The Best Heirloom Tomatoes

An heirloom tomato, also known as a heritage tomato, is a favored tomato variety among fruit and vegetable lovers and gardeners. Heirlooms are open-pollinated cultivars that often are adapted to specific climates or environments. They come in a variety of shapes, colors, sizes and textures, ranging from white, pink, orange, indigo and black, just to name a few. Although there are dozens of heirloom varieties, only a handful of popular heirlooms known for size, flavor, appearance and texture are favorites of foodies and gardeners.

Beefsteak Heirlooms

The Beefsteak heirloom tomatoes are one of the most well-known varieties. They are extremely juicy, sweet in flavor and popular in salads or as a fresh, chilled snack. Beefsteaks are the largest variety of cultivated tomatoes, usually weighing up to 1 pound or more. They range from pink to red, with a smooth skin and bumpy formation. Inside the tomato, seed pockets are apparent that make seed collecting easier. The tomato's ribbing is said to be similar to ancient pre-columbian tomato cultivars.

Brandywine Heirloom

This variety started the heirloom popularity. Why? It has a highly-revered flavor and texture, perfect for slicing, eating raw or for cooking. The brandywine variety is large and usually reddish pink (for less ripe) and purplish (for fully ripe). The large leaves that surround the tomato while it matures help shield it from elements so it can grow large and strong. Since the 1800s this variety has been popular. The flavor is rich and sweet. They slice well and are very meaty, so they are ideal for salads like caprese or on sandwiches. Toss chunks into pasta sauce, broil or grill with other vegetables, or coat with basil, dill oregano and olive oil for a fresh snack.

Purple Cherokee Heirlooms

This interesting heirloom name doesn't just refer to the color but also to the native Indians who first cultivated it. The Purple Cherokee tomatoes are beefsteak in style, with an indigo to black color and a green stripe across the top. This variety was one of the first blackish tomatoes to became popular in the heirloom family. More than 100 years in existence, it was grown by the Cherokee Indians and has a rich, slightly smokey, complex, sweet flavor. Cherokees can be simmered in oils and sauces or cooked down until they are a liquid to add complexity to the sauces. They can also be sliced for salad and sandwich wedges and are ideal for grilled skewers because of their density. They are also great for dehydrating because of their meatiness.

Keywords: heirloom tomatoes, best heirlooms, best tomatoes

About this Author

Lauren Wise is a journalism major from Arizona State University with over forty published magazine and media articles and over 400 Web site articles. Wise owns Midnight Publishing with over eight years experience as a writer, editor, copywriter and columnist. She specializes in food and wine, music and pop culture. Her writing has appeared in magazines including Runway, A2Z, Scottsdale Luxury Living and True West.