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Apr 29, 2007 02:37 PM

Do heirloom tomatoes really taste better?

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). 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.


              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

            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.