It's easy to see why tomatoes have so many fans: not only are they delicious, but they are also visually stunning, with a wide variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. But did you know that there are actually different types of tomatoes, and that some are better suited to certain types of dishes than others? A tomato is not just a tomato! And once you start growing more varieties, it's easy to come to appreciate the differences between varieties.
There are three basic types of tomatoes: slicers, paste tomatoes, and cherry-type tomatoes. Here's what you need to know about each.
These are the tomatoes that you eat, apple-style, right in the garden warmed from the summer sun. They are superior for slicing for sandwiches and burgers, or chopping into a salad. They tend to be juicier than paste tomatoes, and are therefore much better for fresh eating. The walls are thinner, and the chambers where the gel is found tend to be a bit larger.
While people generally think of "beefsteak" type tomatoes when they think of slicers, that is only one type of slicer. Slicing tomatoes come in many different sizes and colors, not to mention flavors. Some wonderful slicers include:
- Cherokee Purple
- Kellogg's Breakfast Tomato
- Aunt Ruby's German Green
- Black Krim
- Japanese Black Trifele
- Uncle Charlie's Mortgage Lifter
These tend to be indeterminate varieties, though some varieties, such as Sub-Arctic Plenty and Celebrity, are determinate, which makes them generally smaller plants, and therefore better suited to small gardens.
"Paste tomato" is somewhat of a misnomer, because there is so much more you can do with these types of tomatoes than make tomato paste or sauce! Besides the requisite sauces, you can make fresh salsas, ketchup, tomato juice and dried tomatoes. In general, these tomatoes are "fleshier" than slicers, with less juice and gel and thicker walls. They can also be good for fresh eating. In fact many of these could be considered "double duty" tomatoes in that regard. Some of the most popular paste tomatoes are:
- San Marzano
- Polish Linguisa
- Hungarian Italian
- Italian Red Pear
- Principe Borghese \
These are most often determinate tomatoes, making it easy to harvest and sauce or can all at once.
One thing you can say for almost any cherry-type tomato (which includes not only cherry tomatoes, but currants, pear, and grape tomatoes)is that they are prolific. These tomatoes are excellent for eating raw in salads, or just popped into your mouth as a snack. Cherry tomatoes are usually indeterminate, and will produce lovely little snacks for you until the plants are killed by frost. Some favorite cherry-type tomatoes are:
- Chadwick Cherry
- Yellow Pear
- Juliet Grape
- Red Currant
- Super Sweet 100
- Sweet Million
- Tiny Tim
If you only grow one of each type of tomato, it's safe to say you'll be able to fill just about any tomato-related need you may have (unless you want to sauce or can your tomatoes -- you'll need several plants to have enough tomatoes for that.) Selecting one or two cherry tomatoes (as mentioned above, they are prolific), as well as three slicers (an early tomato, mid-season tomato, and late season tomato) you'll have all you could possibly want for fresh eating, and it won't take a tremendous amount of space.
Knowing which types of tomatoes you'll eat based on your cooking preferences will make you a more efficient vegetable gardener, and you'll be sure to actually eat what you grow!