Tomato Taste Test
Heirloom VS Heirloom

Heirloom tomatoes taste better than hybrid tomatoes. Blah, blah, blah.

Heirloom tomatoes are more spectacular than hybrid tomatoes. Blahdee, blahdee, bloo.

Heirloom tomatoes are superior in every way and could probably cure cancer if given a bunsen burner and a cracked test tube.

BLAH, BLAH, BLAH, BLAHDEE, BLOO, BLAH. BLEH.

I get it. We get it. Anyone who buys, eats, consumes, looks at, even thinks about any tomato other than an heirloom tomato is a vegetable (fruit) idiot who deserves to die of some sort of acute, boring tomato sickness plague.

The truth is, any homegrown tomato is going to taste pretty good, and definitely better than a tomato that’s bought in a grocery store. In January.

Those tomatoes are picked well before they’re ripe and then they’re left to ripen by their own littles selves while travelling along the open highway in a transport truck, smokin’ cigarettes and listening to Kenny Rogers.

Problem is, tomatoes taste better when they ripen on the vine. A lot of people will tell you they can’t tell the difference, but I did a little experiment this year with my super sweet cherry tomatoes.

You see, sugars are built up in tomatoes by a multitude of things. The genetics of the tomato has a lot to do with it, the minerals in your soil and big sciencey words like Volatiles. Also, photosynthesis. The tomato leaves gather invisible magic stuff from the sun which converts to sugar in the tomato. All of these things combined are what create a sweet tomato.

This year I accidentally broke a few stems on my cherry tomato plant that had tomatoes ripening on it. So I left the branches on the plant and allowed them to wither away and die. The tomatoes on the dead branches still ripened but they didn’t get any of the benefits of the minerals from the soil or the magic invisible stuff through photosynthesis because the actual stem the tomatoes were on was dead.

Then I compared the taste of the tomatoes that ripened on the dead vine to a tomato ripened on a healthy vine. The result was astonishing and because of how sweet the tomatoes were supposed to be, DRAMATIC. The tomatoes on the dead tomato vine were not only less sweet, they were actually sour. The tomatoes that ripened on the healthy stem were as sweet as candy.

It would be a lot harder to taste the dramatic difference on a regular, less sweet tomato, but it does prove there is a definitely a decrease in the quality of a countertop/transport truck ripened tomato and a healthy vine ripened tomato.

So when tomatoes are picked early either to save them from frost, or to pack them onto a truck to ship them, they lose the benefits of the ripening with the addition of minerals and photosynthesis. And it makes a HUGE difference in taste.

Really that’s more important than whether a tomato is heirloom or not.

But heirlooms really do taste better. I think. Who knows.

tomateos-4

I sure think they look better.

tomatoes-1

Having billions of heirloom tomatoes, at least 10 friends and relatives and a need to know which was the BEST tomato I was growing, I organized a little taste test.

tomatoes-2

I had 6 different people try 6 different tomatoes and rate them from 1-10.

It was a blind taste test. Why?

 

Because these tomatoes are beautiful.

 

tomatoes-labelled

 

 

And the beauty of your food completely changes how it tastes.  The look of it will even change what you perceive the mouth feel to be. (what it feels like in your mouth.  Duh.)

Full discloser:  The Costoluto Genovese tomato below is not a real tomato slice.  I could have omitted that information and had you go on thinking it was real (because it looks so real) but it isn’t.  It’s a drawing of the shape of a Costoluto Genovese because I accidentally ate it.  In two slices of toasted homemade bread.

 

tomatoes-6

 

So I diced all the tomatoes up into bowls and started spoon feeding my friends and relatives.  Which was all kinds of weird.

 

Everyone ate one bite and graded them on flavour, texture, and whatever else they could think of.

 

 

tomatoes-5

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Everyone had a different reason for liking one over another. Some people liked a sweeter tomato, others did not. Some people liked a really strong tomato flavour, others did not.

This wasn’t what you’d call a scientific journal type research project. To be honest with you it was a clever way to get rid of a bunch of tomatoes without actually throwing them in the garbage.

I have a lot of tomatoes and some sort of freakish need not to waste a single one. More on that in a later post.

After the tasting was complete I added up the scores and the one with the highest score would be crowned the winner.

taste-test-chart

Green Zebra. Which happens to be my favourite tomato. It is ripe when green, and tastes like the normal red tomato you’re used to. It just has a different colour. It has a natural saltiness to it and a certain “zing”. Plus it looks great (which made no difference since this was a blind taste test) on a plate. People are always taken aback by the look of a ripe green tomato and will say they think it tastes a little green when they try it the first time. But it doesn’t. Their eyes are just stupid. Feeding them inconclusive information.

