Tomatoes, relatives of eggplants, peppers and potatoes, belong to the Solonaceae family. Cultivated by Inca tribes as early as 700 AD, today mass tomato production can yield over 20,000 lbs. per acre. Tomatoes are born from two types of plants (determinate and indeterminate) and are comprised of a bilocular or multilocular reproductive structure. Tomatoes are often classified by use, with varieties listed as cherry, paste or plum, slicing and beefsteak.
During the flowering stage, the ovary develops and ultimately determines the shape and size of the forthcoming fruit. The flowering process, from bud to mature flower, takes approximately two weeks.
After the flowers mature and fall away, the ovary is left behind to develop into its final form, the tomato, in a process known as setting fruit. From this point, the pea-sized ovaries begin to grow and take 40 to 50 days to mature.
Early Fruit Development
During the next two to three weeks, the small fruits begin a rapid process of cell division that provides the foundation for development in the next stage.
Green Fruit Stage
The green stage is where the real growth of the tomato fruit happens. Cells began to expand, increasing to 20 times their original size. During this three to five week period, tomatoes continue to expand and grow to their predetermined size and shape in preparation for changing color and ripening.
After tomatoes reach their final size and shape, they begin to develop the characteristics that determine flavor, texture and scent. In a process referred to as the breaker stage, the structure and chemicals within the fruit transform and the outer surface of the fruit starts to change color, beginning with shades of pale yellow and pink. From this point forward, the surface color continues to change, developing the fruit's final color, and the inner flesh begins to soften.
Once tomatoes have reached at least 90 percent of their final coloration, they are considered ripe. At ripeness, tomatoes have accumulated large amounts of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. The texture of ripe tomatoes is firm, yet yielding. As tomatoes remain on the vine, the texture will gradually soften further until they begin to decay.