With over 1,000 tomato varieties, it’s easy to become overwhelmed when deciding which ones to plant. Tomatoes are a popular garden crop because they are relatively easy to grow and come in a wide variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. In this home gardener’s guide to the different types of tomatoes, we’ll break it down for you into bite-size topics to help you understand and choose the right ones for your garden.
From tiny cherry tomatoes to enormous beefsteak tomatoes, it’s easy to get overwhelmed when confronted with so many selections. You might be asking, “What’s the difference between all these types of tomatoes?” Let’s start at the beginning, which is always the best place to start!
Types of Tomatoes: Heirloom vs. Hybrid
Whether a tomato is a hybrid or heirloom is determined by its DNA.
So what is an heirloom? Heirlooms are open-pollinated seeds that haven’t been subject to hybridization. Open-pollination simply means a plant is pollinated by natural sources like the wind, self-pollination, or insects.
Because heirloom seeds have not been cross-pollinated with other plants, they will produce plants with the exact traits of the parents. So you can save seeds from the plant and use them to grow your own plants. This is why we only plant heirloom varieties of all our garden produce.
Hybrid tomatoes should not be confused with GMO plants. In simple terms, a hybrid is a crossbreed of two or more parent plants in order to capture the best traits of each of them. Sun Gold, Better Boy, and Juliet are examples of a hybrid tomato.
They are developed by people using natural methods to produce a certain type of tomato with specific characteristics. An example would be trying to create a variety with higher yields and better resistance to common tomato diseases.
You can read more about GMOs in our articles about them.
The Biggest Difference between Heirloom and Hybrid Plants
The most significant distinction between them is that hybrid tomatoes do not develop “true seed.” A hybrid will not reproduce itself. The seed it produces will be one of the “mother” plants used to make the hybrid, not the hybrid itself.
Heirlooms, on the other hand, produce true seeds. The seeds they produce can be saved by the home gardener and used to grow tomatoes that are identical to those from which they were taken.
If you need help learning how to grow them, you can read more about tomatoes on TFL.
5 Basic Types of Tomato
There are many ways to categorize tomatoes. You’ll be interested in the flavor, color, size, days to maturity, and disease resistance of the varieties you want in your garden. Learn all about growing tomatoes in our complete guide.
There are 5 basic types of tomatoes when categorized by shape and size.
- Globe Tomatoes (Medium Tomatoes)
- Beefsteak Tomatoes (Larger Tomatoes)
- Cherry Tomatoes (Tiny Tomatoes)
- Plum and Pear Tomatoes (Paste and Preserve Tomatoes)
- Oxheart Tomatoes (Heart-Shaped Tomatoes)
There are over 1,000 distinct tomato cultivars, each one may be classified into one of these five primary categories.
The majority of tomatoes sold in the grocery stores in the United States are these. They have 2-2.5 inches (5-7 centimeters) in diameter.
They were bred to have thick skin, be round, and have a uniform appearance. These features make them the “grocery store” tomato standard. They are traditionally cultivated, which means they are grown both in open fields and greenhouses.
Globe tomatoes are very shelf-stable. This means they last a long time and withstand the rigors being commercially grown and shipped.
Tappys Heritage, Rutgers, and Moonglow are some examples of this type. They do come in other shades as well, such as the Green Zebra variety.
A tomato of any variety which is commercially grown and shipped does not have a flavor or much flavor. The old-timer’s saying, “When you produce for the masses, you lose the quality” comes to mind.
These tomatoes are larger than most. They are wider than they are tall and they can be irregular in shape.
This tomato is often called a “slicer” tomato because of its excellent flavor, big size, and popular usage (sliced, on a sandwich). It also has a really thick texture that retains form when sliced and helps give them their name.
Beefsteak tomatoes are double the size of a Standard Globe Tomato and weigh about a pound each. They’re 3-4 inches (7-10 cm) in diameter, which makes them roughly double the size of a standard globe tomato.
Most beefsteaks are lobed, slightly flattened, and have tiny seed compartments, although not all varieties are. They were developed for color, size, and flavor. Because they have a limited shelf life (when ripe) and take a long time to reach maturity, they aren’t grown commercially.
Brandywine Tomato, Berkley Pink Tie-dye, Classic Beefsteak, and Kellogg’s Breakfast Tomato are examples of beefsteak tomato.
Cherry tomatoes are small round, pear-shaped, or oval, two-celled fruits that also include currants. They range in diameter from one to two inches.
Cherry tomatoes come in many colors of bize-size, juicy fruit. They come in red, orange, green and purple striped, green, and yellow.
These are a delicious fresh-market addition, work great on salads, in wraps, and in any lunch box. They’re also fantastic for snacking on when added to fruit and vegetable platters, and chutney.
Brad’s Atomic Grape (we grew these and they are prolific), Litchi Tomato (my favorite cherry tomato with a taste almost like a cherry), Tiny Tim Tomato, and Pink Bumble Bee Tomato are some of the most popular examples.
Plum and Pear Tomatoes
This group often crosses with the cherry tomato group as they are both small. It’s a wider group because it also includes paste varieties. The plum and pear tomato has an elongated shape and are generally smooth.
