Yummiest tomato varieties?
May 11, 2021 10:59 AM   Subscribe

This is very subjective, but does anyone have opinions on what the tastiest tomato varieties are? Or can you link to someone who does? This is a question to help me choose what to grow next year.

I don't know if this is a region-specific thing - for example, if not all varieties will grow just anywhere. I'm in Western Canada. The most popular out here seem to be Beefsteak, Early Girl and Better Boy.
posted by kitcat to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (24 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Purple Cherokee is one of my favorites. It's a slicing tomato with a rich sweet flavor. They grow well here in Minnesota if you start them inside or buy plants rather than seeds. They are indeterminate, so will grow super tall if you give the support.
posted by advicepig at 11:07 AM on May 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Flavor development in tomatoes is a function of the type's general inclinations, plus the growing conditions including water and sun consistency, daytime and nighttime temperatures, and the time of day the fruit is picked (this should almost always be morning before the day gets warm) and also that time's proximity to most recent watering (as long after last water as possible). There's a LOT going on in tomato chemistry.

The three tomatoes you name are popular major chain/brand tomatoes that ship well, are fairly pest/disease-resistant, and pretty eager to grow even in suboptimal conditions. They'll still likely taste way better fresh off the vine in your house than anything you can buy at a grocery store, though they probably not compete with the average option at the farmer's market.

But Beefsteak is a very large tomato that has a lot of growing requirements that can be hard to provide in a small garden - EG and BB I think run more to palm-sized than bigger-than-fist, and I think size in general is an important decision when choosing a good tomato for your garden.

I grow in containers (which are harder to provide rock-solid support for a big tomato), in Southern California where nights stay cooler than a tomato really loves, so I stick with grape-size or palm-size at best. I don't grow determinates because I don't want to eat an entire plant's worth of tomatoes in like two weeks and I don't preserve them; I want a plant that's going to continuously provide ~2 adults' worth of tomatoes over a longer period of time. I also dislike the super-sweet small tomatoes, so I've had to hunt around to find one that tastes great to me under my growing conditions (my favorite is also very beautiful). There are a lot of grape-sized "paste" tomatoes, like little versions of Roma or San Marzano, which I like just for eating because they are so low-sugar but also easy to throw a surplus into the oven to roast.

In Western Canada I think you're also going to suffer from the cool-night problem, and possibly more rain than tomatoes really like. You should have some kind of regional extension or ag service that advises on what grows especially well in your area, or a local garden center that sources beyond Bonnie and other big-box suppliers plus is staffed with local gardeners, and you may also have local garden bloggers and youtubers who have input on the best tomato growing situation right there where you are. I would be careful with tomatoes that have a southern state name like Arkansas or Alabama - you're probably going to want ones that are developed in/for a cooler climate - Siberian, German, Minnesota, Wisconsin - but you can't just go by the name of course, you're going to want to look for cold-tolerant, short-season tomatoes. (I also usually plant at least one cold-tolerant down here too, because of those cool nights and our very late summers that don't really kick in until August.)
posted by Lyn Never at 11:19 AM on May 11, 2021 [11 favorites]

Cherokee purple is my favorite too. It's very aromatic and flavorful. I also like the black Krim and black cherry tomatoes. I seem to prefer the darker varieties, but the small yellow cherry tomato varieties are also very flavorful with the advantage of being prolific and easy to grow in my area (high desert).
posted by answergrape at 11:21 AM on May 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

I'm very fond of Sun Gold.
posted by Lycaste at 11:24 AM on May 11, 2021 [10 favorites]

I like Early Girl, because that's what my grandma always grew in her garden. They were amazing.
posted by synecdoche at 11:28 AM on May 11, 2021

SW Ontario (zone 5b) here. My favorite is Black Krim - black/purple tomatoes have a lovely 'heirloom' look and great taste, almost meaty at times. I also like growing Calabash - a uniquely shaped tomato that's great in salads.
posted by Gortuk at 11:38 AM on May 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

