19 Different Heirloom Tomato Varieties (Slideshow)
Hillbilly Potato Leaf
The Hillbilly Potato Leaf is a large, round, and bright yellow heirloom that originated in the 1800s in West Virginia. As one of the larger varieties of heirlooms, it’s classified as a beefsteak tomato and is known for its sweet taste with very little acid. With a vibrant red underbelly, the tomato takes on a whole new visage when sliced in half.
This heirloom has historic roots. Named after a singer and actor who was known for fighting for equal rights for African-Americans, this beefsteak is a large, round, and flat tomato with a rich, deep purple interior. Slightly acidic and slightly sweet, its balance of flavors is the perfect complement to a sprinkle of salt and a dash of olive oil. As it originates in Siberia, this variety does better in colder climates.
Shared with the Dester’s, an Amish farmer and his wife, in the 1970s, this heirloom variety has become a favorite for its bright, vibrant pink color and lusciously sweet taste. Preferring milder climates, the Dester sometimes takes on a whacky, bulbous shape.
There’s no confusion with the name of this medium, golf ball-sized variety, marked by its slightly tart flavor and juicy qualities. Introduced by farmer Jeff Dawson of California, it’s an easy variety to grow and is ready for harvesting earlier in the season.
This variety is a cousin to the Red Zebra, but is adorned in vibrant green with neon yellow stripes. Similar to the red variety, it has a very tart flavor that some people have described as slightly spicy. This is a variety more common to urban areas, and you may very likely find it at your city’s local farmers’ market. Originally bred by Tom Wagner of Washington in 1983, it’s easy to grow and is ready earlier on in the season.
The Black Krim originated in Russia and prefers the colder climates of its origins and has a late harvest. Its dark red, slightly maroon color makes it a popular choice for presentation, and as a beefsteak, it has great texture and an intense, slightly salty taste.
You may mistake the Emmy for a slice of orange, especially with its vibrant, tart — sometimes described as tropical — flavor, but this heirloom variety is all tomato. Originating in 1979, the tomato was named after the founder’s friend, Emmy, who fled to Romania after World War II. The tomato is easy to grow but has a longer growing season.
Japanese Trifele Black
The Japanese Trifele Black is similar to the Paul Robeson and Black Krim, but there’s no confusion when distinguishing it from the bunch because of its triangular shape. Of Russian origin, this tomato likes milder, cold climates and is characterized as having a meaty core with rich, intense flavors. Easy to grow and with a later harvest, this is a sturdier tomato that is often described by its thick skin.
A Red Brandywine is one of the more popular heirloom varieties, characterized as a large, round tomato with a pointy bottom. As a slow-maturing tomato, the Red Brandywine is marked by a rich flavor that most resembles a generic tomato, and is often a popular choice at the farmers’ market.
Originating in Mexico, the Lemon Drop is a mass-producing variety that is known for its sweet, tart flavor. These tomatoes grow in bunches and are known for being harvested twice in the season — earlier on and later at the end. Because of its south-of-the-border roots, it prefers hot climates for the best growing conditions.
These small, tiny fruits originated in Southern Ukraine and are harvested later in the season. They’re as delicate as they are beautiful to look at, and are known for having thin skins that crack under very little pressure. Bite into one and you’ll get the cherry reference, as its vibrant, fruity flavor is complemented by a juicy texture.
"I think that’s why they call them flame in French," Ralston Farm’s Bennett Haynes said as this smaller, yellow variety was sliced open. Originating France, the Jaune Flamme very well could have gotten its name from the French translation, as its interior is a vibrant, beautiful orange. Its full-bodied flavor that literally bursts in your mouth, making it a popular choice, if you can find one, and its late harvesting season makes its arrival all the better.
The Pink Brandywine is similar to the Red in name but is a completely different variety of tomato. Also referred to as a Sudduth strain, this Amish variety is harder to find and is described as having a sweet taste and buttery texture. It likes intense, hot temperatures and is harvested later in the season.
This is one variety of heirlooms that you very well could never find in the States, and that’s because Haynes snuck it over from Genoa, Italy, when visiting years ago. It’s marked by its G.I., or geographic indication, which has been put in place to prevent any replication of the plant. We’re not sure how similar it is to its Italian relatives, but the thick-skinned, bright red tomato from the U.S. is luscious and sweet to taste.
The Cherokee Purple is one of the most popular varieties of heirlooms and one that is easier to find. Characterized as a beefsteak, the tomato has a dense, meaty texture and a deep purple, beautiful color. Named after the Native American tribe who cultivated it, it requires hot temperatures and a longer harvesting season. While its meaty texture lends to flavor and taste, it doesn’t to durability, and this variety also has a delicate skin and is prone to cracking.
As soon as you meet this charming variety, you’ll understand the peach reference. A medium-sized tomato that is slightly larger than a golf ball, the Wapsipinicon Peach has a dull, fuzzy skin and a slightly tart, very sweet flavor. Harvested later in the season, the tomato is named after the Wapsipinicon River in Northeast Iowa, but was originally named the White Peach when it originated in 1890.
If you looked at this variety next to a Red Brandywine from above, you’d have trouble telling the two apart. But from eye level, it’s easy to spot the Ponderosa because of its flat-bottomed shape. Large and firm with a meaty texture, the Ponderosa is classified as a beefsteak tomato and flourishes in humid climates with a late summer maturity.
It’s not surprising that this beautiful round, bright yellow variety is called Gold Medal, and its sweet, tangy flavor will win over your taste buds, too. The Gold Medal is characterized as having very few seeds and was introduced to us by a man named John Lewis Childs of Floral Park, N.Y., in 1921. This variety prefers cool, nighttime temperatures and is known for its longer growing season.
This variety of heirloom is another rare find. Of Russian descent, the Nyagous has complex, rich, sweet flavors and is said to have a clean, acidic finish. The Nyagous’ perfect globe shape and deep purple color makes it beautiful to look at, and its firm texture gives it a tender mouthfeel.