With so many types of tomatoes available it’s hard to choose which is best. Indeterminate vs determine? Hybrid vs open pollinated vs heirloom? Best for sauces or slicing? Yellow variety or red? It’s all so confusing.
We’ve created this Growers Guide on tomato types and varieties as a companion to this article. This companion article covers 7 essential questions to take into consideration before you select your tomato plant. If you are new to growing tomatoes, start there and then come back to this article, which you can compare the specific types of tomato varieties we’ve researched.
For this article we break down the different tomato growing characteristics by tomato variety and tomato type, so that you can look at one type of tomato and see all it’s qualities.
At the end of the article we provide a downloadable and shareable BONUS Cheatsheet of all 29 tomato types to compare.
For the 29 different tomato types we’ll look at these characteristics:
To provide a bit of background, if you don’t have the time to read our companion article, here’s the breakdown:
1. Fruit Color
Tomato types include red, pink, yellow, orange, black, purple, white and green. They also come with stripes, with different colored shoulders, and a variations of all these colors!
2. Plant Form: Indeterminate Tomatoes & Determinate Tomatoes
Indeterminate tomatoes grow very tall, and are vine-like. They keep growing throughout the season and require regular pruning. Because they get so tall they need to be supported with trellising, stakes, or cages.
Indeterminate tomato varieties will have a longer growth period and can produce fruit until frost arrives. Indeterminate plants can be pruned down to just a couple of stems. You would need to remove all the suckers up to the one just below the first flower cluster, promoting the formation of the stem and flush new flower buds for better fruiting.
Determinate tomatoes are generally in bush form and produce fruit all at once. Many commercial tomato types are determinate, since harvest can be more efficient. Canning tomatoes are generally determinate too, which is why you need to can them – they come all at once! Generally determinate tomatoes only get to 4-6 feet in height then stop growing. They also are a great type of tomato for pots.
3. Seed Type (Hybrid, Open Pollinated, Heirloom)
Hybrid Types of Tomatoes
Hybrid tomatoes have been cross pollinated either in a laboratory or sometime accidentally in the field to create a desired trait. The typical commercially available tomato is a hybrid.
Due to the hybridization, the genes become unstable and thus if you save the seeds and replanted them they would not have the same characteristics of the original plant. The second generation is also typically less vigorous. Thus most hybrid seeds are purchased new each year, and are not saved.
Open Pollinated Tomato Type
Open-pollinated tomatoes mean that the “mother” plant produces seeds that, when planted, will produce tomatoes exactly like the mother plant. With open-pollinated tomatoes, you always get the same color, flavor, shape and height. But open-pollinated does not necessarily mean old or heirloom.
An open pollinated variety could crossed with other tomatoes, if other open pollinated or heirlooms are planted near each other. If this is the case, the next generation could differ, and not be the exact same tomato as the previous generation or from generations past.
Heirloom Tomato Type
The terms “Heirloom” and “Open Pollinated” are sometimes used interchangeably, but they are not the same. An heirloom variety is open-pollinated, however not all open-pollinated plants are heirlooms. The difference being that the true heirloom variety has not been modified or cross bred with any other variety of tomato and thus are the same as they were 50 to 100 years ago.
If you want to have fruit that is identical to the fruit you are seeding, you need to do so from an open-pollinated or heirloom tomato.
4. Plant Size (Medium 4-6’, Tall >6’)
Medium Sized Plants
Tomato types differ in the size they get. We’ve divided them into tomato types that are less than 6 feet tall (medium) and those that exceed six feet tall (tall).
In general the determinate tomato types are medium in size. These do well in containers or even in hanging baskets. In general a simple tomato cage will support their branches.
Tall tomatoes can tower to 10 feet, as in several of the varieties of cherry tomatoes grown in greenhouses. Although you can allow them to sprawl on the ground, unless they are on a wooden deck or plastic, contact with the soil can sometimes make them rot faster, or be subject to the dinner plate of various critters. Staking and trellising is best. If they are indeterminate, then pruning is also an option.
5. Fruit Size (Current, Cherry/Grape, Medium < 1lb, Large ~1 lb, Beefsteak >1 lb)
This is where the real differences come into play and why we love variety.
Currant Tomato Type (Tiny):
The tiny red and yellow currant tomato is actually a difference species than most of the other tomatoes that we grow (Lycospericon pimpinfolium). Less common, if you want to grow currant tomatoes you will probably have to grow them from seed. The pea-sized fruit are packed with flavor and are sweet and juicy. Skin is a bit tough. You can purchase currant tomato seeds from companies known for their heirloom seeds such as Victory Seeds. There are several growers that offer them on Amazon.
Cherry/Grape Tomato Types (Small):
One of the summer’s favorites, cherry and grape tomatoes produce all summer, allowing you to eat them right off the vine with some still leftover. Known for their prolific fruit production and memoriable flavors, they are small in size (think bite-sized) and are either round or oblong. Cherry and grape tomato types generally grow tall!
Plum and Oxheart Tomato Types (Medium):
Medium sized fruit is usually classified as weighing less than 1 pound, but larger than a cherry or grape variety. They can be round, cylindrical in shape (plum) or in the case of several heirlooms, heart shaped.
Large and Beefsteak Tomato Types:
Beefsteak are the largest of the fruit and usually exceed one pound or more in weight. Large fall in between the medium and the beefsteak.
6. Early Producer Tomato Types (<70 days to harvest)
If you want to be one of the first to have a home grown tomato in your neighborhood, then selecting an early producer variety is a sure bet. Starting plants indoors can also get you delicious tomatoes early in the summer. We let you know if the tomato type is an early producer, known to reach fruit maturity in less than 70 days.
