FLAVOR – along with yield, fruit size, shapes, colors, patterns, texture, culinary uses, versatility, and let’s not forget nutrition – there are plenty of reasons to grow your own heirloom tomatoes! Or at least support your local small farmers who grow a wide variety of this amazing garden fruit.
Yes, for the first time, I have compiled a list of what I consider the best tasting tomato varieties I grew this year. I have some hesitancy to publish this list for at least these reasons:
- Mine are just one set of taste buds; taste preferences might vary as much among people as do preferences in music.
- I have a sweet tooth and have a predilection for both sweet and rich flavored tomatoes; bland, tart or timid tasting tomatoes don’t do much for me, though they may be fine for culinary uses other than fresh eating. Those insipid, ubiquitous, round, red, “blemish free” tomatoes in your local big box grocery store epitomize the type of tomato that would score very low for me. They are edible but not enjoyable.
- At most I get three chances to sample each variety in a given season. If the tomato I sampled was under or overripe, my assessment will not be fair.
- Some days, I may sample up to 70 varieties within a few hours. I do my best to be fair and consistent in my scoring, but I’m not going to pretend that I am as anxious to sample variety #65 late in the day as I was #5 early in the morning.
- Horticultural, soil and weather considerations: soil nutrients, pH, types of organic matter, water source and amount, time of day fruit picked, temperature overnight, plant stress, time of season – so many factors can affect flavor.
- Human imperfections: how long ago was breakfast; mood issues such as discouragement over crop losses; what my body is hungry for at the moment – tomatoes are great most of the time, but incredible as it may seem, I do have other appetites.
In summary, a second, third or fourth opinion is recommended if you are seriously on the hunt for fabulous tasting tomatoes!
So let’s dig into the data. For the following lists, I’ve developed my own flavor scale, which may or may not coincide with scales used by others.
1 – Utterly repulsive in smell, taste and appearance; poison, elicits vomiting, run away!
2 – Revolting, offensive, disgusting, does not qualify as food fit for animals; pay me a good bit of money and I might eat it just out of a daredevil, competitive, macho kind of thing.
3 – Yucky, nasty, a real spitter; bad flavor or bad texture or just really tastes wrong. If it were times of famine and I had never tasted heirloom tomatoes then maybe, just maybe I could eat and perhaps appreciate these loser varieties.
4 – Unpleasant, not enjoyable, no redeeming qualities; for my taste buds this means very bland, insipid, very tart, way too soft or way too hard; something like eating a hard-green tomato raw; and I don’t mean a green-when-ripe variety!
5 – Ho-hum, not worth eating, low quality, but edible in a pinch – like now, off-season, winter, store-bought, imported, warehouse-ripened tomatoes. Not to be eaten alone, but tolerable in salads, tacos and the like.
6 – Ok, but something’s not quite right here: too tart, no sweetness, maybe not fully ripe; perhaps this variety was bred for canning or drying or cooking down for sauces, but to my seasoned taste buds, I’ll take something better for fresh eating please.
7 – Fine, acceptable, tasty and definitely worth growing and eating. May not win tomato tasting contests, but because of other qualities (high yield, makes great sauce or salsa, beautiful or large fruits, etc.) is one I would definitely recommend to other growers who really enjoy trying a wide variety of tomatoes; and who knows, a “7” for me might be exactly the flavor your pallet has been searching for for years!
8 – Very good to excellent flavor, highly recommended: sweet, robust, rich, compelling, satisfying, savory, luscious, delicious, tasty – just a few of the adjectives I might use to describe these tomatoes, as if I were truly capable of describing a flavor to another person…
9 – Outstanding, fabulous, exceptional, superlative, magnificent: you really gotta try this one, if your taste buds are anything like mine! Or maybe I was just super hungry for tomatoes when I sampled this one. Or maybe you really want to enjoy and share this one as well – Order seeds today!
10 – Life is a journey, not a destination. If this quest ends in a cul-de-sac, I will let you know what I found there and then I’ll stop my travels and travails!
A bit over the top, perhaps? Maybe not too much of a surprise there, coming from one who has obsessed to the point of trialing well over 2,000 varieties of tomatoes.
Ok, ok, I’m getting to the point already!
In Spring of 2018, I planted seeds of 674 tomato varieties, hoping to save seeds from 633 of these. Crop failure (mostly goats…) of 72 varieties. Regrettably, of the 561 varieties that more-or-less produced, there were 86 varieties for which I did not get a fair taste test so no score on those. This failure was mostly due to not being able to keep up with the workload, as often tomatoes were overripe by the time I got to the vine for seed saving.
