There are some new kids on the block.
As you know, tomatoes are a popular vegetable that turns out to be a fruit. They grow on a vine and are at their peak during summer months and into fall. They were first grown in South America and first eaten in Mexico. In 1500 they were taken to Spain and once the Spanish tried them, they spread them around the world. Currently there are over 10,000 cultivar tomatoes (those produced by selective breeding) in a variety of colors like yellow, orange, pink, purple, green, black, brown and white. The largest type is the Beefsteak and the smallest is the grape or cherry tomato.
Health benefits of tomatoes include lycopene, an antioxidant that is good for the heart and effective against certain cancers. They also contain vitamins A and C, calcium and potassium. Cooked tomatoes are better for us than raw ones because more beneficial chemicals are released. Tomatoes are eaten raw, or in sauces, or as juice, ketchup or soup.
Here are the six most popular tomatoes that my research uncovered, but there may be others not mentioned here:
Cherokee Purple is an heirloom that has a beautiful deep red color and lots of sweetness. It is delicious sliced and drizzled with olive oil or balsamic vinegar and sprinkled with a pinch of sea salt. Craig LeHoullier is credited with introducing the Cherokee Purple tomato in 1990. He is a devoted seed saver (there is a seed saver exchange committed to reviving heirlooms and maintaining their genetic history).
The Beefsteak tomato is the go-to standard. When in doubt I always reach for a Beefsteak because I know what I’m getting. They are large, one of the largest of cultivar tomatoes, and juicy. As stated earlier, cultivars are the result of intentional breeding, while variety is the result of accidental crossing, and hybrids are the result of the cross pollination of two cultivars. Beefsteaks are delicious fresh, easy to grow and can weigh up to two pounds. They are most often found in farm stands as they do not take well to growing on a large scale. They mature late so are found during the late summer and early fall. They are best sliced and used in sandwiches, or paired with mozzarella and pesto, or as an addition to any salad. Their mild flavor makes them a great base for any sauce or dip.
The Brandywine tomato is an heirloom cultivar that is pinkish in color and as large as the Beefsteak tomato. It has an intense tomato flavor which makes it one of the most popular. The Brandywine plants will produce until the first frost. They are non-acidic but a little tart. They are delicious when eaten fresh and are popular sandwich additions because of their size. They pair well alongside a grilled entrée just as is. This variety also comes as a Black Brandywine tomato or a Yellow Brandywine tomato.
The Green Zebra tomato is the result of four heirlooms bred together thus making it a cultivar. It is a chartreuse color with deep lime-green stripes. It is great looking inside and out, and delicious. It suffers from the reputation that most green tomatoes have, which is that they are unripe. It is tarter than the Beefsteak and Cherokee Purple. Green Zebras are ripe when their light green stripes have turned to yellow and the bottom has a blush color. They are great looking in salads and excellent for use in cooking. Their tart flavor and sturdy texture make them good for sautéing, slow-roasting or frying.
The Celebrity tomato is an all-purpose variety with great flavor. It is a hybrid that is multiple disease-resistant, crack resistant and the plants produce many fruits. It is a medium-large tomato and is versatile in its uses. The stems that hold the fruit can produce 20 or more plump, healthy tomatoes that weigh about 8 oz. and are 4” across.
Grape tomatoes, or cherry tomatoes as I call them, are small and round and believed to be a genetic mixture between wild currant-type tomatoes and domesticated garden tomatoes. They can range in size from a thumb tip to a golf ball and can be round or slightly oblong in shape. They can be tart or sweet, red or gold, and they are most often used in salads, or served with a dip, or just eaten raw like candy.
Other forms of tomatoes: Sundried tomatoes are tomatoes that have been dried in the sun, tomato powder can be used to replace fresh tomatoes in sauces when tomatoes are not in season, and tomato paste, an intense reduction of tomato commonly used in cooking.