Buying Tomato can be fun. There are thousands of varieties of tomatoes in a range of beautiful colors, sizes, and flavors. During the summer we can’t get enough of them, especially the more rare varieties that crop up at the farmers’ market. Whether you’re dreaming of fresh tomato sauce or looking to make a Roasted Tomato Quiche, you’ll need to know the right tomato for the job. Since they vary in texture and flavor so much, some tomatoes are better suited for some recipes than others. Read on, to figure out what is the right tomato to use in whatever tomato recipe you’re craving.
Which Types Of Tomatoes Are Best For Recipes?
Sometimes we have to work with whatever tomatoes we got. Especially in the dead of winter, when you just go with whatever isn’t rock hard and pale. But when summer is in full swing and tomatoes of all shapes and sizes are in season, you can afford to be choosy and select the variety best suited to the recipe. From gorgeous heirlooms to classic beefsteaks, here’s the best way to use different types of tomatoes.
Cherry Tomatoes: These bite-sized tomatoes are round and juicy with a sweet-tart flavor, making they’re perfect for snacking and threading onto kebabs. Like most tomatoes, they’re at their peak in the summer, but are available year-round. They also come in a variety of colors, from red to the golden orange-yellow variety called Sungolds. Easily halved, cherry tomatoes are ideal for all sorts of salads, especially pasta salads. They aren’t only enjoyed raw, however. Because they’re so juicy, cherry tomatoes make a delicious a sauce, like in our Shrimp and Burst Cherry Tomato Pasta.
Grape Tomatoes: About half the size of a cherry tomato and oblong shaped, grape tomatoes tend to be less juicy, meatier, and denser than their round counterpart. Their lower water content and firm texture means they hold their shape while cooking better than cherry tomatoes do and their thicker skin means they tend to have a longer shelf-life too. While not the same in flavor, grape tomatoes can be used similarly to cherry tomatoes for snacking, salads, or cooked down into a delicious tomato sauce.
Cocktail Tomatoes: A lesser-known small tomato variety are cocktail tomatoes. Larger than both cherry and grape tomatoes (but smaller than plum tomatoes), these round tomatoes are sweet with a slight tang. One common variety of cocktail tomato you’ll often see at the supermarket are Campari tomatoes, sold on the vine. Thanks to their juicy sweetness, these tomatoes are great quartered and added salad, but are equally as delicious roasted for soup or sauces.
Heirloom Tomatoes: Available in a dizzying variety of shapes, colors, and sizes, heirlooms are some of the prettiest tomatoes. ‘Heirloom’ is one of two larger umbrella terms used to classify tomatoes. All tomatoes are either heirloom or hybrid. Tomatoes are considered heirloom only if they are open-pollinated. In fact, heirloom plants must be grown without crossbreeding for at least 50 years. This results in a consistent tomato from season to season, unlike tomatoes that are crossbred to reproduce a particular flavor or size.
A few heirloom varieties you might find at the farmers’ market are Cherokee Purple, Amish Paste, and Black Krim.
Heirlooms are a perfect candidate for simple preparations. Slice them thick and enjoy with just salt or add them to a classic tomato sandwich or salad without a lot of competing ingredients, so that they can be the star of the show.
Beefsteak Tomatoes: These are the big boys of the tomato world. Beefsteaks can be either heirloom or hybrid and can weigh up to a pound a piece. Round and juicy, with small seed cavities, beefsteaks are the ideal sandwich tomato. You can also plop them on a burger, use them for a caprese salad, and even stuff them. And while the bright red variety is probably what comes to mind (or what you’ll find 99% of the time at the grocery store), explore some of the other 350 or so beefsteak varieties on the market, especially in the summer when they’re in season. They come in a range of colors, including black and white.
Plum Tomatoes: Smaller than a beefsteak, and oval-shaped, plum tomatoes (also called Roma tomatoes) are often used for canning. In fact, San Marzano tomatoes, the prized variety from Italy, are a kind of plum tomato. Their meaty texture coupled with their low water and seed content make them the ideal sauce tomato, whether that sauce is marinara or salsa. Plum tomatoes are also excellent in long braises, soups, and stews, where they’re cooked down low and slow. They char and grill beautifully as well.
Green Tomatoes: There are two kinds of green tomatoes: underripe tomato varieties that have yet to turn red, and heirloom varieties that are green when ripe. In the South, we’re typically referring to the former, which are famously fried until golden brown and crisp. Firm and easy to slice, unripe green tomatoes are well suited to pickling as well as frying, and are delicious as part of a refreshing chilled soup, like in our Green Tomato Gazpacho. Their firm texture also makes them easy to grill.
If you’re looking for ways to use a ripe green tomato (like Green Zebras), you can enjoy them raw in a salad or layer them onto a sandwich in the same way you would any beefsteak or heirloom tomato.
How To Buy Tomatoes
When shopping for tomatoes, look for intensely colored ones that feel heavy. They should also be firm, but not hard. Heirlooms can often have blemishes or scarring; these are natural and not signs of spoilage.
In Season vs. Hot House
Tomato season doesn’t last forever, so if you’re buying a tomato outside the summer months, it’s likely a hot house tomato, grown inside a greenhouse under controlled conditions. Some hot houses even utilize hydroponic growing systems. The term ‘hot house’ doesn’t designate a single kind of tomato, only how it’s grown. The chief complaint when it comes to tomatoes grown this way is that they often lack the flavor that in season (outdoor grown) tomatoes naturally have, which can alter how a final recipe tastes.
Are Vine-Ripened Tomatoes Better?
You’ve likely seen tomatoes sold as “vine-ripened” at the grocery store, and they often cost a little more. That might make you think they’re higher quality, but vine-ripened is simply a term used to indicate when a tomato was picked. If a tomato is labeled vine-ripened, that means it was harvested during the breaker stage. This is when the tomato first begins to change color and produce ethylene, which is a ripening agent. Once a tomato reaches the breaker stage, it will no longer need the plant to ripen.
Vine-Ripened tomatoes are typically sold with the vine still in tack to the give the illusion they were fully ripened on the plant before being harvested (which some people think yields better flavor). There’s no scientific evidence however, that tomatoes must remain on the vine to develop their full flavor, and even tomatoes sold at grocery stores on the vine are plucked before fully ripe.