Blah, blah, blah.




72 Comments

  1. TucsonPatty says:

    Those all look awesome and very gravid looking! Aunt Ruby’s German Green looks like one heck of a sandwich ‘mater!
    I’ve eaten only one heirloom tomato – blackish purple but much larger (I think) than your Indigo Rose. The inside was very dark, also. Sweet and very flavorful. From a sort of farmer’s market.
    I want a tomato sandwich, now.

  2. Auntiepatch says:

    My tomato plants are being attacked by large green caterpillar type bugs! They are about 4″ long and they can eat a large plant very quickly. Urrghhhh……………! Nothing is better than a home grown tomato right off the vine! It’s all out war from now on!

  3. Laura Bee says:

    You make me want to love fresh tomatoes. But I can’t. I’ll just keep admiring the pretty pictures and your wicked funny writing.

  4. Grammy says:

    What’s your experience regarding yield of your “top three”? I mean, one of my favorites, Berkeley Tie Dye, is beautiful and delicious, but consistently produces only a few tomatoes on a somewhat spindly plant in my garden. With the work involved in caring for them in our very hot summers and a couple years of drought, I’d like to think my effort will result in at least a decent yield. I’m crazy for ripe-when-green tomatoes!

  5. Karen says:

    That would be the dreaded tomato hornworm. They turn into spectacular HUGE moths. And they can eat an entire tomato plant in about a day. For real. Pick them off and KILL them. ~ karen!

  6. Karen says:

    You know what? Hated em until I started becoming obsessed with growing them! ~ karen

  7. Karen says:

    Year after year is different but … this year the Indigo Rose produced a TON of tomatoes. Like, … A FAT ALBERT TON. The Green Zebra is more of a moderate producer. This year my Aunt Ruby’s German Green was a so-so producer but last year was an insanely HUGE producer. Yup. Those are the facts. ~ karen!

  8. Madhu Ramakrishnan says:

    you created a very nice poster

  9. Cynna says:

    I beg to differ re/ killing the tomato hornworm! They host the larva of the Braconid Wasp–a notoriously very good predator for bad garden insects. If you see a hornworm on a tomato plant, simply remove the worm and some of the plant and put them into a box slightly covered with a screen, away from the garden. When the wasps are mature (and they feast on the hornworm–and eat it to death– while maturing) they can go on to do their good deeds in the garden. http://gardening.about.com/od/gardenproblems/ig/Insects-and-Diseases-of-Plants/Tomato-Hornworm-with-Predator.htm

  10. Karen says:

    Thanks Madhu! I was pretty pleased with it. 🙂 ~ karen

  11. Claudia says:

    This year wasn’t a tomato year in my garden. My Green Zebra produced a hell lot of tomatoes anyway. It looks beautiful, but the tomato skin was quite sturdy. The best (and sweetest) tomatoes came from a nameless cocktail tomato of a plant grown from seeds I harvested last year. Hope it will be warmer next year so I’ll be able to try out more heirlooms…

  12. Karen says:

    That is absolutely one way to go Cynna! ~ karen

  13. Auntiepatch says:

    It’s 105 degrees here in San Diego so I’m not spending enough time outside. It’s suppose to break tomorrow so IT’S WAR!

  14. Grammy says:

    Thanks. Mine vary from year to year, too, but the Tie Dye has been consistently slimy for me. It might just need less heat than it gets here. I’m going to try Aunt Ruby’s German Green for sure!

  15. Karen says:

    Yes you ARE. I haven’t forgotten. ;( ~ karen

  16. Grammy says:

    That’s supposed to say “skimpy” and NOT “slimy”. Damned auto-correct.

  17. Rachel San Diego says:

    Beautiful tomatoes, Karen! I’ve been scarfing down the ones we get from our CSA box. I love the Indigo Rose, plus we got a great yellow (!?) variety recently as well. My favorite method of eating a perfect heirloom tomato is on a lightly toasted slice of wheat bread with a smear of cream cheese, lots of tomato slices, and freshly ground black pepper on top. Yum.

  18. chris aka monkey says:

    we didn’t get a garden in this year but will be ready next year ,i have already started a lasagna garden that will overwinter and hopefully have turn our red clay into nice black wormy dirt…..in the past i have good luck with heirlooms….. cat update went to clean out jar and give “wilbur” a new leaf as he had stayed on the side the whole previous day and i wasn’t sure if he was dead or not … so i put my dried flower stem right next to him and nudged a bit so he would crawl on it so i could put in lid he got the hint i clean those darn tiny black specks out and threw away old leaf and put in new one and placed him on new leaf… a couple of hours later i looked into jar and thought his head had fallen off so i reach in grab stem and nudge him again he just rared up and walked up the leaf a bit without what i thought was his head i guess he shed his skin so now he is growing and eating like a pig i sure wish i knew what i was raising lmao but i am attached abd don’t care what he turns out to be i will set him free xx

  19. Tigersmom says:

    You have eaten a tomato sandwich! By choice, no less. I’m so proud.

