Tomato is actually a fruit that is presumed to have been first cultivated by the ancient Inca and Aztec civilizations since 500 BC. It was spread slowly throughout Central and South America, where it was domesticated by the Indians and used as a food but also as a hallucinogenic drug at some areas.
The first European contact with the tomato was made in 1493 by Christopher Columbus. In the 16th century it was imported to Europe, in the Andean region, by the Spanish conquerors while at the end of the same century it arrives to Africa.
During the early 1540s, the tomato production began in various European countries, whereas it was used as food in the early 17th century. However, in several countries with colder climates, as well as in Italy, until the beginning of the 18th century, the tomato was used only as table decoration and its cultivation was mainly for decorative purposes of gardens and not for food.
By the middle of the 19th century the tomato was imported to Asia and began to be widely used in Syria, Iran and China. One of the varieties that probably grew in America is the type of small-fruited tomato, which is considered as the direct ancestor of today’s cultivated Santorini tomato. In 1850 the first tomato was imported to Santorini from Syros and in 1875 the small-fruited tomato was imported for the first time from the East and especially from Egypt.
The key feature of the Santorini tomatoes, but also of the wider Thera agricultural products, is the lack of rain water and frequent watering, which is why they are called anhydrous (waterless) tomatoes. The water of the morning and night atmospheric humidity, which comes from the evaporation of the caldera is retained in the pores of the pumice that exists on the island.
In October the field is sown with lentils, which is contended in the soil after its growing until mid-January, and acts as green fertilizer. From the 15th of February to the 15th of March the tomato is sown directly in the field in piles of 30-40 seeds in pits, forming straight lines in the flat fields and equal-height curves for the sloping ones.
In April, the first thinning of the plants takes place and 4-5 roots are left, while after a few days and a second thinning, the best 2-3 roots are left in the soil. When the plants grow and the productivity of tomatoes starts, the farmers tilt the plants in the direction where the wind will not hurt them and cover them with soil.
At the beginning of May, the first tomatoes come out and at the end of June their harvest begins or as it is called in the the islands “the small vendema”. The tomato harvest season begins after the 25th of June and ends when Greeks celebrate the Prophet Elias, on the 20th of July. The lack of water, however, can’t offer great production as is done in other districts of Greece. While in Santorini the tomato production season is limited to 20-25 days, in other areas it can reach up to six months and cover more than one tomato variety. Nowadays, production in Santorini can reach up to 1,400 kg while in another areas of Greece can reach up to 12,000 or more kilos.
The Santorini tomato is classified in the small fruits with an average of 30g / fruit. Most of the tomato varieties which grew on the island have been mutated except for the curled one. This particular seed, while it can be cultivated in other parts of the world, cannot have the same taste and content as it has on the island, due to the volcanic soil of Santorini. This is one of the main reasons that in 2006 the Santorini Tomato became a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) product.
The Santorini tomato grows in 80-90 days and has an elliptical shape, slightly flattened with strongly formed grooves, characteristics that appear more in the fruits of the root. It is resistant to drought, calcium deficiency and fungal diseases.
Today, the Santorini tomato presents variations in the production varieties, in basic descriptive characteristics of the plant and the fruit.
The varieties are:
a) the Authentic or otherwise pure small tomato, “marmade”, of size 4.46 X 2.76 mm that gives 33g / fruit,
b) the “kaesia” otherwise “the traditional” which is slightly flattened – spherical of size 3.46 X 2.53 mm, 20-25gr / wrist and,
c) the tomato from Kos Island, which is slightly elongated – spherical.
The first type of tomato has a very high productive potential and prematurity with 8 inflorescences per plant. Both of the first types have a deep intense color on the fruits. The grooves appear mainly in the original type of tomato while in the traditional type the dominant shape is the spherical one. All 3 types are grown as mixtures resulting in panspermia of genetic material that may have been infected with varieties of cherry tomatoes, industrial tomatoes, etc.
During the first years of its importation, the Santorini tomato was used as a fresh tomato and gradually expanded to the production of other products such as sun-dried and tomato paste, but also for the preparation of sweets and other traditional dishes. The reason for the great spread of the cultivation of the small-fruited tomato of Santorini was the big demand of its tomato paste and the high prices that it had in the market. This variety has an excellent quality of rich extract, ie high content of fats and invert sugars, and excellent fruit aroma with a pleasant taste. It is a source of important nutrients such as lycopene, b-carotene and vitamin C, all of which have positive effects on human health.