Brandywine (red, yellow, pink) is the best tasting tomato I have ever had, but it is hard to grow, low-yield, prone to problems, etc. Get a plant or two, but don't depend on it for all your tomato needs.
posted by JanetLand at 11:41 AM on May 11, 2021

Best answer: Laurel at Heirloom Tomatoes has opinions, and I absolutely agree with her top choice of Paul Robeson followed by Black Krim. Sun Sugar was bred from Sun Gold ("the M&Ms of the garden"), very similar but with markedly better crack-resistance.
posted by vers at 11:48 AM on May 11, 2021 [3 favorites]

I grow Sunsugars, which are very much like Sun Gold, as I understand it (I can get sunsugar plants easily here and have never seen a sun gold). I regularly also grow Cherokee Purple, which are indeed, as others noted above, a very tasty and easy-to-grow variety. Both Sunsugars and Cherokee Purples are also fairly high-yielding. Further off the beaten path, I very much enjoyed Japanese Black Trifeles when I grew them, but they were always a bit ticklish and low-yield.
posted by jackbishop at 12:00 PM on May 11, 2021

Response by poster: In Western Canada I think you're also going to suffer from the cool-night problem, and possibly more rain than tomatoes really like

This is really interesting stuff - the tomato chemistry. Lyn Never, do you have any books or other sources?

As for our climate, it's super weird. We are actually quite short on rain here in Alberta. So I have to water the tomatoes twice a day come July. And we start our season with cold nights, only to progress to pretty warm/hot nights for 4 - 6 weeks Starting some time in July. I also plant my tomatoes against the house where the basement concrete can hold the heat and keep them warm.
posted by kitcat at 12:04 PM on May 11, 2021

Two years ago I attended a tasting party with over 70 varieties of tomatoes labeled and ranked by the participants. The hands-down winner overall (taking into account all types of tomato) was the Sungold cherry tomato.
posted by HotToddy at 12:56 PM on May 11, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: If you're in Alberta, it looks like you're Zone 4a at best. I'm in Zone 4a in the northeastern US, so I know from experience that a lot of the varieties you see recommended as best tasting just aren't going to work for you because they need a longer growing season than you can provide. When you're considering varieties, look at the days to maturity and if it's 80 or more you shouldn't even bother to try growing it. Closer to 70 is better. (That's an optimistic number and your plants will almost certainly take longer than that to bear fruit. And they need time to mature more than just their first few fruits for it to be worth growing them.)

Some good-tasting varieties that work for me:

Rose de Berne
Anna Russian
Black and Brown Boar

For a cherry tomato, I really like Matt's Wild Cherry. The fruits are smaller than typical cherry tomatoes and have a taste I like better. The plants are also disease-resistant. Even late blight doesn't kill them. They keep bearing right up until frost no matter what.
posted by Redstart at 1:13 PM on May 11, 2021 [5 favorites]

Tommy Toe Tomatoes. They're a large cherry tomato. Tough as nails and not trying to be grapes like many cherry tomatoes, great very tomatoy flavor not just sweet. Tough as nails and had to kill. Make amazing tomato sauce. They grow in pots well if you're dodging the cold.

Also had great luck with the Black Prince variety, they come from Siberia so they're bred for the cold. Nice and tomato tasting and a pretty color. Still taste good even if you have to ripen the green ones on a window ledge because winter came in too fast.
posted by wwax at 1:23 PM on May 11, 2021

We've had the best luck with growing Sungolds with our somewhat short growing season, and they're super tasty, too.
posted by tchemgrrl at 1:46 PM on May 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

Sungolds are such a good gateway tomato. They're easy to grow, adorable, and can handle some temperature/rain weirdness. Also, they tend to make converts of people who are on the fence about the flavor and texture of raw tomatoes, as they're sweet and low on goop.
posted by desuetude at 2:11 PM on May 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

In Western Canada I think you're also going to suffer from the cool-night problem, and possibly more rain than tomatoes really like

