Who would have guessed there were so many varieties of tomatoes?
Because most of us are more interested in flavor than stability we have highlighted Heirloom tomatoes instead of Hybrid ones.
It’s all in the name: Tomato’s botanical name, Lycopersicon esculentum, translates to “edible wolf peach.” The French name for the tomato is “love apple.” Scientifically speaking the tomato is a fruit, a berry, produced from a flowering plant, but in culinary terms it is considered a vegetable.
Health seekers eat tomatoes for the benefits of lycopene and vitamins A, C and B, plus potassium, folic acid, beta-carotene, iron and fiber. Below, in alphabetical order, is a brief description of a few outstanding varieties. Experiment and try something different. Recipes below.
Some helpful information – because the tomato world can be a confusing one
Heirloom tomatoes tend to produce flavorful and unique ooking tomatoes which are cultivated with open-pollination seeds (no human intervention) that are preserved and passed on throughout the past couple of decades (bred true for 40 years or more). A few interesting ones:
- Yellow Stuffer tomato -unique yellow tomatoes are shaped like bell peppers. Fruits have large open centers and firm, thick walls making them perfect for stuffing.
- Purple Russian tomato – Meaty, plum-shaped, 6 oz. fruits are 3 to 4″ long. Tomatoes are sweet and flavorful making them a good choice for eating fresh, salsa and sauces.
Hybrid tomatoes are not genetically modified, but rather are produced by crossing two different types of tomatoes. They are breed to be uniform in appearance, resistant to disease, produce higher yields, and be available during the off-season (longer shelf life).
GMO tomatoes – are the result of genetic engineering. (“GMO” stands for “genetically modified organism.”) This is a process during which the plant’s DNA is altered in a way that cannot occur naturally, and sometimes includes the insertion of genes from other species.
Categories of Tomatoes
Cherry & Grape Tomatoes – Cherries are small, bite-sized (usually less than 1” round), and grow in large clusters;are available in many colors including red, yellow, orange and black. This thin-skinned variety often is used for crudite platters, salads and pasta. Grape – Oblong and smaller than cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes have thick skins and low water content. Eat them raw as a snack or roasted in a recipe.
- Black Cherry (Heirloom) – 1″ deep purplish-red fruit with a true tomato taste.
- Bloody Butcher – ready in 8 weeks, a deep red color, inside and out; 3-4 oz. fruits, medium round size.
- Green Grape – an heirloom fruit, originally created by crossing Yellow Pear with Evergreen, Green Grape produces clusters of 6-8 yellow-green 1″ fruits.
- Green Zebra (Heirloom) – the result of four heirlooms bred together, has a gentle flavorful green flesh; 2-4 oz. fruits.
- Italian Ice – Sugary sweet and bursting with juicy flavor. Clusters of 1-1 1/2″ snack-sized fruits ripen from
green to ivory white, becoming uniquely sweet and mild-tasting.
- Lemon Drop – sweet and mild.
- Yellow Currant (Heirloom) – strong, sweet-tart flavor and firm, juicy texture, the little yellow tomatoes are perfect for salads and crudités.
- Zebra Cherry (Hybrid) – tangy fruits, 1- 1 1/2″ with red and green stripes with a dark red flesh.
Beefsteak – This broad category is characterized by a large shape (generally weighing more than 1#) and includes the heirloom varieties. The most famous type, New Jersey beefsteak, is commonly used at delis because it holds its shape when pre-sliced.
- Abe Lincoln original (Heirloom) – dark, red sweet, solid and meaty.
- Amana Orange (Heirloom) – mild, sweet and tropical flavored..
- Arkansas Traveler (Heirloom) – Originating from the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas this deep pink, 6-8 oz. tomato is full of flavor.
- Big Rainbow – The flesh inside this large (often 22 oz.) is marbled with red in the bottom half of the fruit. It has a big, lumpy beefsteak shape with a very mild and sweet flavor.
- Black Krim (Heirloom) – This medium-sized, very dark maroon beefsteak, with wonderfully rich flavor, originated in Crimea, a peninsula in the Black Sea with perfect “tomato summers”.
- Black Truffle – The 6-8 oz. pear-shaped fruits are deep burgundy color, with undertones of purplish-black, is as rich as the flavor. We find it high in both sugars and acid, creating a sweet, strong, complex flavor that is hard to beat.
- Black Zebra (Heirloom)- deep, purplish-black flesh with red streaks, and great flavor.
- Brandy Wine (Heirloom) – This large beefsteak tomato is commonly found at farmers markets. Pinkish-red with a meaty interior and sweet flavor, Brandywine tomatoes are slow to grow. Splits, spots and deep grooves in the skin are normal.
- Brandywine Pink (Heirloom)) – dates back to 1885, sweet flavor and luscious shade of red-pink (is a beefsteak tomato)
- Caspian Pink (Heirloom) – originated in Russia’s Black Sea region, this variety yields large, finely flavored 12 oz. pink tomatoes on indeterminate vines. Savor the mild, delectable fruits either fresh or in cooking.
- Cherokee Purple (Heirloom) – This large dark purple heirloom tomato from Tennessee is rumored to have come from Cherokee gardeners. Rich and full of flavor.
- Garden Peach (Heirloom) – was reputedly introduced to US gardens in the 1860s. The small, velvety-skinned 2-3 oz. fruits have rich full flavor.
- Hillbilly (Heirloom) – yellow-orange skin and flesh mottled and streaked with red, this West Virginia heirloom beefsteak weighs in at 1-2 lb. Heavily ribbed fruits bring superb, sweet, low-acid flavor to salads and sandwiches.
- Orange Strawberry (Heirloom) – heart-shaped fruits with a strong, sweet tasted, vibrant deep orange in color.
Roma (Paste) Tomatoes commonly referred to as plum or plum Italian tomatoes are sweet with a firm flesh, high pectin content, not much juice, and few seeds…the perfect sauce tomato, since it thickens naturally and needs less cooking time to evaporate off excess moisture.
- Amish Paste (Heirloom) – from Wisconsin this acorn shaped tomato is great for paste, sliced or in sauce.
- San Marzano (Hybrid)- named for the volcanic region south of Milan where they are grown, San marzano tomatoes have a long shape and meaty texture. They can be peeled easily, making them ideal for tomato sauces. Their low moisture content gives them extended fresh storage time, and they’re great for drying or topping pizzas.
- Big Mama (Hybrid) – plum shaped, meaty and large – 5″ long to 3″ across. Skin peels away easy after par boiling.
- Orange Roma (Heirloom) – salmon orange in color
- Yellow Plum – Very sweet and mild – great straight from the vine or in salads and preserves.