7. Days to Harvest
When you can expect your first taste of a home-grown tomato will depend upon the tomato variety’s number of “Days to Harvest” (DTH). This means, the number of days from when you plant the seed to when you have mature fruit.
- The heirloom variety ‘Stupice’ identifies the DTH as being only 50 days, making it one of the fastest producing heirloom tomato seed available.
- A hybrid variety named Early Girl also produces mature fruit in about 50 days.
- Late season tomatoes can take 80+ days before you get your first bite. These are generally the large and beefsteak variety.
8. Best Uses (Snacks/Salads, Pastes/Sauces, Slicing, Canning)
Tomato types have different densities and sizes. Selecting types of tomato you choose to grow should depend upon how you want to use them.
Salads and Eating Types of Tomatoes:
The smaller tomato types including cherry, grape and currant varieties are best for eating right off the vine since they are so sweet, and for salads. They tend to have a bit tougher skin, which is a good quality if you like the “bite”.
Sauces and Pastes Types of Tomatoes:
Tomato types that are best for sauces and pastes are generally denser than other tomato varieties. The also tend to be determinate tomatoes (vs indeterminate). The plum tomatoes are generally used for pasta sauces and creating tomato pastes since they are thick-walled, and have fewer seed compartments. The most common, commercially produced tomato types is the ‘Roma’ and ‘San Marzano’ varieties.
Slicing Types of Tomatoes:
That lovely hamburger cries out for a large, flavorful tomato to go on the bun, doesn’t it! Slicing tomatoes are generally the large and beefsteak sized tomatoes. There is nothing better than a BLT sandwich with a sweet slicing tomato. The beefsteak tomatoes can be found in groceries stores in the organic section, if you want to try them before growing them in your garden.
Canning Types of Tomatoes:
When you are ready to can tomatoes you need lots of them! So most canning tomatoes are determinate form. Canning tomatoes include both heirloom and hybrid varieties. The “Juliet” and “Amish Paste” and “San Marzano” are known for their exceptional flavor as good canners.
9. Flavor Profile (Sweet, Tangy, Mild, Balanced, Rich)
THE REASON why we grow tomatoes is the flavor isn’t it? We tire of the bland, hot-house tomatoes that come on the grocery store shelves, only occasionally indulging ourselves in the expensive heirloom varieties that are found in the organic section. Ok, indulging maybe more than occasionally.
Sweet Tomato Types:
The sweetest of the tomato types are the currant, cherry and grape tomatoes. Bite-sized they lend themselves to a quick snack right off the vine!
Tangy Tomato Types:
The green heirloom tomatoes can be more tomatillo-like than tomato in flavor. Tangy is a great quality for fried green tomatoes. The ‘Green Zebra’ heirloom tomato has exceptional tanginess.
Mild Tomato Flavor:
While a lot of tomatoes may fall into this category, it does not negate that amazing home-grown flavor that many heirloom varieties give us. Forget the bland store bought Romas, and embrace your back yard garden harvests!
Balanced Tomato Flavor:
Not too sweet, not too tangy, not too acidic, not too anything. The balanced varieties fall somewhere in between and tend to be beefsteak in size.
Rich Tomato Flavor:
The black tomato varieties are often described as ‘rich’ in flavor. You have to bite into one to understand the depth of flavor profile. If you haven’t tried a black or purple tomato, they are available commercially now in most grocery stores in the “variety pack” and are a must-try.
10. Yield (Moderate, Prolific)
Some tomato types produce more than others. In particular, the indeterminate tomatoes, which keep producing all season can yield a prolific number of tomatoes. They are great if you have a big family or want to share with your neighbors. Some tomatoes provide a strong, prolific yield that is sometimes hard to keep up with. The cherry and grape varieties are known for their prolific yield.
11. Cold Climate Types of Tomatoes
Tomatoes love moderate to warm conditions, so that’s a bummer if you live in a cool or damp climate like in the Pacific Northwest, or at altitude like Denver. Luckily out of the 10,000 varieties available, there are plenty that are either cold-adapted seeds that can be purchased. We let you know if a variety of tomato can do well in a cold climate.
12. Hot Climate Types of Tomatoes
Tomatoes don’t like it too hot either. If you live in an area that gets really warm, then choose a variety that can handle the heat. Cherry tomatoes and those that have dense foliage do well under intense heat. Try ‘Super Sweet 100’ cherry or the heirloom ‘Brandywine’ if you in a smokin’ hot climate such as Arizona.
13. Types of Tomatoes Good for Containers & Pots
No space? No problem! Container gardens are popular for those that don’t have a lot of outdoor space, or don’t have enough sun and need to move the plants around. We let you know which tomato types grow best in containers and pots.
14. Types of Tomatoes that Are Resistant to Diseases
Tomato diseases can become a real let down and hard to manage. Some regions are susceptible to tomato diseases. Unfortunately the best tasting tomatoes are often those that are least resistant to diseases. Of the 29 varieties we discuss here, we cover which of the tomato types have been bred to be resistant to Verticillium Wilt, Fusarium Wilt, Nematodes, Tobacco Mosaic Virus (TMV), Alternaria Stem Canker and Gray Leaf Spot diseases. These will by hybrid tomatoes.
29 Tomato Types: Types of Tomato Varieties
Super Sweet 100
Yellow & Orange Tomatoes
Dr. Wyche's Yellow
German Orange Strawberry
Black & Purple Tomatoes
Black from Tula
Aunt Ruby's German Green
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