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Is It Safe to Eat Tomato Sprouts?

By Sonal Panse
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Discover the surprising phenomenon of tomatoes sprouting inside, a rare but natural occurrence. According to a study by the Chicago Botanic Garden, the gel surrounding tomato seeds typically contains natural inhibitors that prevent germination until the seeds are in an ideal environment. However, under certain conditions, such as temperature fluctuations, these seeds can defy the odds and sprout within the fruit itself. While this might seem alarming, University of Connecticut reassures that tomatoes with internal sprouting, also known as vivipary, are generally safe to eat, provided the tomato is otherwise in good condition. This introduction to tomatoes sprouting inside focuses on the safety and science behind this curious botanical event, offering readers a clear understanding of when and why it happens.

These tomato sprouts, along with tomato leaves and stems, have, for most part, been eschewed in cooking. Some cooks have successfully used them to add a distinctive tomato flavor to sauces and some other tomato dishes, but it should be noted that, in these cases, the stems and leaves are simmered for flavoring and are then removed; they are not eaten. The reason for this is that tomatoes belong to the nightshade family of plants. The leaves, stems and unripe fruits of many plants from this family are known to have toxic properties, and can cause health problems if they are eaten.

A glyco-alkaloid known as tomatine is present in unripe tomatoes as well as in the leaves and stem of the tomato plant. The tomatine alkaloid has been known to adversely affect the nervous system and to cause irritation of the gastric intestine. Some people also get allergic reactions by merely touching the tomato leaves, and, in the case of animals, particularly dogs, eating tomato plants can sometimes prove fatal.

On the other hand, unripe tomatoes have long been used in many food recipes without anyone coming to harm. Many people have also eaten sprouted tomatoes without any apparent ill effect. Lab experiments with animals have shown that tomatine is not absorbed by the body, but is expelled along with unwanted cholesterol. Tomatine has also been found to have strong anti-microbial properties and to have a deterrent effect on the growth of cancer cells.

It seems then that in small amounts, tomatine is safe to eat. It would take a large quantity of tomato sprouts, leaves and stems to give a human a toxic dose; eating one or two is not likely to cause any kind of health issues. Still, if there are any doubts or if there are any allergy issues, it might be advisable to avoid eating sprouted tomatoes.

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Discussion Comments
By anon1003017 — On Apr 17, 2020

It wasn't birth control pills that led to birth defects. They're perfectly safe. It was thalidomide which was used to prevent morning sickness that caused those defects.

If you need birth control pills, use them without fear!

By anon998511 — On Jun 23, 2017

Also on the other hand, another compound found in high doses of the stem, leaves and green tomato, is tomatidine, which has been shown to have huge muscle sparing and growth benefits.

By anon990318 — On Apr 15, 2015

I remember women taking birth control pills, with no problem, well, until the baby was born with no arms, legs, etc. I remember Gov. giving the OK to insulation and everyone had to remove some years later for health reasons.

No one is mentioning Monsanto!

By whiteplane — On Feb 29, 2012

I have eaten tomato sprouts before both plain and in recipes and I have never had any problems. In fact, I had never once considered them dangerous. I figure that they are a natural part of the tomato which I would eat anyway so why not gobble down the sprouts as well?

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