  20. Shana says:

    This is my third year growing green zebra and not only do they taste great but they are my largest producer each year and I’ve now tried them both in the garden beds and in our raised gardens – I’ve gotten 30 from one plant alone and they are still coming!

  21. Phyllis Kraemer says:

    I’m disappointed that pineapple came in last…I wasn’t able to get even one plant this year…guess that turned out OK after all!!

  22. Su says:

    Sigh….. my tomato plants were attached by the $%^& muskrat that decided they were his personal gourmet meal ….. and I had BEAUTIFUL tomato plants this year. heirlooms, Best boys, Romas, Yellow cherries… lush, full… things of beauty…my goal was to become the tomato lady…
    he left one plant with a side shoot that gave me THREE tomatoes …..you can only imagine my disappointment…. and not having a gun to shoot the darn thing (and if I did I am afraid my aim is so bad I would have shot holes in the boats moored in the water nearby) left me defenseless….
    one neighbor suggested fox urine, which when found I did apply but by then the damage was complete…. he was eating my day lillies, which have recovered nicely – suppose the mass trimming was good for them….
    Next year I’m wrapping the cages in chicken wire and applying fox urine from the start… and finding a trapper to remove the critter

  23. Jane says:

    Yum!! Love the ladder photo

  24. Tara says:

    I love tomatoes, and all of those looks so delicious. There are few things better than a tomato sandwich with homegrown tomatoes!

  25. Patti says:

    Good Morning Everyone !
    I only grow one heirloom and that’s Hillbilly. It looks like your pineapple.
    It’s not as acidic as regular tomatoes and is very sweet.
    The other tomato I grow is not an heirloom but I love them….Beefsteak !
    We grew these when I was a child (many, many moons ago !) and I’m still growing them.
    It’s all a matter of taste !
    And of course, my cherry tomatoes. Which turned out to be a Super producer this year.
    4 plants and I pick between 80 and 160 per day.
    I’m now the tomato powder lady. You need to try making powder !
    BTW…Autumn starts 1 week from today ! Someone please tell Mother Nature ! It’s been so cold here these past 3 weeks !!!!!
    Karen, Do you can your Tomatoes ?

  26. Heather says:

    Thanks for the science lesson. I call vine-ripened tomatoes “real” tomatoes. I could live on toasted tomato sandwiches while they’re in season. As for buying them at the grocery store off-season – no thanks. Which means I have a limited window in which to get my tomato “fix”.

    The first time I tried heirloom tomatoes was several years ago in France (oh lucky me) and they were AMAZING, but of course they were in season and purchased at a little local market.

  27. Ann says:

    Around these parts most of the heirlooms fail because of disease. Most have some natural resistance to one thing or another, but the hybrids often have resistance to everything out there. So I may grow one fun heirloom, this year Pink Germans, but mostly grow hybrids. As long as they ripen one the vine I am happy with the taste. Albeit, I admit, I am not hugely fond of tomatoes.

    This year by best producer was a salad tomato that came from one of the big box stores as a seedling. I won’t call it a cherry tomato since it is a bit bigger than most cherries but it sure produces like one. We have probably picked several bushels from this one plant and they do taste quite yummy. I will save seed from this one and try to grow it myself next year from those seeds. Although if this variety is a hybrid, it may produce only sterile seed so we shall see.

    And I also beg you don’t kill the tomato hornworm. Not only is it a beautiful moth when it grows up and is host for a great beneficial as spoken above, it is also usually so solitary that it doesn’t cause all that much damage. I may get one a year, late usually so that my plants already don’t look that good. So I let it be. Every time you take something away you upset the balance of nature just a little. Don’t get me wrong. I battle every squash bug and Japanese Beetle out there. But there are millions of those and not so many tomato hornworms. I suppose if I had a hoard of them show up one year I might choose to do battle but that has only happened once in 30 years of gardening.

  28. Mary Werner says:

    Instead-try smooching one up in a container with a rock or stick, add water and sprinkle on the plant. It works like magic. They disappear in hours. Don’t know where they go, they just leave. Honest. Person I learned it from used a dedicated blender and handful of whatever bug he wanted gone – then put watered down mess in sprayer and did his garden. They do something similar with sharks. They drop concentrated ground shark stuff in water where there are lots of sharks and they scatter instantly.

