It's time to refresh your tomato knowledge. 

By Sarra Sedghi
May 16, 2019

If you’re not celebrating summer with a tomato and mayonnaise sandwich, then you are doing tomato season (and yourself) a disservice. Technically fruits—tomatoes are botanically classified as berries—tomatoes have a flavor that’s both sweet and savory, a divine combination of natural sugar and acidity. They’re incredibly versatile, both a fridge and pantry staple that can improve anything—salad, pasta, sandwiches, even pie

Summer is just around the corner, which means a plethora of fresh tomatoes that taste like sunshine are coming your way. Refresh your tomato knowledge with this guide covering 10 common tomato varieties, the relationship between a tomato’s color and taste, and the difference between heirloom and hybrid tomatoes. 

Heirloom Tomatoes

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The term “heirloom” refers to how tomatoes (and plenty of other fruits and vegetables) are bred. Unlike hybrid tomatoes, which come from cross-bred tomato strains, heirloom tomatoes can be traced down a single genetic line. Basically, they’re purebreds. Heirloom tomatoes are prized for their superior taste and texture, and the come in a variety of colors including orange and deep purple. However, that single strain means that heirloom tomatoes have a shorter shelf life and much less resistance to disease than hybrids. 

Recipes to try: Paleo Southern-Style Tomato Pie, Mini Tomato Sandwiches with Bacon Mayonnaise, Heirloom Tomato and Chicken Toss

Beefsteak Tomatoes

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Beefsteak tomatoes are some of the largest cultivated tomatoes around, with a meaty texture and intense, classic-tomato flavor. They're typically red or pink, certain varieties of beefsteak tomatoes yield purple, black, or yellow fruit. Thanks to their thick consistency and compact seed cavities, beefsteak tomatoes hold up well when sliced, making them perfect for sandwiches. 

Recipes to try: Bacon-Spinach-and-Couscous Stuffed Tomatoes, Garlic-Thyme Burgers with Grilled Tomato, Eggplant and Tomato Salad

Plum Tomatoes

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Also known as processing or paste tomatoes, plum tomatoes have an almost cylindrical shape and few seeds, making them perfect for preserving. As a result, they’re popular in premade sauces and tomato paste, or diced and canned (Roma tomatoes are a plum variety). Smaller plum tomatoes are often called grape tomatoes. 

Recipes to try: Grilled Flatbreads with Tomatoes and Basil, Aromatic Slow-Roasted Tomatoes, Plum Tomato Tart

Yellow Tomatoes

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A number of tomato varieties, both heirloom and hybrid, produce yellow fruit. Yellow tomatoes are less acidic than their red counterparts and have a different nutritional value: for example, yellow tomatoes are high in folate, but have less vitamin C than red ones. 

Recipes to try: Golden Gazpacho, Yellow Tomato Lime Sorbet, Yellow Tomatoes in Spiced Balsamic Vinaigrette

Cherry Tomatoes

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Cherry tomatoes may not be very large, but they pack a sweet, summery punch. They’re typically red, but can also be yellow, green, or even black. Cherry tomatoes are usually smaller than grape tomatoes and have a softer texture. 

Recipes to try: Cherry Tomato Caprese Salad, Easy Cherry Tomato Pasta Sauce, Fregola with Charred Onions and Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

Green Tomatoes

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Several tomato varieties, like the heirloom green zebra or Cherokee green, produce green fruit. However, green tomatoes can also describe unripened red tomatoes which are purposefully harvested early for techniques such breading and frying or pickling. 

Recipes to try: Fried Green Tomatoes with Buttermilk-Feta Dressing, Green Tomato Bloody Mary, Green Tomato Chile Verde

Campari Tomatoes

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Also known as tomatoes on the vine, campari tomatoes fall somewhere between cherry and grape tomatoes in size. These hybrids have a deep red hue, low acidity, super sweet flavor, and a juicy, forgiving texture. 

Recipes to try: Roasted Peppers and Tomatoes with Herbs and Capers, White Pizza with Tomato and Basil, Fresh Tomato Sauce

Pear Tomatoes

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Pear tomatoes are an heirloom variety known for their small, pear-shaped fruit. They’re sweet and typically yellow, but can also be red or orange. 

Recipes to try: Bruschetta with Warm Tomatoes

Brandywine Tomatoes

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Brandywine tomatoes are a variety of beefsteak tomatoes with large, pink fruit and massive flavor. They’re one of the most beloved heirloom varieties and some of the best-tasting tomatoes around. You’ll want to enjoy these fresh, like in a Caprese salad or classic bruschetta

Recipes to try: Roasted Brandywine Tomato, Fennel, and Shrimp with Feta, Floyd’s Favorite Tomato Sandwich

Cherokee Purple Tomatoes

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Another heirloom beefsteak variety, Cherokee purple tomatoes have a distinctive appearance thanks to their dark flesh and clear skin. They’re dense, juicy, and best enjoyed raw and fresh, so go ahead and slice them up for a summer salad. 

Recipes to try: Ham and Cheese Tartines with Cherokee Purple Tomato Salad, Bloody Mary Tomato Salad with Quick Pickled Shrimp, Sun Gold Tomato Caprese Salad