Mexican tomato, source of beta-carotene and lycopene


Tomatoes are widely consumed throughout the world, as they are a source of carbohydrates, minerals, organic acids, vitamins, fiber, and nutraceutical compounds.

Mexican tomato, source of beta-carotene and lycopene
Mexican tomato, source of beta-carotene and lycopene

From 1994 to 2014, world production of this vegetable has been concentrated, in order of importance, in China, the United States of America (USA), India, Turkey, Egypt, Italy, Iran, Spain, Brazil and, in tenth place, Mexico (FAO, 2017).

According to the Agrifood and Fisheries Information Service, in the last fifteen years, Mexico has produced between two and three million tonnes of tomatoes annually.

In the world the intake of this vegetable is very dynamic, the ten major producing countries have a variable annual behavior: in Brazil, Mexico and India are consumed less than 20 kg, in China, USA and Italy from 20 to 40 kg, in Iran and Spain between 40 and 60 kg, and in countries like Egypt and Turkey up to 90 kg. However, at the global level, the per capita consumption of tomatoes in the last five years is about 20 kg per year.

Commercially, ball, saladette, cherry, and kidney tomatoes are produced. In the latter, Mexico has a great genetic wealth in the center and south of the country, so that current efforts are made through genetic improvement, to exploit the diversity of this species, and present alternatives in the production of conventional tomatoes.

In this sense, evaluations of native populations of tomatoes have been reported, which presented superior quality in total soluble solids, acidity, vitamin C, color, and carotenoids, with respect to commercial cultivars.

However, studies on carotenoid content in native tomatoes are scarce in our country, which opens possible lines of research to study this group of compounds, due to their impact on both human health and fruit pigmentation.

Within this group of pigments is the β-carotene (beta-carotene), which acts as a substrate for the synthesis of vitamin A and, on the other hand, lycopene, which has antioxidant activity against reactive oxygen species and other free radicals.

It has been reported that lycopene consumption may reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as prostate, colon, osteoporosis, and cardiovascular cancers.

Therefore, the Culiacán Regional Coordination of the Food and Development Research Center (CIAD) is currently studying the presence of lycopene and beta-carotene in tomato stocks native to Mexico, in order to determine their concentration, expand the supply of cultivars to the country's producers and present alternatives of this species for the benefit of consumer health.

By Dr. César San Martín Hernández, Conacyt professor assigned to CIAD Culiacán.