<em>Discorsi nei Sei Libri della Materia Medicinale di Pedacio Dioscoride Anazarbeo</em>

This source is a later Italian edition (the original was published in 1544) of Pietro Andrea Mattioli's herbal, Di Pedacio Dioscoride Anazarbeo libri cinque della historia, et Materia Medicinale trodotti in lingua volgare Italiana.This 1555 edition includes Mattioli's expansion of his description of the tomato absent in the original Italian edition in which the tomato is named (pomi d'oro). In addition, Mattioli also provides an updated account on the new variations of the tomato that were not present at the time of his 1544 edition and the manner in which Europeans consumed the tomato.

Dan Gulden Appelen

Inspired by the work of botanist Leonhart Fuchs, Flemish physician and botanist Rembert Dodoens published his own herbal titled Cruijdeboeck with 715 woodcut images in 1554. This image is Dodoens' representation of the red variety of the tomato. The text Doedoens accompanies his illustration with includes Mattioli's descriptions of the tomato which became conventional following the publication of Mattioli's herbal. 

The solanum lycopersicum, more commonly known as the tomato, has a rich history sweeping across cultures, continents, and centuries. The tomato’s ubiquitous presence in culinary traditions is largely due to the spirit of European exploration, and perhaps more specifically, Spanish expansion and conquest in the early modern period. Without the tomato, the Andalusian incarnation of gazpacho and its subsequent popularity would be nonexistent, as the incorporation of the New World ingredient became part of the definitive and internationally-known version of the Spanish dish. Thus, to better understand the history of gazpacho, one must examine not only the origins of the tomato itself, but the origins of the European view of the tomato that allowed for its incorporation into the dish.

The tomato had been cultivated long before the European presence in the New World. It is thought to have originated in the Andes region of South America, most likely in Peru or Ecuador, and then spread to Mexico.[1] The name “tomato” reflects its place of origin, as the word derives from the Aztec word tomatl.[2] The Europeans’ first exposure to the tomato occurred in the sixteenth century when Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortes overtook the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan in 1521 and subsequently brought a variation of the tomato back to Europe.[3] Almost immediately, Spain and Italy adopted the tomato as a food source whereas in France and Northern Europe, the tomato was regarded with apprehension since the tomato is a botanical relative of the poisonous deadly nightshade.[4] It wasn’t until Italy’s reception that the tomato received its status as a standard ingredient in the Mediterranean diet, directly influencing the incorporation of tomato into gazpacho.[5]

The first European discussion of the tomato appeared in an herbal first published by Italian botanist Pietro Andrea Mattioli in 1544 titled, Di Pedacio Dioscoride Anazarbeo libri cinque della historia, et Materia Medicinale trodotti in lingua volgare Italiana.[6] In this original edition, Mattioli likens the tomato to a species of Mandrake; it is first green in color and then ripens to gold. Furthermore, Mattioli observes that in Italy, it is eaten like an eggplant: fried in oil with salt and pepper.[7] Not only does this indicate that the dominant type of tomato prevalent in Europe during the early to mid-sixteenth century was the yellow tomato, but that it only took about twenty years for the foundation of the tomato’s cultivation and consumption in Europe to grow substantially enough to appear in European literature. Furthermore, Mattioli’s observation of how the tomato was prepared for consumption in Italy with oil, salt, and pepper, became a standard description associated with the tomato in literature in every major European language following Mattioli's.[8] The repetition of the manner in which the tomato was prepared suggests not only the codification of an already-existing use of the tomato, but also the widespread expansion of the use of the tomato as an integral Mediterranean food source.