The pear type is smaller near the stem and barrel-shaped on the bottom like the Yellow Pear which is one of our favorites. These are usually eaten like a cherry tomato and are sweet in flavor
The plum tomato has a more uniform elongation and they’re usually red. They are also known as Roma or paste tomatoes. Meaty, savory flavor.
Their size varies greatly between cultivars but on average they are around 2-3″ in size long and 1-3″ in diameter.
They can be cooked down into tomato paste or sauce. Canning tomatoes whole so they can be added to soups and other recipes is another great way to use them.
The Aker’s Plum Tomato, Nistru Tomato, Martino’s Roma, and Milano Plum are varieties of plum tomato which make wonderful sauces and pastes.
The name “Oxheart tomato” is a dead giveaway. Oxhearts are distinctive in that they resemble a heart or a strawberry, hence the name. The form is due to a defect in which the flower end on the bottom elongates.
Most of the oxhearts are heirlooms that weigh between one and two pounds and have small seed pockets. They’re grown for their size, flavor, and thick consistency. There is a wide variety in flavor and color Oxhearts.
They have various tastes, some being savory, sweet, sour, or acidic. Although they may also be found in green, purple, yellow, and orange hues, the most common colors are red and pink.
Oxheart tomatoes are best used as slicers or to be canned.
The Hungarian Heart, Amish Paste, and the Yellow Oxheart are examples of Oxhearts.
Color and Flavor Variations of Tomatoes
Tomatoes come in a variety of colors, including red, pink, orange, yellow, green, black, brown, and purple.
Also, there are striped tomatoes. The color of the tomato may reveal something about its flavor and even the environment in which it was grown.
Finally, size has an influence on flavor. Because of the greater sugar concentration in smaller fruits, they are sweeter than larger varieties. There’s a tomato for every palate.
Striped varieties tend to have a high sugar content but a low acidity level, giving them a sweet, fruity flavor and making them wonderful for salsa and preserving.
Gold Medal (our all-time favorite tomato which we plant every year), Green Zebra, and Pink Jazz are just a few of the gorgeous ones in the striped family.
Brown and Purple – Dark Varieties
The earthy flavor of black, purple, and/or brown tomatoes such as the Black Beauty, Black from Tula, and Cherokee Purple offers a more complex taste. In terms of acidity, they are comparable to red tomatoes, making them perfect for use in delectable sauces.
We don’t care for the dark varieties because they don’t have a true, old-fashioned tomato taste, to our palettes anyway.
They are a different variety all to themselves. There are only a few truly green tomato cultivars. Many of these are not totally green but rather a combination of green and some other color.
Usually, a “green” tomato is one from any variety that is harvested before it starts to glisten. Glistening, in a tomato, is the stage where it lightens up with a whitish hue from dark green just before it matures to its color.
Here in the south, it’s hard to resist harvesting some of the first ones to make fried green tomatoes! My mouth waters and my tummy rumbles just thinking of them!
The types of truly green tomato cultivars on Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds are Green Zebra, Green Giant, Evil Olive, Green Doctor’s Tomato, Aunt Ruby’s German Green, Green Giant, and Green Tiger.
Orange and Yellow Tomatoes
My favorite group. Although they have a sweeter taste than their red cousins, the varieties we’ve tried have an old-fashioned taste. Our favorite tomato, the one we plant every year, is in the striped variety of this family – Gold Medal.
Some of the orange varieties, I’m told, taste sweet like candy. Some of the most popular ones are Pinnochio Tomato, Woodle Orange, Orange Jazz, and Orange Accordion.
We grew the Orange Accordion last year for the first time and I could not get over the size and flavor of them.
Sweet, but not too sweet, pinks are a wonderful mix of acid and sugar. They have a “classic” or “old-fashioned” flavor. German Pink, Pink Jazz, Missouri Pink, and Berkley Pink Tie-Dye are delicious varieties of Pink Tomatoes. They’re adaptable in the kitchen since they can be eaten fresh, canned, or frozen.
Red is the classic tomato color. When we think of a tomato we immediately picture a ripe, juicy red one. They are more acidic and have a stronger flavor than most other colors. Their flavor increases when they are cooked or canned.
As you can see there are numerous ways to classify tomatoes.
All of them fit into one of the 5 types when classified by size and shape.
- Globe Tomatoes (Medium Size)
- Beefsteak Tomatoes (Larger in Size)
- Cherry Tomatoes (Tiny)
- Plum or Pear Tomatoes (Paste and Preserve Varieties)
- Oxheart Tomatoes (Heart-Shaped)
They can be classified as heirloom or hybrid.
They can be classified as a slicer or paste type.
They can also be classified by determinant or indeterminant. You can read more about this in our article on growing tomatoes.
Also, color and flavor are used to classify them. Red, Orange/Yellow, Striped, Green, Pink, and Dark varieties. Sweet, Super Sweet, Tart, Complex, Old-Fashioned Hearty, Acidic and Mild.
By seeing how they are classified, and the difference in flavors uses, and types, you can make the best selection of the types of tomatoes to grow in your home garden.
The tomato hornworm can devastate a tomato plant overnight but you can get rid of them.
As always, we’re here to help.
Read more about tomatoes