor Peruvian ceviche and stews.
Tomato production happens year-round in Cuba. Varieties like the small-sized Platense and Creole tomatoes thrive on the tropical island and fuel Criollo-style cooking.
Argentina produces around 1 million tons of tomatoes per year, with hot spots like the Rio Negro valley. Much is used domestically for Argentine cuisine.
Spain grows over 600,000 tons of tomatoes annually, with the Extremadura region known for quality tomatoes like the pimiento and beefsteak varieties.
Guatemala exports around 17,000 tons of tomatoes yearly. The Guatemalan banana tomato has a sweeter taste perfect for salsas.
|Annual Tomato Production
|3.7 million tons
|1.2 million tons
|1 million tons
Buying Tomatoes for Hispanic Dishes
When buying tomatoes for homemade Hispanic recipes, keep the following tips in mind:
- Choose tomatoes that smell fresh and feel heavy for their size.
- Look for smooth, taut and shiny skins without blemishes.
- Beefsteak or heirloom varieties work well for fresh applications.
- Canned whole, crushed or diced tomatoes are great for sauces and stews.
- Choose Roma or paste tomato products for cooking down into salsas.
- Prioritize vine-ripened tomatoes for peak flavor.
- Experiment with local or regional heirloom varieties at farmer’s markets.
- Avoid refrigerating tomatoes to prevent losing flavor from chill damage.
With so many uses across Hispanic food cultures, tomatoes are an integral ingredient. From Mexico to Argentina to Spain, bright, flavorful tomatoes lend their signature taste, color and nutrition to iconic stews, salsas, sauces and moles. Keep these fantastic tomato-based Hispanic recipes on hand to add some Latin flair to your kitchen. ¡Buen provecho!