So this leaves “only” 475 varieties with scores. Among these, only 9 scored below 7, and not a single variety scored as bad as that store bought tomato that I choked down for lunch today! (winter blues…). Some day I hope to incorporate flavor scores from 1,500+ varieties I have grown in prior years.
OK, drum roll…
9.5 – 2 varieties
Everett’s Rusty Oxheart
Yoder’s German Pink
9.0 – 32 varieties
Arad’s Pink Heart
Big Cheef Pink Potato Leaf
Blue Ridge Mountain
De Barao Rozoviy
Dr. Wyche’s Yellow
Dwarf Mr. Snow
Loxton Lad Dwarf
Red Butter Heart
Reinhart’s Chocolate Heart
Unknown #22 Aceto Large Red (not yet officially named)
Waltingers Fleisch aus Indien
8.5 – 123 varieties (these are also REALLY tasty varieties, not to be overlooked!)
Alex Popovich Yugoslavian
Andrew Rahart’s Jumbo Red
Babushkino Bych’ye Serdtse X Zolotyie Kupola
Barnes Mountain Orange
Bych’ye Serdtse Oranzhevoye Ostroye
Canestrino Di Lucca
De Barao Chorniy
Dixie Golden Giant
Dwarf Crimson Sockeye
Dwarf Lemon Ice
Dwarf Purple Heart
Dwarf Sarah’s Red
Dwarf Scarlet Heart
Dwarf Velvet Night
Dwarf Wild Spudleaf
Erdie’s Family Oxheart
Faelen’s First Snow
Fred’s Tie Dye
Guernsey Island Pink Blush
Hege German Pink X Claude Brown’s Yellow Giant
Hege German Pink X Grandfather Ashlock
Large Pink Bulgarian
Loxton Lass Dwarf
Michaela’s Pink Oxheart
New Big Dwarf
Pinocchio Micro Dwarf
PPP X PP C
Purple Dog Creek
Purple Not Strawberry
Rosalie’s Big Rosy
Rosalie’s Large Paste
Rozoviy Flamingo Serdtsevidniy
Sakharnyi Gigant Rozoviy
Smith’s Southern Star
Sweet Scarlet Dwarf
That Russian Tomato
Wild Thyme Bicolored
Yellow Micro Dwarf
Yoder’s Red Beefsteak
I won’t list the rest here. The full list of available tomato varieties can be found here:
Ok, on to tomato sizes. My scales are precise to 0.002 lbs., so except in the case of averaged weights, that last digit will be even.
As posted earlier, only one tomato managed to top 2 lbs. in 2018; that was a specimen of Hercegovac at 2.046 lb. There was a specimen of Red Penna that appeared even bigger at 2.488 lb.:
But upon closer inspection, the smaller lobe was actually a separate tomato, sharing no flesh at all with the bigger section.
So here is the list of all 95 large-fruited varieties that reached 1 lb. or heavier, in descending order:
