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What Are Heirloom Tomatoes?

Are you here to find out more about heirloom tomatoes? What are heirloom tomatoes, you ask? 

Well, if you’ve never tried their rich, juicy flesh and wondered what heirloom tomatoes are, you’re missing out!  

Get to know about these delightfully tasty tomatoes, from flavor profile to their many varieties.

Heirloom tomatoes refer to unique tomato cultivars that are genetically different from standard “grocery store” tomatoes.

They’re at least 50 years old and considered “breed true,” meaning the seeds grow into a plant that bears tomatoes that look like the parent heirloom. 

You can classify heirlooms into four categories, and there are various varieties of fruits, from Amana orange to Amish Paste to Blondkopfchen—you’ll unlock a few of them in this comprehensive guide!

Apart from that, this article explains everything you need to know about heirloom tomatoes, including their flavor profile, how they differ from regular tomatoes, and how you can pick the perfect heirlooms.

What are heirloom tomatoes?

Contents

Heirloom tomatoes are a tomato variety whose seeds have been passed down from season to season through generations of families or farmers due to their valued quality. 

You can’t cross-pollinate them, meaning you can only pollinate them naturally in nature with no intentional intervention. 

American activist Kent Whealy, the co-founder of Seed Savers Exchange, coined the word “heirloom” concerning plants. 

He said that he had taken the term from William Hepler, a professor at the University of New Hampshire. 

Whealy added that Hepler is the one who used the term “heirloom” to define the beans that he received from his friends way back in the 1940s.

Heirloom tomatoes feature colors, textures, sizes, and flavors that differ depending on the varieties. 

A few characteristics of heirloom tomatoes are bright, juicy, flavorful, and full of history.

According to tomato experts Craig LeHoullier and Carolyn Male, there are four categories of heirlooms: commercial, family, created, and mystery heirlooms. 

Commercial heirlooms are those open-pollinated varieties that have been introduced for more than 50 years, while family heirlooms refer to those tomato seeds passed down through several generations of a family. 

Meanwhile, created heirlooms are those varieties that undergo cross-pollination between two heirlooms or an heirloom and a hybrid tomato. 

LeHoullier and Male added that mystery heirlooms refer to those tomato varieties that are a product of the natural cross-pollination of other heirlooms.

Due to topnotch flavor and juiciness, heirloom tomatoes are pricier than regular tomatoes. 

Moreover, this variety has a short shelf life and can be found at farmer’s markets from late summer to early fall.

But keep in mind that not all heirloom tomatoes sold at your local farmer’s market are considered an heirloom. 

Some farmers take advantage of the heirloom hype and market their tomatoes as heirlooms to generate more sales.

So when buying heirloom tomatoes, ensure to ask the tomato vendor first regarding the variety, how they’re grown, or you can do a taste test to make sure you’re getting the best heirlooms. 

Apart from their wonderful hue, taste, and texture, heirloom tomatoes are incredibly unique. 

Some popular types of heirloom are available at the local farmer’s market: Amana orange, Azoychka, sunset’s red horizon, black Krim, and many more.

What do heirloom tomatoes taste like

Are you intrigued with the heirloom tomato flavor? To tell you, the flavor profile of the tomato varies depending on its variety. 

Yellow heirloom tomatoes like Azoychka feature a robust and citrusy taste, while Blondkopfchen is somewhat sugary in flavor. 

Meanwhile, Amana orange, known for its light orange color (obviously) has a sweet and tropical undertone. 

What makes heirloom tomatoes special

What makes heirloom tomatoes special isn’t just their flavor and quality, but this variety has a history and story passed from generation to generation. 

So in case, your family has heirloom tomato seeds, those superfoods are probably those enjoyed by your grandparents and great grandparents. 

Amazing, right?

How to pick out heirloom tomatoes

Choosing the perfect heirloom at the farmer’s market can be challenging. Unlike other fruits (botanically), there’s much more to check beyond their appearance and hue. 

To ensure that you’re getting the best heirlooms, consider their texture, smell, and weight carefully.

Pay attention to the color

Before buying heirloom tomatoes at your local grocery store or farmer’s market, ensure to look for heirlooms that appear bright and well-colored, as these are considered signs of freshness.

Give them a good squeeze

One of the best ways to tell if the heirloom tomatoes are ripe and ready to enjoy is by giving them a good squeeze. 

Make sure that the tomatoes don’t have “finger squeeze” bruises. If you spot some mushy spots or signs of rotting, don’t purchase them.

Do a sniff test

Smelling the tomatoes can be a great strategy to help measure the quality of the heirlooms. 