  29. Rondina says:

    When we purchase heirloom tomatoes from the store (think Whole Foods), are they also picked early? I would think the same practice takes place.

  30. Marie says:

    I grew green zebras last year on your recommendation but was not prepared for how big the plants got. I had lots of tomatoes from two plants and they were delish! I concentrated on the flower bed this year but I’ll plant green zebras again next year, in a spot with plenty of room to grow.

  31. Karen says:

    LOL, Just be careful with the nudging Monkey. They have such delicate internal organs that it’s easy to mush them without even realizing. Yes, they don’t move for hours and hours at a time when they shed. I can’t wait to find out what you’re raising either. If it’s eating the milkweed, chances are it probably is a monarch. Maybe. 😉 ~ karen!

  32. Karen says:

    I did. It happened. Toasted with mayonnaise. I’m now cursed. ~ karen!

  33. Karen says:

    Pineapple could have been a product of poor soil or … maybe it was too ripe when I served it, but everyone said they just thought it was watery. I’ll give it one more shot next year because of the sheer beauty of the tomato. It definitely does have a bit more sweetness than a regular tomato, but just a bit. ~ karen!

  34. Karen says:

    Thanks Jane! ~ karen

  35. Karen says:

    Hi Patti – I do everything with my tomatoes, lol. Yes, I can them when I grow paste tomatoes for that purpose. I also roast and freeze, give them away and juggle them. 🙂 ~ karen

  36. Karen says:

    H Ann – The reader (sorry forget her name already!) had said that she was losing all her tomato plants and they were being eaten fast. In that case ( like when I had a potato bug invasion this year ) things have to be killed. I found a tomato hornworm earlier this year but it wasn’t anywhere near my tomato so I left it alone. ~ karen!

  37. Karen says:

    I’ve heard of that sort of thing before. And variations on it. I”m sure in a lot of cases it does work! ~ karen

  38. I avoid store bought tomatoes! They are awful anytime of the year. Kinda cardboard like…. IMHO. I have been eating tomatoes like crazy and giving them away. A bumper crop this year!

  39. Ev Wilcox says:

    Is that why you grew Brussels Sprouts?

  40. Erin says:

    “I have a lot of tomatoes and some sort of freakish need not to waste a single one. More on that in a later post.”
    I have the same disease. Please help me.

  41. Leslie says:

    Awesome!!!

  42. Patti says:

    LOL !!! I can’t juggle but I’d have the cleanest floors after mopping up the SPLATS !!!!
    Here’s my recipe for Italian Roasted Red Peppers…Enjoy !
    http://www.sparkpeople.com/mypage_public_journal_individual.asp?blog_id=5778587

  43. kate-v says:

    re: the tomato horn worm. After years of trying to save my tomato plants from those chunky green guys I plant a ‘sacrifice’ tomato plant. It is of any indeterminate variety, far from other tomato plants, and when I find a tomato worm I just put him/her there.

  44. martina says:

    I’m not sure smooching is the right term!!!

  45. Mary Werner says:

    OMG not smooching – meant smooshing – what a difference one letter makes

  46. Katie C. says:

    My tomatoes, and all of the tomatoes in my area, got blight this year. Our annual farmer’s market tomato tasting had to be cancelled! Our local gardening non-profit suggested pulling all of the plants so that the blight didn’t infect the rest of the garden. I had so many green tomatoes, so I decided to paper bag them with ripening bananas to get the tomatoes to ripen. Now that I read your post (great post, btw) my hopes are dashed. Guess I need to try out that fried green tomato recipe.

  47. Elen Grey says:

    I’m definitely going to try the Green Zebra next year. I planted four heirloom tomatoes this year. The most successful was the Chadwick Cherry. It travels, man! I loved the Purple Cherokee, though it wasn’t a prolific producer. Thanks for twigging me on to Cubits and Edible Antiques!

  48. Catherine says:

    Muskrats can be terrible. There was one at the Lake that liked eating rubber and the coating on wires on boats. My brother-in-law had to trap it and kill it. It sank a neighbour’s boat twice! (It ate the bellows, he had it repaired and put back in the water and then it ate it again!)

  49. Laura M says:

    I make this soup with all my extra tomatoes. It’s delicious and so easy because you don’t have to peel or seed them. I follow the recipe exactly except I add a small can of tomato paste.
    Creamy Heirloom Tomato Soup: http://goboldwithbutter.com/?p=1623

  50. Amy in StL says:

    How do you know when the green tomatoes are ripe??? I grew a white tomato one year that turned a paler shade of green when ripe – supposedly. I never could figure it out. I loved my brandywine tomatoes this year and my orange “cherry” tomatoes. None were hybrids, but they were amazing.

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