The Peculiar Trial of Tomatoes in Salem

Tomatoes were once believed to be a poisonous fruit shortly after they were introduced to the western world.

The Salem Witch Trials, where over 200 people were accused of witchcraft between 1692 and 1693, are infamous, but there was another trial in Salem, New Jersey that is rarely mentioned – the Salem Tomato Trial.

The tomato was considered to be a “sinful” food due to its mild aphrodisiac properties and was widely believed to be unfit for human consumption because it contained low levels of a toxin called tomatine. One of the fruit’s earliest cultivators, John Gerard, even believed them to be poisonous.

The Backdrop

Red in nature usually means danger, and the tomato didn’t get much love between the 1500s and 1800s.

Although today, we know that tomatoes are far from harmful, it was widely believed that they were poisonous.

The Tomato Trial

In 1820, tomatoes were put on trial in Salem’s courthouse to answer for their toxicity. Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson, who regularly ate tomatoes and held competitions to grow the biggest ones, refused to believe that they were poisonous.

Despite his efforts, the general public still believed the tomato to be an ornamental plant rather than one for eating.

A Point to Prove

To calm the fear in the courthouse, Colonel Johnson walked in front of the gathered crowd with a basket of tomatoes in his hand and ate them one by one, much to the horror of the spectators.

Against all scientific and religious belief, he stood firm after his healthy afternoon snack.

Tomato’s Popularity

Following the dramatic shift, the tomato’s alleged poisonous nature was completely ignored.

Consequently, it became a staple crop in almost every garden and was served in almost every meal throughout the continent.

We salute you, Colonel Johnson.


1. What were the Salem Tomato Trials?

The Salem Tomato Trials were a series of experiments conducted in Salem, New Jersey, in the 19th century to determine whether or not tomatoes were poisonous. At the time, there was a widespread belief that tomatoes were deadly, and some people even thought they were responsible for causing diseases like cholera and appendicitis.

2. Who conducted the trials?

The trials were conducted by Robert Gibbon Johnson, a horticulturist and member of the New Jersey Agricultural Society. Johnson was convinced that tomatoes were safe to eat and wanted to prove it to the people of Salem.

3. How were the trials conducted?

Johnson held a public gathering on September 26, 1820, where he ate several tomatoes in front of a large crowd. He also offered tomatoes to anyone who was brave enough to try them. To everyone’s surprise, no one got sick or died from eating the tomatoes.

4. What was the reaction to the trials?

The reaction to the trials was mixed. Some people were convinced that tomatoes were safe to eat and started incorporating them into their diets. Others remained skeptical and continued to believe that tomatoes were poisonous.

5. Why did people think tomatoes were poisonous?

There are several theories as to why people thought tomatoes were poisonous. Some believed that the plant’s resemblance to the deadly nightshade plant was the reason. Others thought that the high acidity of tomatoes was responsible for causing illnesses.

6. Did the trials have any lasting impact?

The trials helped to dispel many of the myths surrounding tomatoes and encouraged people to try them. Today, tomatoes are a staple in many diets and are considered safe to eat.

7. Are there any other bizarre food trials in history?

Yes, there are several other bizarre food trials in history. In the 16th century, a Frenchman named Blaise de Vigenère conducted an experiment to determine whether or not eggs could be cooked with urine. In the 18th century, a Swedish scientist named Carl Linnaeus conducted an experiment to determine whether or not coffee was poisonous.

8. Is it safe to eat tomatoes?

Yes, it is safe to eat tomatoes. Tomatoes are a good source of vitamins and minerals and are a healthy addition to any diet. However, some people may be allergic to tomatoes, so it is important to be aware of any potential allergies.

Rate article
Add a comment