For the purposes of this history however, we will examine Mattioli’s 1555 updated Italian edition, which in turn, is an updated version of his 1554 version in Latin. This edition relays information similar to that included in the 1544 edition. However, this is the first edition that provides a name for the tomato and a distinct section formatted separately from his commentary on the mandrake, ultimately reflecting the growing prominence of the tomato in Europe. Firstly, Mattioli calls tomatoes, pomi d’oro, or rather, “golden apples.”[9] Etymologically, this is the ancestor of the modern Italian word for tomato: pomodoro. To give a name to what once was described briefly as if it were an afterthought a mere decade earlier reinforces the growing recognition of the tomato as a valuable European food source. The absorption of Mattioli’s classification into the Italian language, in turn, reflects a frequent-enough use of the word to the degree of earning its own place in the early modern vernacular. In addition, while Mattioli’s description still includes the standard method of the tomato’s preparation culinarily, he expands what originally was a general description of the tomato’s growth process: “…Si chiamano pomi d’oro. Sono queste schiacciate come le mele rose e fatte a spicchi, di colore prima verdi e come sono mature in alcune piante rosse come sangue, e in altre di color d’oro.”[10]In other words, the tomatoes were flattened like melrose apples, then cut into wedges; first they were green and then when they matured, some were red like blood and some were gold. The expansion of Mattioli’s description parallels an expansion of the tomato’s cultivation in Europe, sincethe initial variation of tomatoes grown in Europe were yellow, not red. 

The impact of Italian literature on both the cultivation of the tomato and the European perspective on the tomato is also evident in Flemish physician and botanist Rembert Dodoens’ woodcut illustration of the tomato in his herbal titled Cruijdeboeck. Published in 1554—the same year as Mattioli’s updated Latin version of his herbal—Dodens’ illustration and accompanying text reflects the expanded information on the tomato Mattioli included in the updated version.

The Cruijdeboeck itself contains 715 colored woodcut images. Inspired by botanist Leonhart Fuchs’ work in the herbal genre which is noted for its accuracy, Dodoens’ takes Fuchs’ accuracy a step further [11]. Rather than organizing the Cruijdeboeck alphabetically as herbals before Dodoens’ did, Dodens was the first to start with a botanical classification [12]. He divided the plant kingdom into six groups and described each plant’s pattern of growth, flowering time, its fruit, and its medicinal value [13]. Dodoens also included the particular plant’s different names in various languages, such as its Dutch, Latin, and Italian nomenclature [14]. Lauded for its vivid artistry, its accuracy, and its focus on botanical therapy, the Cruijdeboeck became one of the most popular herbals published in the sixteenth-century. In fact, after the Bible, Dodoens’ herbal was the second most translated book of his time [15] Furthermore, Dodoens’ book would also serve as the inspiration for John Gerard’s publication of Herball in 1597 in which Gerard’s fallacious account of the tomato as a “corrupt” and toxic fruit was subsequently accepted and regarded suspiciously in Britain and the British North American colonies for at least the next two hundred years [16]. 

Dodoens' entry on the tomato consists of his classification and a colored illustration of the tomato plant. His classification appears on the top half of the page and his illustration appears on the bottom half. Dodoens' information on the tomato plant is organized into separate sections, including the origins of its name under "Naem" and its use as a food source under "Lcacht ende Wecckinghe."In regards to the illustration itself, Dodoens' depicts a naturalistic and botanically-accurate version of the red variety of the tomato plant. The colored woodcut aids Dodoens' accuracy with the greenness of the plant's stems and leaves, to the white and yellow of its flowers, and finally, the vibrant redness of the tomatoes. 

While Dodoens’ ingenuity, style, and accuracy are clearly worthy of praise, traces of Mattioli’s foundations that formed the European perspective on the tomato can be seen through Dodoens’ artistry and by extension, the art of botanists who wrote herbals following Mattioli's tradition in the early modern period.

Firstly, the title of the chapter in which the illustration appears, “Dan gulden appelen,” refers to the Flemish incarnation of the name Mattioli gives to the tomato, pomi d’oro, in his 1555 Italian edition of his herbal and both translate to “golden apple.” The alternate name Dodoens provides, poma amoris, which according to the structure of the work’s system of classification, refers to a popular name the tomato had also been ascribed by at least 1554. Poma amoris corresponds to Mattioli’s original likening of the tomato to the mandrake. Since the Old Testament, the mandrake had been considered to be an aphrodisiac and the Hebrew word for mandrake, dudaim, translates to “love apple” [17]. 