I'm kind of confused by this. Tomatoes have a really narrow preferred temperature (55F to 75F), and I would guess southern CA is about optimal. Tomatoes like colder weather, and stop producing fruit when the temperature regularly passes 80F+. They just grow a big dumb plant and then start producing again when temperatures fall. They don't suffer frost damage as far as I can tell until 32F, right at the freezing point at which point the plant dies.
posted by The_Vegetables at 2:33 PM on May 11, 2021

I quite like Brandywines. I usually buy plants, and plan to go back to the framer's market because last year I found a grower who had a wide variety and said she picked many of them because theu looked pretty as well as tasted good.
posted by theora55 at 3:29 PM on May 11, 2021

I am a huge fan of the Ananas Noire, a mottled green/red/pink/purplish-brown beefsteak type. It’s big, smoky and luscious. I mean, just look at it!
posted by mumkin at 3:35 PM on May 11, 2021

Sungold, Matt's Wild, and Brandywine are my favorites.

I tried Lillian's Yellow, which is one of those hyped heirlooms, but I really didn't like it. It was huge and not strong tasting. I also grow Big Beef and German Johnson but not enough to have real opinions about them yet.

Brandywines are not one specific strain but a bunch of them falling loosely under 'brandywine'. I grow a variety of "pink brandywine" where I get like one a year and I'm fine with that.

If you want to can, Speckled Roma has the best flavor I've found so far and San Marzanos are the classics and I think a combination of the two is really good. Cherokee Purple, even though it's not a canning tomato and I don't love the texture, has great flavor and is really productive so I have used it in canning and been happy with it.

I'm in New England, so fight the cold and work to extend the seasons as much as possible. Cherry tomatoes are so much fun and show up early.

I really think Sungold is the must-have. If you only grow one tomato, that would be the one.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:44 PM on May 11, 2021

I'm kind of confused by this. Tomatoes have a really narrow preferred temperature (55F to 75F), and I would guess southern CA is about optimal. Tomatoes like colder weather

This might be hard to believe if you're used to southern CA weather, but in Zone 4 you can get night temperatures below 55 early and late in the growing season. Tomatoes like what seems like "cold weather" if you live in southern CA, but not the level of cold weather they may experience in Alberta.
posted by Redstart at 3:48 PM on May 11, 2021

Response by poster: I'm just copy-pasting here because I don't know fahrenheit by heart. But for my climate, your biggest harvest is end of August. Pardon me if this is irrelevant but it will help me for reference later:

Edmonton climate:

Summer: Mid June to end of July:
In the daytime highs are normally 20 to 25°C (68 to 77°F) but can reach the mid to upper 30s (90s).

In August - The last month of the summer, August, is also an agreeable month in Edmonton, Canada, with average temperature fluctuating between 22.4°C (72.3°F) and 10.5°C (50.9°F).

September - September, the first month of the autumn, in Edmonton, is still a comfortable month, with average temperature varying between 17.3°C (63.1°F) and 6.6°C (43.9°F).

By the end of September you pretty much have to harvest everything. Green or not. Tomatoes are still ripening at that point, but very slowly and the frost can hit in early October.
posted by kitcat at 6:18 PM on May 11, 2021

Best answer: I’m in Edmonton too, Lois Hole’s books are really good for figuring out varieties of anything you want to grow here. They had a huge green house and actually tested so many varieties in our wierd micro-climate. Highly recommend. They’re dated but so good.
posted by Sweetchrysanthemum at 7:24 PM on May 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

This might be hard to believe if you're used to southern CA weather, but in Zone 4 you can get night temperatures below 55 early and late in the growing season.

Maybe but again, that's the temperature for setting fruit, and daytime temperature below 55F (or a really long time between day and night, since spring and summer days are long) is way more important than the specific night lows. My tomatoes are setting fruit now, and the night temperatures are still in the the '40s.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:54 PM on May 11, 2021

I still think about the Black Krim a boss shared with me almost a decade ago. So savory, uniquely salty, just a real treat.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 3:50 PM on May 12, 2021

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