Veggie Spotlight: Heirloom Tomatoes

Tomatoes are a summer staple and come in all shapes and sizes today, from small bright red cherry tomatoes to large, ribbed tomatoes that come in yellows, purples and pinks. Many of these varieties are considered heirlooms. In the veggie world heirlooms are seeds that get saved and used for generations, just like when jewelry gets passed down from one family member to the next generation.

The term was first used in the 1940s by University of New Hampshire professor William Hepler, who described some beans that friends gave him as “heirlooms.” Today, of course the word can refer to any seed that has been saved and passed down for many years.

In fact, an heirloom is any seed of a garden plant that has been passed down within a family or community, according to Seed Savers Exchange, a nonprofit organization dedicated to saving and sharing seeds. Others define it by saying any variety of seed that dates back more than five decades is an heirloom.

But more important than the definition is what heirlooms offer. When it comes to tomatoes, they are full of flavors from sweet to savory and offer more unique colors and shapes than your typical red tomato.

For Juices and Snacks

You can use heirloom tomatoes in juices like this Bloody Mary Juice (sans the alcohol) and this Thyroid-Friendly Mediterranean Juice or to top this Avocado Tomato Breakfast Toast recipe. Or simply slice them up and sprinkle with sea salt or chopped basil for an afternoon snack.

Where to Find Them

You can find heirloom tomatoes at regular grocery stores, farmers’ markets and stands or even peek into your neighbor’s garden and ask if can try one. And if you’d like to start a backyard garden, look for seeds at your local store or online from Seed Savers and others.

Some varieties to look for in the store (or grow in your backyard) include:

Banana Legs: This bright yellow tomato looks like a small banana and has a low acid taste.

Black Krim: This Russian-derived heirloom looks almost black on the vine with a unique flavor, more salty than sweet.

Purple Cherokee: More than 100 years old and as the name implies, it has a deep, purple color and tastes like a beefsteak tomato.

Green Zebra: With green and yellow stripes, this dark green tomato offers a tart taste.

Sunrise Bumble Bee: This round-shaped, yellow cherry tomato has red stripes and a sweet, tangy flavor.

To learn more (and see some photos), you can check out this list from Rodale of the 19 Most Delicious Heirloom Tomatoes in the World.