Tomato Basics:Heirlooms vs Hybrids
Ripe, juicy tomatoes are at the top of the list when people think of summer produce. What kind of tomato though? Is it a historic heirloom variety or a modern hybrid? What’s the difference anyways?
No matter how you pronounce tomato there are many different kinds of them to choose from! They come in all shapes (teardrop, sphere, ellipsoid), sizes (grape-sized to grapefruit-sized) and colors (green, orange and purple to name a few). To settle any confusion (although maybe not on the pronunciation side of things) we’re giving you a brief overview of the differences between heirloom tomatoes and their modern hybrid counterparts. Interested? Read on to find out about the heirlooms and hybrids we’re growing for you!
So, what makes an heirloom tomato an “heirloom?” Well for one thing, these varieties have been handed down from generation to generation and have retained the same traits along the way. Heirloom tomatoes are open pollinated, meaning they don’t need human intervention for the seeds to produce the same type of tomato next year. In this way heirlooms have persisted, and often enough they come from other countries besides the U.S., with a long and colorful history behind them.
Heirlooms are prized for:
Non-uniformity (fruits ripen at different times over the growing season)
Unique colors and shapes
In short, hybrids are plants that have been carefully created by humans through cross-pollination. A plant breeder, in an attempt to increase desirable characteristics, will select two parent plants to try and create a hybrid with specific traits. While this is a human derived process, it is still a naturally compatible one, that simply involves taking pollen from one plant, and carefully placing it on another. Hybrids take much labor and care, since they won’t necessarily stay “true to seed.” This means that when you plant seeds from a hybrid tomato you likely won’t get a similar plant.
Nonetheless, hybrids are prized for many reasons:
Plant shape and size
This heirloom is thought to originate from Amish farmers in the Brandywine River Valley, and is referenced as far back as the 1880’s. Fruits from Brandywine plants are large, beefsteak-shaped and a lovely shade of pinkish red. The classic tomato flavor of Brandywine is what stands out, and a big reason why it’s been prized for so long.
Sungold Tomatoes: Hybrid
A golden yellow cherry tomato with amazingly sweet fruits! Each tomato bursts with juicy, concentrated tomato flavor. If you love sweet cherry tomatoes than Sungold is for you! Sungold also features less acidity than its red cherry counterparts.
Striped German: Heirloom
One look at the fruits of Striped German and you might think someone tie dyed your tomatoes! The large, beefsteak shaped fruits are a golden yellow color with stripes of pink and red across the skin and throughout the flesh. Striped German’s flavor is milder and less-acidic than red tomatoes, with good sweetness and pleasant fruity characteristics.
Big Beef: Hybrid
Just like it sounds, this variety produces large, beefsteak fruits that are perfect for slicing! The tomatoes are extra meaty and Big Beef plants are known for producing twice as many tomatoes as similar varieties, along with ripening early and having good disease resistance.
Green Zebra: Heirloom
Unlike many tomatoes, Green Zebra ripens while the fruits are still green. Medium-sized fruits have dark green and light green stripes on the skin that are sometimes interspersed with yellow or red blushing. The flavor is zingy and bright, making it a great addition to a caprese dish alongside red tomato varieties. Try Green Zebra in salads, atop pizzas or sliced on sandwiches.
Expect heirloom flavor from this hybrid bred for consistent fruit size, compact plants and disease resistance. Damsel’s compact size makes harvesting easier, and means it needs less support from trellises, stakes or cages. Who doesn’t love great flavor and a little less work?!
Loosely translated Moskvich means “person living in Moscow.” The name is apt as this variety was developed in Moscow, and unsurprisingly is a cold hardy heirloom. The fruits are a deep red, globe-shaped and showcase a rich tomato flavor.
Sakura is a cherry tomato bred for early ripening, an extended growing season and disease resistance. The flavor is sweet and fruity, and is perfect for snacking, salads and kabobs.