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Tasty Heirloom Tomatoes

Updated on October 3, 2012
Tasty heirloom tomatoes can add colorful variety to a range of dishes.
Tasty heirloom tomatoes can add colorful variety to a range of dishes. | Source

The unfortunate truth about store brought tomatoes is that they've been bred for maximum shelf life, tough skins so they don't squash in transport and maximum production per plant for the highest profit margin. While all these factors in isolation are certainly not bad things (although many people prefer thin-skinned over thick-skinned tomatoes), the problem comes when we take into accounts limits of plant breeding.

The simple fact is it's extremely difficult to breed a prolific tomato plant which produces fruit that are durable, long-lasting and delicious all at once. It's several fold easier to breed a tomato which is missing one of the aforementioned attributes, and due to the requirements of the mass-scale, modern food supply chain it's often their taste that is sacrificed.

Luckily however, there's a wide range of traditional, flavorsome heirloom tomato varieties still grown by small-scale growers across the country who are saving the seeds to preserve the amazing diversity and true flavors of the tomato plant for future generations.


Top 10 Tasty Heirloom Tomatoes

Lets take a look at some of the tastiest heirloom tomato varieties available to the home gardener, these are just a few of my personal favorites that are guaranteed to taste better than the bland, hybrid tomatoes found on supermarket shelves.


#10 Speckled Roman

Speckled Roman is a prolific variety with elongated, roma tomato shaped fruits which are meaty in texture and have a great, rich flavor. They are red with distinctive yellow, jagged stripes. These tomatoes are excellent paste tomatoes and great for making tasty pasta sauces. This variety is also great for eating fresh and the color variation of the skin is great for adding interest to salads. Also excellent when sliced in half and grilled with olive oil and pepper.


#9 Snow White

Snow White is a cherry variety which turns a creamy white color as it ripens. The vines of this tomato bear prolifically and the fruit have an excellent mildly sweet flavor which is not too overpowering, making them ideal for eating out of hand as a snack or for adding whole to salads. The flavor of this variety lends itself well to chutneys and relishes. The small size, strange color and sweet taste of this tomato is really appealing to children, even children who otherwise may be adverse to eating tomatoes may enjoy eating this distinctive variety.


#8 Green Zebra

The Green Zebra is an interesting tomato. It turns a greenish-yellow color as it ripens but retains deep green colored stripes across its skin. These medium sized tomatoes can be diced and combined with other colored tomatoes to add interest to dishes. They have a mild yet sweet flavor and a creamy texture which makes them excellent for making chutneys and relishes when cut into cubes. This is a distinctive yet tasty variety which bears prolifically and will defiantly become a talking point when planted in the garden.


#7 Campbell 33

As the name suggests, this is a commercial tomato variety bred specifically for making tomato soup. It's an old variety that hails from a time when even commercial tomato varieties were heirlooms. Unlike the other tomatoes on this list this is a determinate variety, meaning it tends to grow to the certain size then the round, medium sized fruit ripen all at once, rather than growing and ripening over a prolonged period of time. This is good if you need a lot of tomatoes all at once, which you would if you're trying to make a soup. They also bear early, making them really satisfying to grow. Aside from soups, this variety is also great for adding to sandwiches or salads.


#6 Cherokee Purple

Cherokee Purple tomatoes produce large, purple, flattened fruits with a meaty, beefsteak-like flesh. They're extremely sweet yet earthy and complex in flavor providing the best of both worlds for the tomato afficinado's. They're excellent for slicing and grilling, adding to sandwiches or even just eating fresh out of hand. This variety has some tolerance to tomato blight but can be susceptible to other diseases.


#5 Amish Paste

Amish Pate is a well known and highly regarded paste tomato. It's highly productive and the large, elongated, heart-shaped fruits have a sweet, rich tomato flavor. Aside from their excellence in making tomato pastes and sauces, Amish Paste tomatoes have a meaty flesh which is also great for slicing for sandwiches. As its name suggests, this is an old variety that was bred around 1880 by an Amish community is Wisconsin.


#4 Jaune Flammé

Jaune Flammé is a small but meaty orange-colored cherry tomato. It's of French origin and has a flavor that is both sweet and full bodied with a tartness which is very satisfying. Excellent for eating out of hand or adding halved to salads. This variety is also great when sun-dried and despite being a cherry tomato, it can even be mixed with paste varieties to provide a burst of flavor to tomato sauces. This variety fruits early and is very productive, making it an excellent choice for the home garden.


#3 Black Krim

Black Krim tomatoes originate from Ukraine and are a large, flattened purple tomato with meaty, beefsteak-type flesh. These tomatoes have a rich earthy tomato flavour which is slightly less sweet but even more complex in character than the Cherokee Purple tomato mentioned above. This is a tomato for true tomato lovers, people after a mild flavored variety should look elsewhere. Black Krim tomatoes are excellent when sliced thick and grilled or barbecued, which tends to really bring out their rich flavor. They tend to be hardier and more disease resistant than Cherokee Purple tomatoes too and are well worth growing at least once just to try.


#2 Brandywine

Brandywine is one of the best heirloom tomato varieties if you're after a classic tomato taste. This is a large pinkish-red tomato with a flavor that is sweet but which retains some acidity for a well rounded, complex yet balanced flavor. This is an old variety, it can be found in seed catalogs dating from 1886, so its origin likely predates this. While it's often said that this variety is of Amish origin, there is no evidence to support this claim. Internally the flesh of this tomato is meaty like a beefsteak tomato, although they are not as ribbed externally to the extend that some beefsteak varieties are. Unfortunately this variety is susceptible to many tomato diseases and doesn't grow well in humid environments.


#1 Tommy Toe

Tommy Toe is an amazingly delicious cherry tomato, they're of a rich red color and slightly larger than most cherry tomatoes, growing to about the size of a small apricot. They grow in clusters, with 5 to 7 bite sized fruits forming off the same flower stalk. They also happen to be one of the sweetest of all tomatoes which when combined with their size make them ideal for eating straight out of hand as a healthy but delicious snack. If you can resist eating them all straight away, they're also great sliced in half and added to salads or pizza, or sun-dried and made into a rich sweet tomato paste. As an added bonus this variety has good disease resistance, making it not only tasty but really easy to grow too.


Where To Find Heirloom Tomato Seeds

The best way to grow these tasty heirloom tomato varieties at home is to purchase seed from a merchant who deals exclusively in heirloom vegetables. Typing "heirloom tomato seeds" or "heirloom vegetable seeds" into your favorite search engine should bring up at least a couple of good seed merchants that are based in or will post to the particular country where you live.

Anyone in Australia looking for heirloom tomato seed should check out my online heirloom seed store Succeed Heirlooms (shameless plug, sorry).

Sometimes it can be a good idea to join a local gardening or seed savers community group as the members of such groups often collect and save vegetable seeds and some groups will even have a seed bank filled with varieties suitable for growing in your particular climate. Such groups are often also a great source of invaluable local gardening knowledge.

Worried about having to purchase new tomato seeds every year? Don't be because these are heirloom tomato varieties. Once you know which vareities taste and grow best in your climate, you can collect the seeds at the end of each season to plant the following year and they'll grow true to type, unlike modern hybrid varieties. This ends up saving you money in the long run.


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