Fruits and vegetables that are high in lycopene include not only tomatoes, but watermelon, pink grapefruit, papaya, and rosehip. In the European diet, however, more than 90% of the lycopene intake comes from tomatoes and tomato products.
Lycopene and other antioxidants are present in the red, ripe, tomatoes. Weather, soil, varieties, and agricultural practices all have an effect on the content of lycopene and other carotenoids in the fresh tomato and processing and storage conditions also affect the lycopene content in the final product as well as its bioavailability.
Unlike other micronutrients, such as vitamin C, lycopene content does not decrease during processing. In fact, processing of tomatoes increases the lycopene content because of the concentration operations and more importantly it makes it more bioavailable. Because lycopene is so insoluble in water and is so tightly bound to vegetable fiber, the bioavailablity of lycopene is increased by processing. For example cooking and crushing tomatoes (as in the canning process) and serving in oil-rich dishes (such as pasta sauce or pizza) greatly increases assimilation from the digestive tract into the bloodstream.Lycopene in tomato paste is four times more bioavailable than in fresh tomatoes. Thus processed tomato products such as tomato juice, soup, sauce, and ketchup contain the highest concentrations of bioavailable lycopene.
The physical disruption of the cell structure in processed tomato products (tomato juice, above right) compared to fresh tomatoes (above left) partially explains the difference in the bioavailability of lycopene.
In Europe, and most of the developed countries, a large proportion of the tomato consumption is in the form of processed tomato products, with an average 18kg (fresh tomato equivalent) consumed annually per capita in the European Union, with variations between 5 kg in the Czech Republic and 30 kg in Italy.