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What are heirloom tomatoes?

Heirloom tomatoes
Heirloom tomatoes are non-hybrid tomatoes that come in a wide variety of colors, shapes and sizes. Heirloom tomatoes are no longer something that you only find at farmers’ markets – although you will definitely be able to find top quality heirlooms at your local markets during the summer – because they’ve been gaining popularity over the past several years and demand for them has increased to the point where most regular grocery stores will stock a variety of them.

“Heirloom” or “heritage” is really the name of a whole category of unique tomato varieties, rather than referring to one type of tomato that happens to come in different shapes. Hybrid tomatoes (the most common, standard “red tomato”) are still popular with growers and restaurants because they’ve been selected to be hardy and disease-resistant, producing a consistent crop that food suppliers count on. Heirloom varieties tend to have a shorter shelf-life than the hybrid tomatoes, but they have a whole lot more flavor. The variety of flavors in heirloom tomatoes tends to surprise many people – some are much sweeter or more citrusy, for instance – and their distinct flavors are what leads many restaurants to showcase them in very simple salads, rather than cooking them down into sauces. The tomatoes pictured above are from my garden and they include Brandywine, Kellogg’s Breakfast and Celebrity, among others.

These tomatoes can still be used in any way you would normally use tomatoes. They make great salads, and are the perfect addition to BLTs and burgers.  I like to roast them with olive oil and serve them with a fresh baguette, and a new favorite is my Summer Tomato Gratin. Whether your tomatoes are red, yellow, green, purple or striped, let their colors and their flavors shine in any dish you use them in and you can’t go wrong.

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