Now that peak tomato season is here, learn about the most popular types of tomatoes, where they come from, and how to cook them for a surefire summer hit.
Tomatoes are such a special kind of produce. Not only do they peak at the best time of year (mid-summer to early fall), but they’re so incredibly versatile from a cooking standpoint. With so many scrumptious varieties to choose from, home chefs are sure to please everyone’s palate—even the picky little one’s.
Beyond the plump red staple, you find at the grocery store all year long, summer is the best time to explore the many different kinds of tomatoes. Let’s learn about their beautiful (sometimes unexpected) colors, their unique flavor profiles, as well as their varying shapes, sizes, and textures. Welcome to Tomato 101!
Photo: Anda Ambrosini, Unsplash
What do different color tomatoes taste like?
Have you ever noticed that the tomato is the most polarizing of all produce? (and then there's still the debate - is a tomato a fruit or vegetable!?) People either love tomatoes, hate them, or declare their opinion having only tried ketchup! Once your taste matures and you get out of the bratty ‘I don’t like it’ phase, tomatoes prove to be a journey and true culinary adventure. Time to challenge your palate!
- Red tomatoes – Super popular and versatile, the classic red tomato boasts a slightly tart, slightly sweet flavor. They tend to be plump and fleshy in beefsteak and Roma form, making them perfect for sandwiches or canning homemade sauce. You can also find red grape and red cherry tomatoes. Wondering what’s the difference? Stay tuned.
- Orange tomatoes – Just like their exotic shade of the rainbow, orange tomatoes are very bright and fruity in flavor. One type known as the ‘Amana’ orange originates in Iowa and can grow up to a pound in size. That’s one huge heirloom! They make a lovely addition to any light pasta dish and can be found in both small and large varieties.
- Yellow tomatoes – These fair fruits fly under the average chef’s radar, but yellow tomatoes offer something quite different than their richly-colored counterparts. Sometimes called ‘corn seed’ or ‘pear’ tomatoes, these heirloom varieties are extremely mild and relatively sweet, so they make for a unique change when used in a chili or salsa recipe.
- Purple tomatoes – Perhaps the sweetest, earthiest of them all, the black or purple tomato is also seemingly the least popular. But introduce them to your arsenal of ingredients, and you won’t be disappointed! The Cherokee purple tomato is mostly grown in Southern California but is widely available. For some sensational smoky goodness, try using them as the base for your next Spanish stuffed tomato dish.
- Green tomatoes – Like the movie? Well, not exactly. The dish known as ‘fried green tomatoes’ is best made with unripe tomatoes. Green tomatoes are an actual color variety, and they’re sort of all over the place. Some green heirlooms are extremely sweet, while others have a spicy tang to them. Either way, they’re deliciously juicy when ripe. So don’t mistake them for a red Roma that has yet to pop!
What are different types of tomatoes best used for?
There are countless classifications of tomato to contend with, but we’re going to focus on the most popular. To start, think in terms of appearance. Oftentimes, the ‘kind’ of tomato can be determined by its particular size, shape, and texture. This dictates how the fruit performs when you attempt to slice, sauté, bake or puree it.
As for price, tomatoes are notoriously difficult to pin down. While an ultra-rare heirloom can set you back upwards of $10 at the farmer’s market, you might be able to grow that same tomato in your garden for absolutely nothing! Not to mention, tomatoes that are imported or grown on hydroponic farms may come with a surcharge. So, take our estimations with a sprinkle of salt (yum).
Photo: Anna Preble, Unsplash
Beefsteak tomatoes – This massive variety is the kind you likely consume most often, as it serves as the basis for salsas, sauces, dips and other slightly liquefied recipes. Thanks to its thick, juicy composition, the beefsteak also holds up well when sliced and stacked on a burger.
- Cost: $
- Properties: plump, juicy, mild
- Recommended recipe: beefsteak tomato salad
Cherry tomatoes – Sweet in flavor and tender in texture, the cherry tomato is a classic salad staple. They’re round, which is how you can tell the difference from the similar-sized grape tomato. If you want to stuff your tomatoes for appetizers, use the cherries! They’re slightly bigger, so there’s more room for filling!
- Cost: $$$
- Properties: small, sweet, meaty
- Recommended recipe: marinated cherry tomato skewers
Grape tomatoes – As the cherry tomato’s smaller sibling, grape tomatoes take on a longer oblong shape. They’re very juicy, if not watery, but can also be crunchy and quite fleshy to bite into! They add the perfect touch of tang to any dish. Not to mention, they make great snacks since they last longer than cherry tomatoes.
- Cost: $$
- Properties: oval, juicy, balanced
- Recommended recipe: grape tomato penne pasta
Roma tomatoes - If you’re Italian, skip this section! You probably know that Roma tomatoes are the go-to choice for your various sauces, stews, gravies, pastes and beyond. Rich, tangy and oh-so dense, these plump guys are perfect for everything from pizza sauce to paninis.
- Cost: $$$
- Properties: firm, thick, flavorful
- Recommended recipe: rich roasted tomato soup
Heirloom tomatoes – Grown all over the world and in so many varieties, the heirloom is a veritable backyard staple. They come in every color, making them a beautiful addition to any dish. And since they’re produced most closely to nature, they possess a certain earthiness that is unmistakable (despite their varying flavor profiles).
- Cost: $$$$
- Properties: diverse, colorful, meaty
- Recommended recipe: organic heirloom tomato linguini
Feeling smarter when it comes to your favorite seasonal produce? There are so many sides to the tantalizing tomato and so many tomato-inspired dishes to try. Good luck on your late-summer culinary quests!
Stay tuned to Made In for more amazing cooking tips and foodie tricks!