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Do heirloom tomatoes really taste better?

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Our usuals are Better Boy, Early Girl, Beefsteak, some romas, cherry, etc and they taste awfully good to me right off the vine but I am wondering if for eating and cooking there's a difference in taste compared to heirlooms. I want to plant the best tasting varieties I can this year. We eat alot of tomatoes during the season and I would like to grow the tastiest ones to use in salads, sandwiches etc. If you'd like to name your favorites I'm all ears.

Thank you!

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  1. Brandywine are by far my favorite. They have a rich, sweet aftertaste like a fine wine. I also like red zebras for a different effect, they are small and very tart. Not all heirlooms automatically taste better, but the ones that are good really floor me.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Steve

      another vote for brandywines, but i imagine even a brandywine might not taste so good if it's not from a farmer's market or somewhere else where you're assured it's vine-ripened and fresh. i've never cooked with brandywines because it seems like a terrible waste to me since they are so delicious raw and since they are so pricey, but for eating with salt and pepper (and maybe with avocado on a piece of good toasted bread) it can't be beat. cherokee are also pretty nice, but for me they are a distant second to brandywines.

    2. If the regular varieties are coming from your garden then you could probably argue that there isn't a lot of difference between yours and heirlooms. However, I think there's a distinct difference between heirlooms and most, if not all the tomatoes in the regular grocery store. It just seems like the taste is bred right out of grocery store tomatoes.

      7 Replies
      1. re: Den

        Well, for the most part, the taste is. Most tomatoes in grocery stores these days are bred to have thicker skins that can stand up to transport and they have to be picked short of ripe, again, so they can be stored/moved. The qualities that are usually most associated with a tasty and tomato-y tomato are those that would render the tomato unable to be transported or stored for long. They'll be slightly firm when whole, but give a bit, tend to bruise easily, and the sugar content will be relatively high so they'll break down quickly (in terms of both structure and taste).

        Seedsofchange.com has a very good selection of tomato seeds. I'm esepcially fond of the cherry tomatoes, particularly the yellow pear cherry tomato.

        1. re: ccbweb

          ccbweb, commercial tomatoes are, as you say, bred to withstand transport. Desirable consumer qualities such as taste, aroma, amd texture, however, are independent of storage/post harvest characteristics. You can and do have both sets of characteristics.

          Consumer characteristics can suffer because what you buy are often tomatoes that maximize yield and are rapid to mature--characteristics that can work against flavor, aroma, texture, and the like.

          1. re: ccbweb

            I don't know how widely available they are but the Florida Uglies seem to have the best flavor of the grocery store tomatoes you get down here. And I'm amused by the little soft sleeves they sometimes sell them in. It reminds me of the tales I've heard about Japan's fondness for individually wrapped fruits and veggies.

            1. re: beachmouse

              Last year, my local Albertson's had Emeril's Heirlooms. While not as good as farmer's market tomatoes, they were better than Florida Uglies or any other grocery tomato I've ever eaten.

              ed

              1. re: Ed Dibble

                Uglies are an heirloom variety, a cultivar of the French Marmande, which is why they had a problem with the Florida grading standards. The shoulders aren't regular like ordinary mass-produced tomatoes. "Uglies" is just a marketing name.

                1. re: MakingSense

                  Early yesterday I posted about "Marmande" tomatoes in response to the OP's question. The next thing I knew "This post was deleted" came up. A bit later the thread returned but without my post.

                  Marmande tomatoes are both delicious and I found them easy to grow. Both the pink Brandywine and small yellow Roma (not a true heirloom) also provide delicious tomatoes and variety on the plate.

                  1. re: Sherri

                    The moderators will probably struggle all season with the topic of heirloom tomatoes and other veggies since they are so hot right now. This really crosses the line from Pure Food into gardening knowledge which isn't always appropriate for this board. Unfortunately, people who garden know the difference and some folks who are just starting to look for heirloom veggies aren't sure what is and isn't heirloom.
                    In my own garden and in the markets, I go for what tastes great and what I can grow successfully. If consumers are looking for "heirlooms" and aren't sure what that actually means, it's easy to get ripped off. They might not buy non-heirloom varieties that are fabulous or get stuck with inferior produce just because someone says it's heirloom.
                    Sometimes this makes my head hurt. Should we send the mods some asprin?

        2. Some do; some don't. The posh sounding word "heirloom" just means that it is supposedly an "old time" tomato dating from before everything was bred for mass marketing.

          Some of them are beautiful, or at least interesting, to look at. But don't be misled and do some research before spending lots of money or investing much gardening time.

          First of all, heirloom varieties don't all taste the same. We went to an heirloom tomato festival and tasted at least a dozen varieties, all grown by small local farmers. Some were delicious out of hand, but others definitely were not.

          It seems that some taste good only with certain types of dressings/accompaniments, or only when cooked. And some heirloom varieties simply don't taste good - ever. So be sure the varieties you choose will meet your needs. The look so distinctive that it is easy to identify varieties from pictures.

          Having said all of this, here's a warning. The produce manager at one Toronto supermarket said their heirlooms came from their regular tomato suppliers. They did NOT include some wonderful tasting varieties that couldn't be shipped easily without damage. He said he can no more get ripe, fragile heirlooms that he can get the easily available sweet million cherry tomatoes (which crush or burst before they can be sold).

