When the Spanish explored the New World in 1492, they were at a lost to come up with vocabulary to describe all the new things they encountered. Often, they just ended up using native terms. One of the most famous cases is the red, juicy and versatile fruit that the Aztec’s called Xitomatl. Xitomatl is at the root of the Spanish word tomate (tomato).

This week, tens of thousands will descend upon the small town of Buñol to participate in La Tomatina, the world’s largest vegetable fight. The main ingredient for the fight? The South American fruit the Spanish brought back to Europe in the 16th century− the tomato.

The town of 20 000, doubles in population as it hosts festivities that culminate with the tomato fight that takes place on the last Wednesday of every August. Water canons signal the beginning of the fight and for one hour, locals and tourists hurl scores of tomatoes at each other in a merry carnage that literally paints the town red.

La Tomatina began in the forties when a handful of friends started a tomato fight and passer-bys got involved. Everybody had such a great time that the “xitomatl” fight became a yearly tradition, celebrated week long with parades, fireworks, food and street parties.

More information about the history of the Spanish language can be found in our new book, The Story of Spanish, (to be released in April 2013, St. Martin’s Press).

The Story of Spanish