Tomato Salt, a Love Story


I will probably sound like a proud parent as I describe the new batch of Tomato Salt we have added to our online store this week.  Every single tomato got its start last winter when I ordered seeds.   I chose varieties based on taste (Chadwick Cherry and Sun Gold), high-lycopene levels (Indigo Apple, which has the highest lycopene content of any tomato tested), texture (Roma paste tomatoes), color (Green Zebra, an heirloom that stays green when ripe), and heritage (such heirloom varieties as Brandywine and Stupice). That's a sampling of our tomatoes in the photo above.
 
 My friend John and I started every tomato seedling in our greenhouses late last winter and together transplanted the seedlings into our composted, hand-dug beds in mid-spring.  Following the tomato-growing methods of the renowned gardener Alan Chadwick, we gave each bed a liberal helping of bone meal and azomite.  Both of these amendments increase disease resistance in the plants, but more important, they also improve nutrient content as well as flavor of the ripe tomatoes.  The tomatoes were nurtured with drip irrigation throughout their lives, given more water in the early stages to improve growth, then less water during ripening to improve flavor and nutrient density.

Starting on June 8 we harvested our first tomato, the delicious cherry tomato Sun Gold. Since then we have harvested about 900 pounds of tomatoes with probably another 500 pounds to go.  In July, with the help of our resourceful and talented helper Jose, we began hand-slicing these tomatoes, drying them in our dehydrators and grinding them with Celtic sea salt (2 parts tomato powder to 1 part Celtic sea salt) and transferring them into their final Miron-jar homes. Almost every tomato was sliced within one day of harvest and ground and packed into jars (mostly by Jose and me) within two days of final dehydration.  

My wife, Lynda, and my son Joe labeled the jars, packed them into boxes for Jose to pile onto the final shipping pallets.  In all, the entire process was not only a family affair, but also one with a continual eye toward quality.
 
Tomatoes reveal a food principle that is somewhat paradoxical. It is easy to think that the best way to eat plants is uncooked, as this should be when they are highest in nutrients.  The research on the lycopene content in tomatoes, the phytonutrient studied for its starring role in the prevention of prostate cancer, in particular, shows a different story.  It turns out that cooking the tomatoes, such as in tomato sauce, actually increases dramatically the bioavailability of the lycopene.   This finding prompted us to dehydrate our tomatoes at around 155 degrees, far higher than we dehydrate most other things as a way of “cooking” them and bringing out the lycopene content.  Luckily, at this temperature, the flavor is also enhanced.
 
The flavor of our Tomato Salt is mild and therefore best used as a finishing salt. We sprinkle it liberally on eggs, toast with butter, and roasted and sautéed vegetables. (Just last night we had okra from the garden, which we sautéed in a very hot skillet with ghee. When soft, we mixed in at least a heaping teaspoon of Tomato Salt, added a bit more Celtic sea salt, and the result was sublime.) 
 
Tomato Salt, no matter how well we dry it, tends to clump a bit in the jar, so about once a week, I take a clean knife and gently stir it inside the jar to make it easier to pour. (We do this with our other powders as well).
 
We hope you enjoy our Napa-grown, family-processed, made-with-care-and-love Tomato Salt, and we’d love to hear how you use it.

Tom Cowan, M.D.