Ripe heirloom tomatoes typically have an earthy and green scent. If the tomatoes do smell musty, it’s a clear indication that they aren’t that good.

Assess their weight

Another easy way to tell if the heirloom tomatoes are fully ripe is by checking their weight. 

Look for tomatoes that feel heavy in their size, which generally means that they ripen. 

You must find those tomatoes that have glossy skin as they’re likely to be more palatable.

Heirloom tomato varieties

Botanically classified as fruits but often used as vegetables in the culinary field. 

There are tons of tomato varieties—many of which are hybrids and heirlooms. If you want to find out what are types of heirloom tomatoes, you’re in for a juicy treat!

Here are a few delicious heirloom tomato varieties you can enjoy:

1. Amana orange

This heirloom tomato variety is sought-after due to its sweet and tropical flavor and light orange hue. They are large, firm, and slightly oval. 

2. Azoychka

Azoychka is a Russian tomato heirloom with a luscious, citrusy, sweet undertone with a slightly flattened oblate shape. 

Compared to most yellow tomatoes, Azoychka has an outstanding acidic balance to its fruity sweetness, giving the tomatoes their complex flavors.

3. Sunset’s red horizon

Another top-notch heirloom tomato variety is Sunset’s red horizon. These tomatoes are meaty, full of tomatoey flavor, and have a noticeable heart shape.

4. Black Krim

Also dubbed as Krim, Black Krim is a type of heirloom tomato known for its excellent intense and slightly salty taste, deep green shoulders, and mahogany-like color. 

They’re perfect for salads and cooking. 

5. Blondkopfchen

An heirloom tomato variety from eastern Germany, this fantastic cherry tomato is beautifully sweet with a citrusy tart finish. 

Moreover, Blondkopfchen features a brilliant yellow or gold hue with a size akin to grapes.

6. Chocolate Stripes

Great for salad and sandwiches, chocolate stripes are a variety of heirloom tomatoes that have complex, rich, sweet, and earthy flavors with a nice color similar to a mahogany tree.

What’s the difference between heirloom tomatoes and regular tomatoes?

Many people across the globe enjoy heirloom and regular tomatoes (hybrid). 

They include them in their salad bowls and burgers and even turn the fruits into sauce or puree. 

Here are the key distinctions between the regular and heirloom tomatoes:

Quality

Heirloom tomatoes have a short shelf life compared to regular tomatoes, but they’re rich in flavor. Heirlooms also have different colors, shapes, and flavors—these attributes depend on the variety, of course.

You can breed hybrid tomatoes for resistance to diseases, thick skin, storage potential, and firm flesh rather than flavor.

History

Most heirloom tomatoes have been around from generation to generation, or the cultivar should be at least 50 years old. 

Regular tomatoes aren’t “breed true,” unlike heirloom tomatoes, wherein you can save and use their seeds to grow more tomatoes in the future.

Cost

Due to its flavor, quality, and sometimes rarity, heirloom tomatoes are a bit more expensive than those regular ones.

The bottom line

Heirloom tomatoes are a versatile and delicious fruit that comes in many varieties. 

And depending on the variety, you can use heirlooms for snacking or made into scrumptious sauce and puree. 

Whether you prefer a sweet taste or favor a more citrusy and tropical flavor, there are many heirloom varieties to choose from.

NEW: Try these Heirloom Tomato Recipes!

Creamy, Dairy-Free Heirloom Tomato Soup

Creamy, Dairy-Free Heirloom Tomato Soup

Yield: Serves 4

Enjoy a warm bowl of this creamy yet dairy-free heirloom tomato soup with your loved ones!

Ingredients

  • 5 cloves chopped garlic
  • 4-1/2 c chopped heirloom tomatoes
  • 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2 T good olive oil
  • 2 c vegetable broth
  • 1/2 t of salt
  • 1 t dried oregano
  • Several turns of cracked black pepper
  • 6 torn basil leaves (plus more for garnish)

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven temperature to 425°F. 
  2. In a large bowl, toss the chopped tomatoes, onion, and garlic with olive oil.
  3. Roast for 35 minutes, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Allow to cool for five minutes and set aside.
  4. To a blender, add the roasted vegetables with 1 cup of vegetable broth, oregano, and basil leaves. Pulse until thick and smooth.
  5. Pour into a large pot and heat over medium, covered. Add remaining broth and stir.
  6. You can add more salt to taste, add more broth for a thinner soup, and even use an immersion blender for a final creamier, smoother texture, as desired.
  7. A side of grilled cheese and chopped basil garnish is all that's needed to make this dish a success!

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