          So, if they sell, we may be entering an era of "mass market heirlooms" that deliver the same old unripe gassed tomatoes in a different looking and more expensive package.

          1. Many heirloom tomatoes have exceptional taste, but there are some duds as well. Since most commercial growers prefer hybrids bred for uniform size, ripening and disease resistance, you won't find many heirlooms in common groceries. It is not hard, and is very satisfying to grow them yourself.

            For authoritative information on heirlooms, I would highly recommend Dr. Carolyn Male's book "100 Heirloom Tomatoes for the American Garden", as well as the tomato forum at
            http://davesgarden.com

            1. I've experimented with a variety of tomatoes, and have decided the main problem with store tomatoes is not that they're commercial varieties, but that they are picked while unripe. Heirloom varieties are prone to cracking and disease. I settled on Early Girl, which has an extraordinarily long growing season whre I live (Sonoma County, Calif.) and tastes great. But seeds are cheap, so why not do some experimenting of your own? Good luck.

              1. For many years I started all my own vegetable seeds. For my favorite tomato, although I had a variety, I choose "Dona." It is a French market variety, F1 Hybrid, very disease resistant, tasty, with just the right acid to sugar ratio, indeterminate ( keeps on growing). It is smaller than say the Brandywine, but larger than the cherry varieties. I used to buy it from Seeds of Change but notice they no longer carry it. If you're interested - Google.

                1. I share friend's large garden in north central MA. We grow both hybrids and heirlooms. They are both good, and there are far fewer problems with the hybrids, especially in lousy weather. BUT, my favorites for flavor are the heirlooms. For some reason Brandywine has never wowed me, maybe it's the site. I love Black Prince and Green Zebra and, most especially, Persimmon, which is a huge orange tomato that's prone to cracking, blossom end rot, being munched by critters, vines splitting under the weight, you name it... but by god it's good. Give heirlooms a try but don't drop the hybrids. I'd do some research on what grows best where you are.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Aromatherapy

                    Aromatherapy hits it on the head with the advice to check on what grows best where you live. Even our best efforts will be frustrated by the simple fact of night temperatures and other things we can't change. What will grow happily in north central MA might not flourish where I garden in the Mid-Atlantic and just flat die in Mississippi. That's not due to the talents of the gardener or the variety itself.
                    We all want the most delicious tomato but even that is subject to personal taste. Some heirlooms are great and others are grown as curiosities. Some may simply not taste like your idea of a good tomato.
                    The internet can give you lots of information about what the heirlooms look and taste like and how difficult they are to grow - in general. But your best resource will be other good gardeners in your own neighborhood and your local garden center. They know what's successful where you live.
                    I plant Early Girl, lots of Roma VF for canning, Sweet 100s, Mortgage Lifter and German Johnson. Never was much for Brandywine.

                  2. Well, your soil and light and the weather of the season are at least as important as the variety you plant. Many heirlooms will struggle with weather and come out feeble-flavored compared to many hybrids. In my experience, it's all a crapshoot. I share the love of Brandywines and zebra and yellow tomatoes generally. But heirlooms also increase your risk of soil viruses that you will rue for years.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Karl S

                      Amen to that. I haven't found a non-hybrid true heirloom that is worth the trouble in my hot, wet area w/heavy soil and amazonian population of bugs. I get killer flavor from celebrity, fantastic, beefmaster, better boy, lemon boy, orange jubilee, and early girl (though EG is never really any earlier than the others). BTW, I saw my first ripening tomato this AM--it was a celebrity (almost always the first thing ripe each year). Got them in the ground on February 15, I was hoping to have at least one harvested by May 1st. Oh, well...maybe next year.

                    2. I recommend sungold for growing; they are a fairly large cherry tomato, of yellowish-orange color. They grow really well all summer long and are delicious. I usually do a mix of things like Brandywine and Green Zebra and things like Better Boy or Early Girl; the "commercial" varieties (that is, what Burpee's or HomeDepot sell lots of) tend to be a bit more impervious to disease and all, so I hedge my bets. But anything, anything you grow in your garden will taste better than what you find at the store.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: DGresh

                        Sungolds are fantastic! Haven't tried growing them but may do so in the future once I get things around the house more organized. Not a big raw eating tomato fan in general, but these I do enjoy occasionally.

                        1. re: CrazyOne

                          Yellow tomatoes were once more common than reddish ones. That's why they are called pomodoro (golden apple) in Italian. Yellow tomatoes are subacid, and often more delicious for raw eating.

                      2. Thanks so much, everyone. I guess I'll stick with my usual selection but may try an heirloom in a half barrel as I really do want to try a Brandywine or Dona or something delicious. I'm thinking that might prevent soil viruses (ugh, I had thought about pest issues but not soil contamination). I had fun looking at the websites mentioned and have bookmarked them.

                        Thanks again. I am very interested in food but have so much to learn and you all are amazing and generous sources.
                        I read cookbooks all the time and learn alot that way but I really think that my year or so of reading Chowhound has taught me the most about a wide variety of food related things.
                        Many, many thanks.