Welcome back to the Gygi classroom! We are happy to have you join us as we explore a garden-harvest favorite. Tomatoes! You can bet there are thousands of tomato varieties worldwide. That might sound like a lot to swallow, but lucky for us, all can be traced back and categorized into just five main tomato types based on size and shape. Use this quick guide to figure out what type of tomatoes you are looking at and how best to prepare and share these different varieties for cooking, canning, saucing, and more.
These are the run-of-the-mill, round, red tomatoes that you see in most grocery stores. They are medium-sized and meaty, but have thick skin to hold up against cooking heat. And the somewhat mild tomato flavor makes them super versatile and a great compliment in so many dishes. Common varieties include better boy, celebrity, early girl, fourth of July, “on the vine,” Rutgers, sweet tangerine, and Valencia. These tomatoes are best for eating fresh, slicing for sandwiches and burgers, pickling, grilling, canning, juicing, and chopping into egg dishes like omelets and frittatas.
Beefsteak tomatoes, as the name suggests, are firm, meaty, and massive. Also known as “slicer tomatoes,” these are a major favorite among tomato fanatics because they are so large in size and hold their shape even when slicing. Common varieties include big beef, big boy, beef master, Brandywine, mortgage lifter, and porterhouse. These beefy boys are not only perfect for slicing and eating fresh (think Caprese salad or adding to and sandwich) but also diced up in salads, egg dishes, and even adding to pasta dishes.
These tomatoes are grown to be cooked! Perfect plum tomatoes are small to medium in size, firm, and have an oval shape. They are NOT super juicy or seedy, so they are easy to use across many applications. Say hello to bold Italian tomato sauces and spicy restaurant-style salsa. You can also use plum tomatoes for canning and drying. Romas and San Marzanos are the most popular plum tomatoes. Other common varieties include Amish paste, big mama, San Remo, super sauce, supremo, and viva Italia. Delicioso!
Cherry tomatoes are mini-bites of goodness! These tomatoes are small and mostly round, but can be oval or pear-shaped as well, and are bred in a variety of colors. Perhaps the best thing about cherry tomatoes is they are so juicy they burst when bitten. Packed full of flavor, these small bites are perfect for snacking, grilling, salads, pasta dishes, and our favorite charcuterie spreads. Common varieties of cherry tomatoes include black cherry, napa grape, sun gold, super sweet 100’s, and Tiny Tim.
The heart shape and deep red coloring are what give these tomatoes their name. Oxheart tomatoes are mainly grown as heirloom varieties, meaning the seeds have been passed down for generations. They are medium-sized and meaty, but from our experience were not that easy to find. Much like a beefsteak, they are great for eating fresh, slicing onto sandwiches, grilling, and pickling. Varieties of oxheart tomatoes include Anna Russian, Hungarian heart, giant heart, and Kosovo.
From there, tomatoes can be further separated and categorized as determinate (meaning they are grown on a “busy plant that only reaches a certain size,” or indeterminate (grown on a vine and ever-producing); heirloom (generational varieties) or hybrid (cross-bred “combinational” plants), and also by the color of the peel. Save this pocket guide for later when you are cooking or canning with tomatoes- or maybe just for planting and harvest time should you ever need to remember. And check out some of our classic tomato recipes like this garden harvest frittata.