The influence of Italian literature and its effect on expanding the European perspective on the tomato as a food source is also present in the text of Dodoens’ classification of the tomato. Dodoens’ adopts Mattioli’s conventional description of the tomato’s culinary preparation, which first appeared in the first 1544 edition of Mattioli’s herbal. Dodoens too describes the preparation of the tomato with salt, oil (“olie”), and pepper (“peper”) [18]. Thus, not only does Dodoens’ work indicate the immense influence of Italian literature, but also how far its influence had reached by the mid-sixteenth century. Dodoens’ accompanying text suggests that despite the promulgation of a false botanical assumption that halted Northern Europe’s adoption of the tomato in contrast to Spain and Italy's quick reception, significant strides had been made at least by 1554 with the publication of Dodoens’ herbal in Antwerp. 

Dodoens’ illustration itself also follows the tradition set forth by Italian literature. The highly-naturalistic and vivid colored depiction of the tomato plant complies with Dodoens’, and by extension Mattioli’s, practical treatment of the tomato as a food source in Dodoens’ accompanying text rather than its previously-speculated function as an aphrodisiac or poison. Dodoens’ inclusion of the tomato plant in its various growth stages also reinforces a relevance to the European perspective because such a depiction would aid potential farmers or growers of the plant in that endeavor and thus, contribute to the spread of the tomato’s cultivation. Furthermore, Dodoens depicts the red variety of the tomato rather than the initial yellow variety introduced to Europe, as indicated by Mattioli’s name for the tomato (golden apple), suggesting that Italian literature on the tomato had been read and used as increased cultivation of the tomato in the Mediterranean had begun to spread to Northern Europe by at least 1554. 

Thus, as Mattioli’s writings and Dodoens’ writings and illustrations indicate, the European perspective of the tomato grew significantly during the sixteenth century as not only a product of Spanish exploration and conquest, but of Italian literature which granted the tomato its first and foundational relevance in terms of its function as a food source in the early modern period.

By Cristina Iannarino


[1] Encyclopedia Britannica Online, s. v. "tomato", accessed November 10, 2014,

[2] Ibid.

[3] David Gentilcore, Pomodoro!: A History of the Tomato in Italy (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), 2-4.

[4] Encyclopedia Britannica Online, s. v. "tomato", accessed November 10, 2014.

[5] Edgar Anderson, introduction to “The History of the Use of the Tomato: An Annotated Bibliography,”Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden, Vol. 39, No. 4, by George Allen McCue (Missouri: Missouri Botanical Garden Press, 1952), 289-290. 

[6] George Allen McCue, “The History of the Use of the Tomato: An Annotated Bibliography,” Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden, Vol. 39, No. 4 (Missouri: Missouri Botanical Garden Press, 1952), 292. 

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid. 

[9] Pietro Andrea Mattioli, Discorsi nei Sei Libri della Materia Medicinale di Pedacio Dioscoride Anazarbeo, (Venice: Printed by Vincent Valgrisi for the author, 1555), 502.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Encyclopedia Britannica Online, s. v. "herbal", accessed November 21, 2014.

[11] Encyclopedia Britannica Online, s. v. "herbal", accessed November 21, 2014.

[12] R. van der Hats, “Het Cruijdeboeck van 1554”, accessed November 22, 2014.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] K. Anabelle Smith, “Why the Tomato Was Feared in Europe for More Than 200 Years,” The Smithsonian, accessed November 20, 2014.

[17] Ibid.          '      

[18] Rembert Dodoens, “Dan Gulden Appelen,” Cruijdeboeck, (Antwerp: Jan van der Loe, 1554).