Over the years, we have offered classes on how to grow the best tomatoes at home. We followed each growing season with a tomato tasting event (except in 2020 😔) to sample and evaluate the results.
We carry a large selection of tomato varieties each spring including heirlooms and hybrids with organic and conventionally grown options. Different cultivars vary in fruit color, size, shape, flavor, mature plant size, ripening time, and/or disease resistance. Basic information can be found on the respective plant tag including ripening time (counted from time of transplant), flavor notes, etc. Be sure to check out our Growing Tomatoes care sheet as well!
Hybrid vs. Heirloom
A hybrid is the result of cross-pollinating two different tomato varieties and then growing the seeds that the cross produces. Compared to heirlooms, hybrids are often more disease-resistant and may be higher yielding. Popular hybrids include ‘Early Girl’, ‘Beefsteak’, and ‘Sungold’. Tags may indicate disease resistance with abbreviations such as V (verticillium wilt), F (fusarium wilt), T (tobacco mosaic virus), and A (alternaria).
Heirloom varieties are those that have been traditionally saved as seed from year to year and passed from gardener to gardener over the years. Some say heirloom varieties are those that pre-date 1951, the year that major seed companies began producing and selling hybrids. All heirlooms must be open-pollinated, meaning that their seeds can be harvested and grown again to produce the same results as the parent plant. Hybrids do not usually grow back from seed “true” to the parent, so they are not worth saving. Some tomato varieties are not old enough to be considered “true heirlooms” but have become genetically stable enough to be open-pollinated—these are sometimes still called heirlooms or signified with “OP” on the plant tag. Popular heirlooms include ‘Brandywine’, ‘Amana Orange’, ‘Striped German’, ‘Bloody Butcher’, ‘Mortgage Lifter’, and many more.
Determinate vs. Indeterminate
Determinate varieties are short and bushy, growing to about 2–3 feet tall, and they tend to produce their crop all at once over a few weeks. They are good for growing in containers or smaller spaces and need minimal support. Popular determinates are ‘Patio’, ‘Oregon Spring’, ‘Celebrity’, and ‘Glacier’.
Indeterminate tomatoes grow vine-like and tall, continuing to grow and produce fruit all summer long. They grow best with a stake or cage for support. Most cherry-style tomatoes are indeterminate; this type can also be grown in large containers (15–20 gallon), but is not suited for small pots. Popular indeterminate varieties are ‘Sungold’, ‘Early Girl’, ‘Brandywine’, ‘Sweet 100’, and many more.
Beefsteak, Cherry, Slicer & Paste Varieties
Beefsteak tomatoes produce large, heavy fruit, up to 1lb (0.45 kg). These are the big, thick, meaty tomatoes that are so prized for sandwiches—and one of the main reasons for growing tomatoes. Some varieties reach 6 inches (15 cm) in diameter. Beefsteak tomatoes need a longer season and more heat than smaller varieties.
Examples: Abraham Lincoln, Aunt Ruby’s German Green, Big Beef, Black From Tula, Brandywine (all), Big Rainbow, Cherokee Purple, Dr. Wyche’s Yellow, Goliath, Great White, Hawaiian Pineapple, Mortgage Lifter, Neve’s Azorean Red, Old German, Pruden’s Purple, Striped German
Cherry tomatoes are a good place to start. Cherry and grape tomatoes are small, usually less than 1 inch (2.5 cm) and grow in large clusters. They’re generally the best choices for cool-summer areas, and small fruit size means they’re more suitable if you’re growing tomatoes in containers.
Examples: Chocolate Cherry, Golden Sweet, Green Grapes, Isis Candy, Oregon Cherry, Snow White, Sugar Lump, Sungold, Sunsugar, Sweet Million, Sweet 100, Sweet Olive, Tumbling Tom, Yellow Pear
Salad/slicing tomatoes form 2–3 inch (5–7.5 cm) diameter fruit, perfect for slicing on sandwiches or chopping into salads. They’re usually a little tarter and juicier than cherry tomatoes or beefsteak tomatoes, with some acid to balance their sweetness. Some have undertones of tropical fruits. Salad tomatoes have more cultivars than any other type of tomato.
Saladette examples: Black Zebra, Bloody Butcher, Glacier, Green Tiger, Pink Tiger, Green Zebra, Health Kick, Indigo Rose, Jaune Flammee, Oregon Spring, Red Zebra, Tigerlike
Slicer examples: Anna Russian, Black Krim, Burpee Bigboy, Carmello, Celebrity, Chocolate Stripe, Early Girl, Costoluto Genovese, Blue Fruit, Orange Strawberry, Japanese Black Trifele, Lemon Boy, Momotaro, Moskovich, Mountain Princess, Patio, Siletz, Stupice, Taxi
Paste/sauce tomatoes are seedless (or nearly so), meaty, and on the dry side―qualities that also tailor them perfectly to sauces and sun-drying. Some have good enough flavor to be used (and sold in supermarkets) as slicers.
Examples: Amish Paste, Giant Oxheart, Heinz 2653, Principe Borghese, Polish Linguisa, Roma, Rosso Sicilian, San Marzano
2019 Tomato Tasting Recap and Voting Results
The summer of 2019 was much cooler than the previous few summers with significant rains the week or so before our tasting, which caused a lot of fruit to split and crack as well as slowed the ripening of late-season produce. It was a bit of a challenge to procure enough tomatoes for the tasting. Shorty’s Garden Center was able to supply us with about 8 varieties, we picked another 8 or so at one of the Dennis’ 7 Dees owner’s property, and we purchased some additional ones at Fiala Farms in West Linn. The rest of the tomatoes came mostly from employees and even one customer.
During this year, we tasted 34 varieties of tomatoes. Due to low quantities, some varieties ran out before the end of the tasting and couldn’t be sampled by every participant. We had good attendance—135 people RSVPed and we had a total of 82 votes for tomatoes.
Voting results: 82 total votes (23 of the 34 varieties were voted for as someone’s favorite)
This is the first year we were able to sample New Girl!
Favorite All-Around Tomato
- Early Girl (9 votes)
- Green Tiger (8) – a wonderful tomato that we almost didn’t sample due to low quantity!
- Sunsugar/Hawaiian Pineapple (7)
Not chosen as favorites: Big Rainbow, Brandywine, Chocolate Cherry, Goliath, Hot-House-Grown, Jaune Flamme, Old German, Persimmon, San Marzano, Striped German, and Yellow Pear
Best Cherry Type
- Sweet 100 (16 votes)
- Sunsugar (12)
- Sungold (11)
Chocolate Cherry, Golden Sweet, Snow White, and Sweet Million each received 8 votes a piece.
Best Large Tomato
- Big Beef (11 votes)
- Mortgage Lifter/Hawaiian Pineapple (8)
- Amana Orange/Aunt Ruby’s German Green/Pineapple (6)
A note at the bottom of one voting form said “Where is Mr Stripey?”
- Hawaiian Pineapple (11 votes)
- Brandywine (6)
- Black Krim/Green Zebra (5)
Favorite Non-Red Cherry
- Snow White (20 votes)
- Sunsugar (18)
- Sungold (14)
Favorite Non-Red Large Tomato
- Amana Orange (13)
- Hawaiian Pineapple (10)
- Green Zebra (9)