Why Tomatoes Are Indian Cooking Staples

// Indian cuisine, especially curries and gravies usually uses the tomatoes as a main ingredient. Learn more to know why are tomatoes a cooking staple in India.


Foods that people eat are as different as every person in the world. For instance, in Mexico, people mostly have steak tortillas, tacos, garlic beef enchiladas and turkey burritos with fresh fruit salsa. On the other hand, people in Italy prefer pizza, pasta, bread and wine.

You can also see this difference in India. 

overhead shot of 22 indian dishes

The most common dishes in India are tomato chutney, paneer makhani and thakkali thokku. You may notice that in Indian cuisine, especially soups, curries and gravy, cooks usually prepare the food using tomatoes as a main ingredient. So why are tomatoes a cooking staple in India? Keep reading to learn more. 

Types Of Tomatoes

There are two major types of tomatoes: indeterminate and determinate tomatoes. Determinate tomatoes are those of a specific size that takes a short period to ripen. On the other hand, indeterminate tomatoes continue growing until they’re able to. Examples of determinate examples include marglobe, Roma, celebrity and Rutgers. Examples of indeterminate tomatoes include early girl, big boy, cherry tomatoes and heirloom.

If you’re unfamiliar with these types of tomatoes, here are a factors to differentiate them:

  • Determinate tomatoes grow up to 4 inches while indeterminate tomatoes grow up to 12 feet. For this reason, the latter needs staking for support. Also, determinate tomatoes are known as bush tomatoes because of their length.

  • Determinate tomatoes ripen within a shorter period, they’re used for mass canning.

  • Indeterminate tomatoes are good with in-ground planting which allows them to receive sunlight on all plants.

  • Determinate tomatoes grow at the terminal of the plants while indeterminate tomatoes grow along the sides of the shoots.

Why Are Tomatoes Important In Indian Cuisine ?

When speaking of Indian food, the first thing that likely comes to mind is the sourness and spiciness of their meals. Indian cuisine is known for its acidic, sweet and tangy taste. To achieve this structure, you need tomatoes.

For Indians, there’s no escaping tomatoes; indefinitely, tomatoes are an Indian staple. 

That said, here are some reasons tomatoes are an Indian cooking staple:

tomato chutney in a transparent jar with one more jar in the background

1. They Add Sourness

Many know Indian dishes, such as curries, for its spiciness. However, sourness is also a crucial element as it gives curries and gravy bite, livening up the starches in some curries. There are several ingredients you can use to add sourness to dishes. They include tamarind, lime, vinegar, amchur and kokum. Despite the availability of these ingredients, Indian recipes call for tomatoes because they serve more purpose than sourness.

Some Indian dishes have thick sauces. For this reason, these recipes use tomatoes to thicken the sauce. Tomato walls have stabilizers and emulsifiers that are released when cooked on high heat. When these components are released, they release acidity, which forms sourness.

Also, they form a solid base for other spices and the main ingredient. As a result, a thick sauce is formed, which is perfect for rotis or rice. 

2. They Add Health Benefits To Dishes

Besides enjoying meals, it’s also important to be mindful of your health. You can add certain ingredients to your meal to make it tasty and healthy. One ingredient packed full of nutrients is your simple tomato.

Tomatoes contain an antioxidant known as lycopene. Some studies found that lycopene may help reduce the risk of getting heart disease or cancer. The lycopene levels increase the more you cook the tomatoes in a dish.

Moreover, they contain vitamin C, which, together with lycopene, prevents aging and gives you healthy-looking skin. 

Furthermore, tomatoes are low in fat. This means the foods prepared with tomatoes have low cholesterol. Therefore, tomato-based meals might help reduce the calories you take. 

3. They Are Readily Available In Any Country

India is among the biggest tomato producers, with an estimated 20,000,000 tonnes between 2019 and 2020. This means they’re readily available, and you can buy tomatoes in your local grocery.

Their availability has resulted in them being used in most cooking as you’ll always find this ingredient in the fruit and vegetable aisle, especially during harvest season.

4. They Can Be Used To Fit In Several Meals

Unlike many ingredients, you can use tomatoes to prepare many dishes, not just Indian recipes. However, how you cut your tomatoes determines which meals you can prepare. For instance, chopped tomatoes are best when preparing bhuna, curry or gravy recipes.

Tomatoes cut into cubes or slices are great for preparing salads. Moreover, you can cut tomatoes into ring circles to prepare sandwiches. Additionally, other meals are prepared by cutting tomatoes into quarters or half pieces.

Also, you can blend the tomatoes and use the paste to thicken sauces. 

5. They Provide Staples With A Rich Colour

People are visual creatures, and they judge whether a meal will taste good or not by how it looks. According to this logic, the better a meal looks, naturally, the better it will taste. Indian staples such as curries have a deep, rich red or brown colour.

In this case, tomatoes add the rich red colour that put Indian cuisine on the culinary map. 

6. They’re Easy To Store

How easy it is to store an ingredient determines how often you use it. The easier it is to store an ingredient, the more you use it, as you can buy it in bulk and use it in portions. Doing so saves time and money, and it’s cheaper when you buy things in large quantities.

Tomatoes don’t require much, and they can stay for long.

You have a couple of options for storing tomatoes. For instance, you can refrigerate them if you want them to remain fresh for weeks. You can also freeze them to lock in the freshness for months.

Alternatively, you can store them at room temperature, but keep them away from direct sunlight.

Moreover, tomatoes don’t go bad all at once. But after you notice some tomatoes have started to spoil, you should throw them away to prevent the rest from going bad.

Between Fresh And Processed Tomatoes, Which Is Better?

As you know, tomatoes are a staple in many cuisines. However, the question is, which type of tomatoes is suitable for these recipes, specifically Indian cuisine? Should you go for fresh tomatoes or processed ones? Here are some factors to help you decide which is better:

  • Processed tomatoes have a richer red colour, making curries, soups and sauces look better.

  • Processed tomatoes also have a stronger tomato taste than fresh ones. 

  • Processed tomatoes lose some health benefits during processing. As a result, fresh tomatoes might be better if you’re conscious about what you eat.

  • Although both types contain lycopene, the human body absorbs lycopene from processed tomatoes better than fresh ones. As mentioned, this is an antioxidant that reduces the risks of cancer and heart diseases. 

However, these factors aren’t the only things to consider. What dish you want to prepare also determines which type is better. For instance, fresh tomatoes are sumptuous for salads, while processed tomatoes are good when preparing curries.

Therefore, ensure you choose the right type of tomatoes and consider these factors and the dish you want to prepare.

Summing It Up

The meals that people often have differ from country to country. But one ingredient common among different cuisines are tomatoes. Tomatoes provide elements like sourness, vibrant colours and health benefits.

Plus, you can store them easily as long as you keep them in cool temperatures. These benefits aren’t the only reason tomatoes are staples in Indian cooking. Try cooking any Indian dish today and taste the difference tomatoes bring.


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