In Celebration of Heirloom Tomatoes

July 20th, 2014 by Tonya Zavasta

Heirloom TomatoesMost of us know heirloom tomatoes as the tomato varieties with fancy names – Aunt Ginny, Black Plum, Cherokee Purple, Speckled Roman and what not. Little are we aware that these are not just some sort of fashionable upmarket tomatoes; they are tomatoes with stories of yesteryears to tell.

Heirloom tomatoes are special tomatoes. They are old-fashioned tomatoes grown from seeds handed down from generation to generation. Such seeds lead to distinct and consistent traits. These tomatoes are cultivated through open pollination, i.e. pollination by natural mechanisms such as wind, insects and birds. The term ‘heirloom tomato’ also refers to tomato varieties grown before World War II.

Because heirloom tomatoes stand for history, culture and a way of life, their seeds are treasures for the cultivators. Homegrown food lovers, gardeners and healthy food advocates around the world vouch for these tomatoes.

In comparison with the other tomato category of hybrid tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes come in a spectacular range of shapes, sizes, colors and flavors. They are no perfect red ovals but beautiful big bursting, multicolored, ribbed and striped. Their complex flavor comes in a class of its own. Doesn’t matter how you decide to eat them – in a sandwich, in salsa or sauce, in soup or in juice – they will make the dish stand out among the rest. Their taste and aroma will make them your favorites and overshadow all other types of tomato.

Taste and Aroma

A single heirloom tomato plant produces just a handful of tomatoes. As the entire plant focuses on just 2 or 3 tomatoes, they are the best in the lot with superior flavor. Also, since heirloom tomatoes are often grown locally and naturally, enough time is provided to the tomatoes to ripen all by themselves under the warmth of the sun. This also gives these tomatoes their distinct tang and zest.

Nutritional Value

1 medium raw heirloom tomato typically contains

Calories -35 kcal

Fat – 0.5 g

Carbohydrates- 7 g

Protein – 1 g

Fiber – 1 g

Disadvantages

The downside of heirloom tomatoes is that they are quite delicate. They can bruise very easily and their shelf life is rather brief. That is the reason why they are not commonly found in supermarkets and grocery stores. Refrigeration also destroys their flavor and texture.

Organic or Not?

While heirloom tomatoes are much more likely to be grown organic, especially since many heirloom growers are small local farmers, the label “heirloom” does not necessarily imply the tomato is also organic, so whenever possible make sure you look for “organic heirloom tomatoes” instead of conventional heirloom.

Buying Tips

You will be able to distinguish good heirloom tomatoes through their inviting earthy smell. Also, don’t go by looks alone. They often look misshapen, ribbed and exhibit cracks in the outer skin, but that doesn’t mean that they are any less on flavor. Search for the ones which feel heavier as those tend to provide a thick delicious pulp.

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