by Lisa Hutchinson
The vibrant hues and succulent flavors of ripe tomatoes are among the most anticipated and celebrated harbingers of summer. As you stroll through the aisles of your local grocery store, you’re likely to see the same, predictable tomato varieties time and time again. But did you know there’s a vast world of heirloom tomatoes, each boasting its own unique taste, texture, and color?
Embarking on a journey to explore the world of heirloom tomatoes is a delightful experience for any gardener or food enthusiast. With an abundance of shapes, sizes, and flavors to choose from, it’s no wonder heirloom tomatoes have become a garden staple for many. It’s time to ditch the conventional and embrace the extraordinary.
Below are some of our favorite heirloom tomato varieties. These flavorful treasures will not only bring diversity to your garden but also add an unparalleled burst of flavor to your culinary creations. So, roll up your sleeves and get ready to discover some of the most delectable and intriguing heirloom tomatoes to elevate your gardening and dining experiences.
Disadvantages of Heirloom Tomatoes
While heirloom tomatoes are cherished for their exceptional flavors, visual appeal, and unique histories, they do come with some drawbacks. One notable disadvantage is that they tend to be more susceptible to diseases and pests compared to their hybrid counterparts. Heirloom varieties have not been specifically bred for resistance to common tomato afflictions, which may result in a reduced yield or the need for more attentive care.
Another potential downside to growing heirloom tomatoes is that they often have a shorter shelf life than hybrid varieties. Once harvested, heirloom tomatoes may not store as well or for as long, which means you’ll need to consume or preserve them relatively quickly. Despite these challenges, many gardeners still choose to grow heirloom tomatoes, valuing their unparalleled taste and diverse selection over the convenience of hybrids.
Choosing Bush vs. Vine Heirloom Tomatoes
Before diving into our list of the top heirloom tomato varieties, it’s essential to understand the two primary growth habits of tomatoes: bush and vine. Knowing the difference between these types of tomatoes will help you make informed decisions about which varieties are best suited for your garden’s unique space and needs. Don’t worry; it may seem overwhelming at first, but we’ll guide you through the basics.
Bush Heirloom Tomatoes (Determinate)
Bush heirloom tomatoes, also known as determinate tomatoes, are compact plants that grow to a specific height and produce a concentrated set of fruit. These tomatoes are ideal for gardeners with limited space, such as container gardening or raised beds. They generally require less support than their vine counterparts and have a shorter growing season, with their fruit ripening within a brief window of time. This characteristic makes them perfect for gardeners who want to harvest a large batch of tomatoes simultaneously, ideal for canning, sauces, and preserving.
Vine Heirloom Tomatoes (Indeterminate)
Vine heirloom tomatoes, or indeterminate tomatoes, are the sprawling, more vigorous plants that continue to grow and produce fruit throughout the entire growing season until they are stopped by frost. These tomato plants often require staking, caging, or trellising to support their growth and prevent the fruit from touching the ground. Vine tomatoes are an excellent choice for gardeners who desire a steady supply of tomatoes for fresh eating, salads, and sandwiches over an extended period.
Now that you’re familiar with the two primary growth habits of heirloom tomatoes, you’re one step closer to selecting the perfect varieties for your garden.
Recommended Vine (Indeterminate) Heirloom Tomatoes
Brandywine: This large, pinkish-red beefsteak tomato is known for its rich, sweet flavor and juicy texture. It’s a vine tomato with a relatively long growing season, but the exceptional taste is well worth the wait. Learn more about growing brandywine tomatoes here.
Green Zebra: Sporting a unique green and yellow striped pattern, Green Zebra tomatoes have a tangy, slightly sweet flavor. These vine tomatoes are perfect for adding a pop of color and a zesty twist to salads and sandwiches.
San Marzano: Beloved by many for its exceptional taste in sauces and pastes, San Marzano is a classic Italian plum tomato. It’s a vine variety with an elongated shape and thick, meaty flesh that’s low in seeds.
Black Krim: Hailing from the Isle of Krim in the Black Sea, this dark purple-red tomato is prized for its smoky, slightly salty flavor. Black Krim is a vine tomato that produces medium-sized, slightly flattened fruit.
Cherokee Purple: This deep purple-red beefsteak tomato with green shoulders is named for its Cherokee heritage and is known for its sweet, rich flavor. A vine variety, Cherokee Purple tomatoes are medium to large in size with a slightly flattened shape.
Yellow Pear: As the name suggests, these small, pear-shaped tomatoes are a vibrant yellow color. This vine variety is perfect for snacking or adding to salads, with a mild, sweet flavor and low acidity. Learn more about yellow pear tomatoes here.
Mortgage Lifter: This large, pinkish-red beefsteak tomato got its name during the Great Depression when the creator used the proceeds from selling plants to pay off his mortgage. It’s a vine variety with a sweet, rich flavor and meaty texture.
Aunt Ruby’s German Green: This unique, green-when-ripe tomato boasts a sweet and slightly fruity taste. It’s a vine variety that produces large, beefsteak-style fruit, perfect for slicing and adding an unexpected twist to salads and sandwiches or even salsa.
Costoluto Genovese: With its deeply ribbed shape, the Costoluto Genovese is an Italian heirloom tomato that stands out both in appearance (ribbed surface) and taste. This vine variety has a rich, tangy flavor and is ideal for slicing, canning, and making sauces.
Great White: True to its name, the Great White beefsteak tomato is a large, creamy white fruit with a sweet, mild flavor and a meaty texture. This vine variety is perfect for those looking for a unique and eye-catching addition to their garden.
Recommended Bush (Determinate) Heirloom Tomatoes
Gold Nugget: This charming heirloom bush tomato variety produces an abundance of small, bright yellow cherry tomatoes that boast a delightfully sweet and juicy flavor. The compact growth habit of Gold Nugget makes it an excellent choice for container gardening, small garden spaces, or even hanging baskets. Enjoy these little golden gems in salads, as a colorful garnish, or simply as a tasty snack straight off the vine.
Besser: This German heirloom bush tomato variety is known for its prolific production of cherry-sized, fruits that have a well-balanced, classic tomato flavor. The compact and manageable growth habit of Besser tomatoes makes them a popular choice for small gardens or container growing. Versatile and flavorful, Besser tomatoes are perfect for salads and snacking.
Marglobe: The Marglobe heirloom bush tomato variety stands out for its consistent yields of medium to large, smooth, globe-shaped red fruits. Although it is an heirloom, it is known for crack resistance and disease resistance. The compact growth habit of Marglobe tomatoes makes them well-suited for small gardens, containers, or even urban spaces, offering both visual appeal and a delicious harvest.
Roma: Roma tomatoes are a popular choice for making sauces, pastes, and canning due to their dense, meaty flesh and low moisture content. These bush tomatoes have an elongated, egg-like shape and a mild, slightly sweet flavor.
We’ve covered the incredible diversity and flavors these treasured heirloom tomato varieties have to offer. From the rich, tangy taste of Marglobe to the sun-drying prowess of Principe Borghese, heirloom tomatoes present a delightful array of colors, shapes, and culinary uses.
Gardeners have a wealth of options when it comes to selecting the perfect heirloom tomatoes, especially if you consider that you also can choose from both bush and vine varieties. Whether you have a small urban space or a sprawling garden, you can find a heirloom tomato variety that will work. Which ones will you grow?