You may well ask yourself, “So when I’m out at the farmers market, you know, buying the freshest Florida tomatoes possible, how do I know what I’m looking at?”
Here’s your handy guide to the varieties of tomatoes most commonly grown here in Florida.
Although you can use any fresh you want almost any way you want, most tomatoes cultivated in Florida fall into five categories distinguished by shape and function.
Look for tomatoes in these varieties: rounds (for tomato juice), plums (for tomato paste), cherries and grapes (for salads and snacks) and beefsteaks (for slicing).
©2014 All rights reserved.
OFFICIAL BIO: K Truitt is a second-generation, native Floridian born in Jacksonville. Truitt worked in public higher education for 25 years and knows newspaper publishing, printing and graphic design. Contact: email@example.com
Beefsteak Tomatoes – also called wide steak or sandwich tomatoes.
The biggest tomatoes, beefsteaks can be five inches across and more. The bigness is on purpose, so that a single slice covers an entire burger or sandwich. Some common varieties are Beefmaster , Big Beef, Brandywine, Bucking Bronco, Cœur-de-bœuf ("ox heart").
Their distinctive shape comes from ancient cultivars indigenous to Central and South America. Some of the same shapes, and many more colors, are present in heirloom tomatoes today.
Beefsteaks are so called because of their meaty flavor. To really bring it out, lightly sprinkled your tomato with salt. Scooped out, they also make great bowls for salads – tuna, egg, potato and plain old leafy greens.
Although there are many varieties, because they’re so large, beefsteaks aren’t grown commercially as much as other varieties of tomato because they’re too big to go through mechanical picking machinery.
Cultivated since at least the early 1800s, cherry tomatoes may have originated in Peru and northern Chile. It’s known that the Aztecs grew them as early as the 1400s. Cherry tomatoes have been grown in the United States since at least 1919.
A distinctive quality of cherry tomatoes is that they grow in rafts on the vine, some times as many as a dozen little tomatoes on one stem.
Cherry tomatoes are small on purpose – the better for snacking – ranging in size from the tip of your thumb to about the size of a golf ball.
Cherries have a bright, tart flavor that complements most salad dressings. They pickle easy and make very interesting canapés when sliced and dressed.
Some notable varieties of cherry tomatoes:
- Santorini – Monks brought cherry tomatoes to Santorini, Greece, in 1818. Records of the Santorini variety start in 1875, when locals believed that the seeds had come from Egypt. The Santorini cherry tomatoes are prized for their flavor and texture.
- Tomaccio – Developed by Israeli labs, tomaccios are the product of a 12-year breeding program to develop wild Peruvian tomatoes into sweet tomatoes that ripen quickly and have a long shelf life.
- Super Sweet 100 – One of the most popular hybrid cultivars America. It is fungus resistant, hardy, and yields more than one hundred cherry tomatoes per vine.
Grape tomatoes are cherry tomatoes bred for their small size and crossed with plum tomatoes for texture and shape. Their sweeter taste and small size make them great for salads, an innovation in other dishes where you might have to chop a larger tomato, and a handy, bite-sized snack.
Perhaps they are Asian in origin. One of the most commercial varieties, Santa F1, came to the United States in 1997 by Andrew Chu, who bought them from the Known-Your-Seed Company in Taiwan.
Now marketed as Santa Sweets exclusively by Procacci Brothers Sales Corp. in Philadelphia, seeds from Santa F1 are hard to come by, but not the yummy tomatoes they grow.
Plum tomatoes – Pear-shaped or oval tomatoes known as consistency tomatoes.
Although plum tomatoes make great slicing tomatoes for sandwiches and salads, they’re most often cultivated for tomato paste, that thick tart stuff that punches up pizza sauce and chili. In fact, the five hybrid varieties cultivated in California account for over 60% of the total production of plum tomatoes.
Not as juicy as other varieties, plums have great tooth and a very concentrated flavor that’s just as mouth watering.
Known for their distinctive shape, plums are tough enough to stand up to shipping with bruising, so usually they’re the ripest tomatoes at grocery stores.
Most people will recognize the Roma variety, most common in stores and Florida nurseries, but there other varieties of plums common in the US: San Marzano, Repreco Paste, Amish Paste and Big Mama.
Rounds – Also called spherical juice tomatoes.
Rounds are very easy to find at your local grocery store.
Meaty and juice, rounds are dense, and this helps give tomato and other vegetable drinks big flavor and texture.
FYI – We have Louis Perrin of the French Lick Springs, Ind., to thank for tomato juice in 1917.
Out of orange juice with a hotel full of thirsty Chicago businessmen, Perrin juiced tomatoes, then mixed them with sugar and his own special sauce to make one of the first tomato juice cocktails.
Tomato juice was an instant success.