Fruits of the nightshade family include tomatoes, tomatillos, eggplant, nipplefruit and chayote. Although considered vegetables by many Americans, these species qualify as fruits because of their reproduction method, which involves germinating from seedlings through flowers' ovaries. Nightshade fruits appear in many cuisines around the world, consumed in raw and cooked form.
Of the fruits in this family, tomatoes and eggplant rank among the most popular. Tomatoes draw their origins to South America, appearing as domesticated crops in Central America and Mexico during the Mayan era. Tomatoes grow on plants with flowers, as do closely related potatoes and eggplant. Tomatoes vary in size, and appear in traditional cuisines in Mexico and the United States. Tomatoes and other nightshade fruits belong to the same botanical family as plants with lethal toxins, including deadly nightshade, mandrake and datura. These plants, along with tobacco, another nightshade species, contain toxic alkaloids.
A similar species, the tomatillo, bears fruits smaller and tangier than tomatoes. Tomatillos appear in many South American dishes too; inhabitants consume them raw, stewed, fried and baked. Unlike tomatoes, eggplant originates in Asia. Several species exist, including Black Beauty and Japanese. Another eggplant variety, the Almagro, grows in Europe, serving a primary purpose as a pickling fruit. Chayotes, fruits resembling avocados, also appear in traditional Central and South American cuisine. Nipplefruit, another continental native, displays brilliant colors but contains high levels of alkaloids, posing health risks to humans.