Tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum) come in different shapes, sizes, colors and tastes, with many varieties available. Fruit flavor depends on the blend of acids and sugars along with various tasty pigments and aromatic compounds. Even within the same variety, taste can differ depending on the growing conditions. Acids give tomato a tarter taste, and sugars lend sweetness. Each variety has a characteristic combination of ingredients, and some have salty, fruity or savory components. Which tomato tastes best to you depends on your individual taste buds and flavor preferences.
If you prefer highly sweet tomatoes, cherry tomatoes are ideal. They have a higher sugar content than regular-sized tomatoes, and the small size seems to concentrate the flavor. "Sweet 100" is one of the sweetest cultivars, but "Sunset" magazine staffers rated "SunSugar" as the best-tasting cherry tomato in their taste trials. These midseason varieties reach 5 to 6 feet tall.
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Some of the best-tasting tomatoes are pink to red. Heirloom "Brandywine" with late-ripening fruit is rated highly for its complex flavor that is both sweet and acidic. Plants have potato-type leaves and can grow to 10 feet tall. With a sweet and savory taste, "Pruden's Purple" is listed as having excellent flavor by Mother Earth News writer Cheryl Long. Also an heirloom variety, beefsteak-type tomatoes ripen earlier than "Brandywine." Despite its name, the fruits usually have deep pink skin and pink to red flesh, with purple overtones possible.
Purple and Black Varieties
Dark-colored tomatoes tend to have more acidic flavors. Rich, dark red-purple fruits of "Cherokee Purple" have a sweet, rich taste sometimes characterized as winey. Vines reach 4 to 6 feet long on a variety thought to originate from the Cherokee tribe. Black tomatoes combine dark red with green for reddish-black skin and flesh, and tend to have complex flavors. Medium-sized "Black Sea Man" is rated by Santa Clara, California, Master Gardeners as having exquisite flavor. Another black tomato, "Carbon" has 8- to 12-ounce fruits characterized as tasting sweet and exceptionally complex. Both black tomatoes ripen in 80 days.
Yellow and Orange Tomatoes
Yellow and orange tomatoes tend to be less acidic and milder-tasting than red tomatoes. For example, late-ripening "Yellow Brandywine" is intensely sweet, ripening in 90 days. Midseason tomatoes that combine fruitiness with sweetness are "Orange Strawberry," with bright orange heart-shaped fruit and "Glory of Moldova," which has clustered yellow fruit and good rankings in taste tests.
Green or White Tomatoes
Because green or white tomatoes don't have the abundance of flavorful plant pigments present in red and pink varieties, they have milder but distinctive tastes. "Green Giant" has about 1-pound green fruits with a spicy, sweet, complex flavor. The heirloom, potato-leaved variety grows to 5 feet tall and matures in 80 days. "Great White" is an heirloom beefsteak variety with a flavor characterized by Doreen Howard in her book "Heirloom Flavor" as sweet and almost melonlike. Maturation time is 85 days.
By far the commonest tomato color, good-tasting red tomatoes abound. One of the sweetest is "Matina," an early-ripening, 2- to 4-ounce heirloom variety from Germany. "Carmello" has medium to large tomatoes with excellent flavor that mature in 70 to 75 days. The modern hybrid "Better Boy" provides balanced, rich flavor on a productive, disease-resistant plant that bears from midseason until the first freeze.
Tomato Growing Information
Tomato and all its varieties are frost-tender plants hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 through 11. They're grown as annual plants elsewhere. Tomatoes need sunlight, good drainage and regular watering. Best flavor develops when daytime temperatures are around 80 degrees Fahrenheit and nights are in the 50s or 60s.
- Rutgers Cooperative Extension: New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station: Tomato Varieties
- The Scientist: Opinion: Restoring Tomato Flavor
- Bonnie Plants: The Basics of Tomato Flavor
- Sunset: Our Favorite Cherry Tomatoes
- Organic Gardening: The Best Varieties for Tomato Lovers
- Mother Earth News: Best-Tasting Tomatoes: 56 Heirloom Tomatoes Rated Excellent for Flavor
- Bonnie Plants: Cherokee Purple Tomato
- Master Gardeners of Santa Clara County: Spring Garden Market--Tomato List 2014
- Rutgers Cooperative Extension: New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station: Green Giant
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Lycopersicon Esculentum