1.870 Rhode Island Giant
1.822 Big Zac
1.754 Serdtse Ameriki
1.750 Red Penna
1.740 Gold Medal
1.700 Rosalie’s Big Rosy
1.686 Libanaise des Montagnes
1.660 Old Heart Italian
1.634 Michaela’s Pink Oxheart
1.600 Polish Giant Beefsteak
1.588 Raspberry Oxheart
1.560 Yasha Yugoslavian
1.534 Sainte Lucie
1.506 La Nénesse
1.500 KY Cygni
1.480 Aunt Swarlo’s Polish Plum
1.478 Hege German Pink X Claude Brown’s Yellow Giant
1.472 Hungarian Giant
1.436 Unknown Volunteer Large
1.424 Pepe’s Gigant
1.422 Behemoth King
1.422 Gigante Castilla
1.406 Bulgarische Rosa Riese
1.404 Polish Pink
1.400 Jefferson Giant
1.394 Korshun Ogromniy Krasniy
1.348 Neves Azorean Red
1.344 RW Cephei
1.340 Dwarf Scarlet Heart
1.302 Iranskoye Chudo
1.290 Westerlund 1-26
1.288 Large Pink Bulgarian
1.270 Dr. Wyche’s Yellow
1.262 Merrill Schulz Beefsteak
1.262 Yegipetskaya Lad’ya
1.250 Michael’s Portuguese Monster
1.246 King Pineapple 1763 g.
1.244 Dr. Lyle
1.232 Kickapoo Creek
1.170 Monomakh’s Hat
1.168 Cero Blackburn
1.160 Sakharnyi Pudovichok
1.136 Severnaya Korona
1.136 Stan’s Oxheart
1.123 Ogromnaya Sliva (PL)
1.112 Giant Monster
1.102 Tomatniy Ray
1.100 Ispanskiy Gigant
1.100 Peter Glazebrook’s Special
1.098 Rozoviy Med
1.096 Vostochnaya Pyshka
1.088 Minusinskyi Yablochnyi Rozovyi
1.080 Bulgarian Heart
1.062 Secano de Ares
1.062 Shary Minusinskiye Rozovyie
1.052 Rosalie’s Early Orange
1.048 Bogatyr’ Minusinskiy
1.036 Gildo Pietroboni
1.034 Andrew Rahart’s Jumbo Red
1.034 Big Cheef Pink Potato Leaf
1.026 Lithium Sunset
1.026 That Russian Tomato
1.020 Bolgarskiy Gigant
1.016 Zolotoy Myod
1.008 Alen’kiy Tsvetochek
1.008 Unknown, volunteer bicolor (with Mama Irene’s)
1.006 Julia Child
1.006 Swisher Sweet
1.004 Dixie Golden Giant
Note above that Big Zac and Domingo varieties were grown from championship lines and given special care in the 2018 giant tomato project. I would never have expected any varieties in the open field to produce large specimens than these two; but several did:
Rosalie’s Big Rosy
Here is what the distribution of weights looks like graphically (click for full size):
Needless to say, over the past several weeks, many hours have been invested in sorting and organizing seeds, database work, error checking and the like. Still to do ASAP:
- Over 15,000 photos to name
- Nearly 2,000 descriptions to write (including things non-tomato) and upload to website
- At least 100 hours of seed extraction work from peppers, squash, flowers, herbs, etc. This photo shows about half of what’s left to process, in my “spare” time:
For some, I was too slow, such as this Mestisa eggplant with seeds germinating inside the pod:
A few other items of note follow.
Dwarf Pomegranate, in its 7th year, blooming indoors, out for a little sunshine today:
And a small rescued pepper vine, variety Aribibi (need to research) from the Amazon rainforest, still producing tiny, fiercely hot pods:
A week ago (predictably perhaps…) I started a tray of microdwarf tomato seeds indoors. Most varieties are showing good germination, but I usually don’t start getting concerned until it has been at least 12 days. I’m hoping for a few dozen plants with ripe tomatoes by Mother’s Day!
[ Update 12-28-2018, 16 days after sowing. Half of these seeds (the bottom half) are from seeds I saved in 2018. At day 9, germination rate was 92%; at day 16 it is 98%, that is, 63 of 64 seeds germinated. Source seeds produced 59 of 64 germinated.
If experience is any indication, there could be fruit set by the first of February on some of these! ]
Some North Pole lettuce seedlings, growing mostly outdoors. This variety can survive temperatures near 0° F.
The tail end of several hundred tomatoes picked green in October and ripened indoors – sad to see them gone:
But I still have 20 or so tomatoes of the long-keeper variety Amarillo de Benlloch, and they are showing no signs of withering or rotting! This one harvested on August 22, 2018:
[ Update 12-28-2018, I ate this tomato on Christmas Eve, 124 days after harvesting. I was surprised to see a fair amount of juice still in it, but the juice just poured right out. Flesh was still intact and very firm. Texture was quite crunchy, something between a carrot and and a typical ripe heirloom tomato. Flavor score maybe a 5.5? Not much flavor at all, but on par with store bought. Would add some nice texture and color, as well as nutrition to a salad. Or cooked into any number of dishes. Still fun to have home grown tomatoes in the dead of winter! ]
And I’ve had some great help with preparing corn seeds for sharing:
Speaking of help, if you’re local (Wasatch Front area of Utah) and interested in helping package seeds in exchange for seeds, please take a look at this posting:
Seed Saving and Sharing Saturdays
Back at it!
Looking to put together a Big Zac synthetic from relatively divergent cultivars. Do you have any hybrids on big Zac available? I intend to cross the f1 with steakhouse and porterhouse, stuff like that…what do you think of Epstein’s, do you feel that it is a sport, or misattributed?