by Erin Marissa Russell
You’ve probably seen both plum tomatoes and Roma tomatoes at the grocery store or in recipes and are left wondering, what the difference is between plum tomatoes and Roma tomatoes. They aren’t just two names for the same thing, as many of us believe. Keep reading to find out what the difference is in plum tomatoes versus Roma tomatoes.
The quick answer is that plum tomatoes are a whole category of tomato varieties, and Roma is just one of those varieties within the plum category. While plum and Roma tomatoes have lots in common, there are a few disparities between them.
All plum tomatoes, Roma tomatoes included, have been bred over years to be perfect for making sauce or packing tomatoes away in cans and jars. As a result, they have a lower water content than most other tomatoes, with a slightly chewy bite. Their lower water content makes them less juicy than other tomatoes, and their flesh is firm. They don’t have as much acidity as most other tomatoes do.
The category of plum tomatoes has lots of other colloquial names. For instance, you may hear plum tomatoes referred to as Italian tomatoes, Italian paste tomatoes, paste tomatoes, pear tomatoes, processing tomatoes, saladette tomatoes, or sauce tomatoes.
Along with Roma tomatoes, the other two varieties in the plum category are grape tomatoes and San Marzano tomatoes. Some of the most commonly grown plum tomato varieties that you may be familiar with include Amish Paste, Big Mama, Ropreco Paste, and San Marzano.
Plum tomatoes and Roma tomatoes have lots in common, since Roma is just one type of plum tomato. But there are some things that set Roma tomatoes apart from the pack. For instance, plum tomatoes can be either determinate or semi-determinate, while all Roma tomatoes are determinate.
Determinate tomatoes are bush type, while indeterminate tomatoes are vining type. Semi determinate tomatoes are somewhere between bush and vine, having short vines. If you want to delve into the difference between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes, check out our article Determinate (Bush) Versus Indeterminate (Vine) Tomatoes, Explained.
Another characteristic that sets Roma tomatoes apart from other plum tomatoes is their shape. Categorically, Plum tomatoes can fall anywhere on a spectrum between oval and cylindrical. Roma tomatoes, on the other hand, tend to be oval, like an egg, or pear-shaped.
Compared to the usual round slicing tomato, plum tomatoes and Roma tomatoes have fewer seed compartments. (This is why, as we’ve already discussed, plum tomatoes have a lower water content and are less juicy than round tomatoes.) They’re also almost always red, but there are less common varieties that produce orange or yellow plum and Roma tomatoes.
Roma tomatoes can grow to reach a length of three inches. They’re easily recognizable due to their egg-like shape and small size. Roma tomatoes are known for their fresh, tangy flavor that’s sweet but at the same time acidic. They’re best served cooked down into sauces, stew, or made into tomato paste.
If you see Roma tomatoes that have the letters VF after their names, you should know that the VF varieties have been bred to be resistant to two diseases common to tomatoes. The VF varieties are resistant to verticillium wilt and fusarium wilt.
Now you understand why so many of us were initially under the impression that Roma and plum tomatoes are one and the same. Although they are distinct, plum tomatoes and Roma tomatoes share many of the same qualities. However, as we’ve learned, Roma is just one variety under the umbrella of the plum tomato category. (The three types of plum tomatoes are grape, Roma, and San Marzano.) We’ve also found out that Roma tomatoes are always determinate (bush) type, while other plum tomatoes can be determinate or semi-determinate. The final key to the difference between plum tomatoes versus Roma tomatoes is their shape. While plum tomatoes can be either oval or cylindrical, Roma tomatoes tend to be either oval like an egg or pear-shaped. Now you’re well informed on the similarities and differences between Roma and plum tomatoes.