From pasta and curries, to salads and beyond, your choice of tomato can make or break a meal. Unfortunately, it can be a tricky minefield to navigate, with more varieties out there than can be covered in a single article. In fact, there are more than 3000 varieties of tomato to choose from.
That’s why we’ve narrowed down some of the best tomato varieties for you here, no matter whether you’re interested in cooking with them, growing them, or both. Wondering what makes an heirloom tomato an 'heirloom'? Did you think all tomatoes were vine tomatoes? Aren’t cherry tomatoes also salad tomatoes? We’ve got you covered.
Before we get started on the different types of tomatoes that you must know (including the best-tasting tomatoes), let’s start our journey by covering some essential tomato terminology.
Indeterminate tomatoes vs determinate tomatoes
Indeterminate tomatoes are probably what springs to mind when you imagine tomatoes being cultivated. They grow on vines and will continue growing until killed by frost. That means they yield large quantities, hence their popularity.
On the other hand, determinate tomatoes grow on bushes. These bushes flower, produce fruit, and then are spent for the year. Consequently, their growing seasons are shorter and less productive.
Heirloom tomatoes vs hybrid tomatoes
Heirloom tomatoes are the pure-breeds of the tomato world. They’re generally the best tasting, but also more delicate due to their thin skins. They only grow under local conditions and travel poorly, which means you tend to only find them at farmers’ markets from local sources.
The tomatoes available at your supermarket are generally hybrid tomatoes. They have been cross-bred to produce large, resilient, and disease-resistant crops that can be stored for long periods. That’s what makes them cheap and easily transportable, if often not as delicious.
Here are the 20 different types of tomatoes you need to know, divided into the 4 categories of tomato.
These are the giants of the tomato world and can weigh up to 3 lbs. Unsurprisingly, they need a long growing season to reach their full size, but the result is a very meaty tomato, hence the name. Perfect for sandwiches.
1. Big Beef: Not only are they huge, they’re also firm, flavourful, and easy to grow.
2. Black Krim: The colour of a painful bruise but sweet, flavourful, and a lot tastier than they look.
3. Brandywine Pink: Bright, sweet, and juicy. A classic beefsteak and one of the best tasting. (See also Caspian Pink tomatoes.)
4. Cherokee Purple: Deep red with a purplish hue, Cherokee Purples are a smaller beefsteak with a slightly smoky flavour. Unique and delicious.
5. Mortgage Lifters: King of the beefsteak. It’s a miracle their vines can support them.
Cherry and grape tomatoes
Small, robust, and bursting with flavour. Cherry tomatoes are usually a good choice among the hybrids at your supermarket. They’re easy to grow, persevering through drought and cold summers, and are quite resistant to disease and low soil quality.
6. Black Cherry: Purply red with an intense flavour. Looking for a less sweet, but no less tomatoey tomato? Consider these.
7. Isis Candy: On the other hand, try these for a very fruity sweetness. You’ll recognise them by their yellow and red streaks.
8. Sungold: Sweet and, as the name suggests, intensely orange in colour. A great tasting hybrid tomato.
9. Sunrise Bumble Bee: Similar to Sungolds, but with red streaks through them. They look sublime in salads.
10. Sweet 100: Tiny, bitesize, and they grow plentifully. A great starter tomato for novice growers.
11. Pachino Cherry: The Pachino region of Sicily is renowned for its tomatoes (learn more here), but its native cherry tomato is the best known for good reason. Best enjoyed raw or in a tomato confit.
Also known as paste tomatoes, these sweet and firm varieties are particularly well suited to making sauces and, well, pastes. That’s because they have few seeds, low water content, and lots of pectins (fruit fibre), meaning they don’t get too watery when blended down. It also means they can be stored for a long time.
12. Big Mama: Large (as the name suggests) and a great all-rounder. Good for grilling as well as pasting.
13. Dwarf Saucy Mary: Green when ripe, which can make for some very interesting sauces.
14. King Humbert: Intensely red and plum-shaped. Less intense in flavour, which makes them ideal for drying.
15. Orange Banana Tomatoes: Deep orange, if not quite as banana shaped as the name suggests. Great for summery salsas.
16. San Marzano Tomatoes: Large, oblong, and easy to grow. The Roma tomato for new gardeners.
Arguably the fruitiest of all tomatoes. These are a little larger than cherry or grape tomatoes and are tart and juicy. They’re great for salads because their balance of acidity and sweetness means their juice works like a natural dressing, complementing almost anything you can think to put in a salad, from leaves to red onion to anchovies.
17. Black Zebra: Purply black streaks give them their name – as well as their wonderful appearance in salads
18. Costoluto Genovese: Beefsteak-style ridges on a salad tomato? Yes please. These are a juicy, delicious, and eccentric salad tomato.
19. Early Girl Tomatoes: Their name comes from being harvested early in the summer, which makes them great for impatient gardeners. A solid, moderately sweet flavour.
20. Enchantment Tomatoes: Deep red and fairly large for salad tomatoes, which makes them a good all-rounder beyond salads. Also great for sauces, sandwiches, and sun or oven drying.
21. Green Zebra Tomatoes: Greenish yellow with darker green stripes, these look amazing, although their striking appearance can be lost amid green leaf salads.
So that should start you on your way to being a bonafide tomato expert, whether in the kitchen or out in the garden. To continue your journey with some lighter and more frivolous tomato facts, click here for an A to Z of tomatoes.
Discover here one of our favourite slow-cooked beef stew recipes, for those that have a whole day to wait for it to be ready. But do not also forget to browse our other four top beef stew recipes from around the world.