Your Guide for the Right Tomato

Tomatoes are a huge staple in the American diet. The average American consumes 22 pounds a year of tomatoes, in anything from sauces to salads. When perusing the produce section of the grocery store, I often look at the giant wall of tomatoes with wonder. There are many varieties, shapes, sizes, and colors and I often have thought I really need to do a little research to find out which kinds of tomatoes are best for what dishes. Here are some of the most common varieties and what variety will make the perfect “star” to your tomato dish.

Beefsteak Tomatoes

These are your big, red globe tomatoes. These babies can weigh in at over a pound or more! They have a tangy, acid bite with a touch of sweetness, creating a classic rich flavor. These tomatoes are often called “slicers” because of their size and meaty texture, so they are great stacked on a hamburger or sandwich. They are also delicious cut into wedges and salted.

Roma Tomatoes

The thick-walled, oblong Roma tomato is sweet, has big-acid and is known for its chewy flesh and low water content. This makes them perfect for tomato sauce. This also makes them great for quick sauté dishes or in a fresh salad where you don’t want excess moisture.

Cherry and Grape Tomatoes

Typically, the smaller the fruit, the bigger the sugar. This is one reason the tiny tomato market has boomed the last few years. Cherry tomatoes that are half an inch in diameter are perfect in salads, while the one and a half inch monsters are great for appetizers. Grape tomatoes, named for their size and shape, have become grocery store standards and offer predictable, uniform sweetness.

Green, Yellow, and Orange Tomatoes

Green tomatoes—those that actually ripen to a gentle shade of green—generally offer an almost spicy taste. Yellow tomatoes tend to be sweeter and less acidic, with a generally mild flavor. Orange tomatoes offer a rich orange color and mild fruity flavor.

These are all generally too mild to withstand much cooking, so they are best served raw on a platter, possibly drizzled with olive oil and salt.

Other Tomato Tips

· The best time of year to buy tomatoes is from April-September.

· A tomato's color and shape should be characteristic of its variety. Color, of course, is a sign of ripeness. An odd shape often indicates that a tomato was literally nipped in the bud by cold weather, which damages its taste and texture.

  • Sunlight and heat trigger tomatoes to produce ethylene, the gas responsible for ripening. Once they're ripe, you want to slow the process. Store them in a cool place, about 65 degrees Fahrenheit, away from heat and light sources, including the windowsill. Use them within three days.
  • Refrigerate only overripe tomatoes.


  •     Mary Richardson
        Monthly Newsletter Contributor since 2014
        Email the author!

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