The small Santorini tomato (ntomataki) is a different species which according to legend was brought from Egypt by Santorini sea captains after delivering Theraic Soil used in opening the Suez canal.
Needing little water, the tomato found Santorini’s conditions ideal for growth, and soon became popular with the farmers on the island. This tomato and its leaves capture moisture from the mist that covers the whole island on summer evenings, while extracting the maximum of nutrients from the arid volcanic earth, salts and trace elements. All this combined to produce “The red queen” with its special aroma and unique sweet taste.
In Santorini this tomato was sun dried or made into paste for use in winter, and each household had its own methods. In 1926 Dimitris Nomikos built the first factory for processing tomatoes and soon the little tomato became the island’s main export with 14 local factories – of exemplary industrial architecture –were dedicated to produce tomato paste. At this time 12,000 square metres were under cultivation, which produced 7,000 tons of tomatoes.
Cultivation of the “waterless” Santorini tomato and the production of tomato paste formed the basis of Santorini’s economy along with grapes and wine during the whole first half of the 20th century. Some of these small factories still exist in Vlihada, Vothonas and Monolithos. This industry was destroyed by the earthquake of 1956, but also by its inability to compete with the much higher production figures from industrialized agriculture. (Traditional tomato cultivation yields 500 kilos of tomato per thousand square metres while industrialized agricultural production has a yield of 3 to 5 tons per thousand square metre!)
In 2013 the Santorini tomato was added to the European Commission’s list of PDO products thus becoming Greece’s 101st such product, paving the way for more development.