Skip to main content

My love of garden-grown, heirloom tomatoes is well documented. However, since it’s late summer (prime tomato-harvest season) I’m not the only one with tomatoes on the mind. Heirloom tomato recipes are everywhere, and the Washington Post even ran a fascinating history of the “tumatle from Themistitan.”

I contend that the obsession is well warranted. Good tomatoes are the ultimate limited-time offer: as the man says, once they’re gone, they’re gone. Since out-of-season tomatoes barely qualify as the same vegetable (or fruit, whatever), the purist faces only a long, cold, tomato-less winter—an experience that only increases the anticipation of true summer tomatoes.

I’m as susceptible to marketing as the next guy, so, motivated by the joy of this natural LTO, here are five heirloom tomato varieties you should consider picking up when you’re at the farmer’s market—or even growing yourself.

Sungold Select Tomato

Sungold Select is an open-pollinated version of a popular hybrid tomato. These little orange cherry tomatoes are perhaps the sweetest tomatoes you’ll ever taste, and they’re easy to grow, so they’re widely available. This is the tomato for teaching your reluctant family members to love tomatoes.

Black Krim Tomato

Whereas yellow and orange tomatoes like Sungold Select are the sweetest tomatoes, black and purple boast the most intense, complex tomato flavor. The Black Krim varieties are often incredibly ugly, prone to cracking and a combination of purple, red, and green that looks like an ugly bruise. However, as consumers have grown more aware of their flavor (and are seeing more and more marketing around the beauty of imperfect produce/products), they have become more common at markets. Black Krim is one of the most sought-after varieties among aficionados, possessing a tremendous reputation for its flavor and its large, juicy fruit.

Cherokee Purple Tomato

Another black/purple tomato, Cherokee Purple ranks with Black Krim among the most delicious tomatoes in unofficial taste tests. It’s a slightly larger tomato with a redder color than Black Krim. The variety has been an American standard since before the 1890s.

Green Zebra Tomato

These green-and-yellow striped tomatoes are some of the most beautiful heirlooms you can find, and have great flavor, too. At a medium size, they are a good option if you want to slice up a tomato to eat with lunch, and don’t want to have a bunch of leftovers (which you don’t, since a refrigerated tomato will never be the same). Like the other tomatoes I’ve described so far, these have been popular for some time, so you can expect to see them at your local farmer’s market.

Pink Berkeley Tie Dye Tomato

This last variety is a new one, created by a breeder named Brad Gates of Wild Boar Farms. Gates is gaining increasing notoriety for creating spectacular open-pollinated tomato varieties, including several types with a unique blue tint. Like his other creations, Pink Berkeley Tie Dye is gorgeous, a medium-sized tomato in a deep red with metallic green stripes. More importantly, it is delicious—after sampling one grown by my father-in-law this summer, I’m about ready to proclaim it the best tomato I’ve ever tasted, rivaling the best purple tomato I’ve ever eaten. Although Wild Boar Farms tomatoes have yet to achieve the wide popularity of some of the older varieties listed above, I’m reasonably certain that I have seen them at farmer’s markets, where their distinctive appearance makes them easy to spot.

Heirloom Tomatoes: The Brand

All of these are great choices, but really, it’s hard to go wrong with an heirloom tomato. If heirloom tomatoes were a brand, they’d be a great one—it’s hard to think of another vegetable with such a strong profile: the aforementioned LTO program, great product characteristics, an expansive product line, and great names.

Our crew of food-fascinated writers, designers, and marketing strategists can help you create a brand that, if it doesn’t quite ascend to the heights of the heirloom tomato, is nonetheless compelling and responsive to industry trends. If you could use branding or marketing help, get in touch today.

Matt Miller staff photo
Matt Miller writes, teaches, and practices biodynamic gardening near Reeds Spring, Missouri. A MarketPlace alum with a background in academic research, he’s fascinated with how culture, media, and business interact—and equally with the best methods of cultivating healthy fruit trees.