The Types of Tomatoes
I have two tomato rules to live by.
1. Buy local varieties.
2. Never put them in the fridge.
The rules of tomatoes are simple and finite. Any garden girl would know. ;)
All joking aside, those two rules will never steer you wrong.
Local varieties are much more flavorful than anything you’ll find a typical supermarket.
Your local farmer will have chosen tomato varieties that are well suited for your climate and soil. Locally grown tomatoes are often harvested right at the peak of ripeness, usually just a day or two before market.
Tomatoes really do need to be stored on the counter top.
They’re incredibly frost sensitive and a 40 degree fridge will turn your beautiful tomato in mealy, water mess in no time. Cold tomatoes also lose most of their flavor, which is why some people think tomatoes are bland. If you’re used to eating supermarket tomatoes that have been kept in the fridge, you’re getting a truly subpar experience. Visit the farmers market. Treat yourself to the best tomato you’ve ever had.
Beyond those two rules, the world of tomatoes can get a little intimidating because there are so many different kinds.
Their size, shape, color, and flavor vary more than any other fruit or veggie I can think of. The tomato section of most seed catalogs is usually the longest.
Types of Tomatoes
Cherry and Pear tomatoes are sweet and flavorful. These are my favorite kind of tomato! I find them to be the most versatile and the most flavorful. Cherry tomatoes are well suited for salads. Because they’re so small, you can simply cut them in half or quarters. Most of the watery seeds will stay connected to the meat and so you’re less likely to end up with a watery salad.
Whole cherry tomatoes are often close in size to other roasting veggies, which means you can add them to the roast whole and keep a consistent size throughout the dish.
Eat them whole like grapes, cut in half in salads, perfect for roasting, some varieties are great for sun-drying.
Slicers, or plum tomatoes, are mild and juicy. they’re the classic tomato and heirloom varieties really shine in this category. Their size, color, and flavor vary hugely.
Perfect for sandwiches, oven bakes with other veggies, decent for sun-drying.
Paste tomatoes are meaty and more acidic, making them a great choice for sauce, paste, and dehydrating. To make tomato sauce and paste, you have to skin the tomato and remove the seeds. It can be a tedious process which is why some varieties of tomatoes have been bred with fewer seeds and skins that are easier to peel off. Those kinds of tomatoes are usually called Paste Tomatoes. Most paste tomatoes are large and red. Sometimes they’re oval shaped like the popular San Marzano paste tomato, but they can also be round and grooved.
The advantage to choosing a large paste tomato is that it will take less time to peel and seed enough tomatoes to fill a sauce pot. While you can use any kind of tomato to make sauce, you’ll most likely get more sauce per tomato if you use one of these big paste varieties. And trust me, if you’re going to put the time and money into making your own tomato sauce or paste, you want to get more than one dinner’s worth!
On the other side of the spectrum, you can certainly make sauce and paste from smaller cherry tomatoes. Again, you want a variety with thick walls and fewer seeds for a higher yield of sauce. Cherry tomatoes generally have thin skin and smaller seeds, making them less of an issue in paste. Simply skip the peeling and seeding and follow your paste recipe like usual.
Use to make sauce and tomato paste. Traditional option for sun-drying.
Dark colored tomatoes are often have the most robust, umami-ish, flavor of all the tomatoes. According to a nutritional study published in the 2014 Good Seeds catalog from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, the black and red tomato varieties are the most nutritionally complete. They contain high levels of lycopene, potassium, and vitamins A and C.
Orange and yellow tomatoes are often the sweetest varieties. The small cherry and pear tomatoes in these colors are especially sweet and make lovely snacking tomatoes. Their nutritional value is similar to red and black tomatoes in potassium, vitamin A, and vitamin C. They have slightly lower levels of lycopene, which is a red carotenoid pigment.
There is a line in the sand when we talk about green tomatoes. On one side are all of the underripe red and orange tomatoes that are immature and haven’t developed color. Any fruit that is underripe will be bitter. Unripe tomatoes do contain glycoalkaloids which are fine for some people but may irritate people with thyroid and digestion issues.
On the other side are special heirloom varieties that stay green when fully ripe. Green tomato varieties have similar vitamin C and potassium as orange and red tomatoes and less vitamin A and lycopene. They are flavorful and sometimes tart.
Determinate vs. Indeterminate
This refers to how the plant grows. Some types are small little bushes and others are most like tall vines. Both types can produce cherry, plum, and paste types in all of the colors.
Determinate varieties have a determined size. They’re going to be more like a bush and reach a predetermined height. These are predictable types and ideal for containers or square foot gardening. Determinate varieties usually produce all of their tomatoes at once.
Indeterminate varieties have no predetermined shape or size. Their growth will depend on the environment that you give them. These kinds of tomatoes benefit from a tomato cage or some kind of support. Their stems can get long and heavy very fast, especially once they start to produce fruit. Indeterminate types often produce tomatoes throughout the season.
Hybrid vs. Heirloom
This refers to how the tomato's family lineage.
Hybrid tomatoes are created when two different kinds of tomatoes cross pollinate. sometimes this happens naturally from two tomato types being planted near each other. The end result is a hybrid. Other times, the gardener or plant breeder will intentionally cross pollinate two types of tomatoes. The goal is to produce a new kind of tomato that has the best qualities of both parents. These kinds are more predictable than heirloom varieties.
Heirloom tomatoes are varieties that have been grown for generations, usually 50 years or more. Each year the seeds from the parent plant are saved to grow the next generation the following year. They’re very similar year after year. In general, heirloom tomatoes can be more finicky to grow and they’re yield is unpredictable. Most people agree that heirloom tomatoes have more flavor than hybrids.
At the end of the day, my two tomato rules to live by will never steer you wrong.
1. Buy or grow local varieties.
2. Never put them in the fridge.
Oh, and one more. Eat them!
I teach people how to cook and eat real food with confidence so that you can have less stress, better health, and WAY more fun in the kitchen and in life.
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