The best tasting tomatoes are the ones picked straight from the vine and eaten in the garden while they’re still warm from the sun. There is nothing quite like the flavour of a homegrown tomato. The taste is nature’s perfect blend of sweet and tart.
The best tasting tomatoes have a true old-fashioned flavour with an excellent balance of sugar and acidity. While everyone has their own favourite tomato variety to eat, here are three of the most popular tomatoes grown for superb flavour:
There is a broad range and depth of flavour available in tomato cultivars. Below is a list of 21 of the best-tasting tomato varieties. Which will make it onto your top-ten taste list?
Finding the Best Tasting Tomatoes: What To Look For
There are a few general things to look for when searching out the yummiest tomatoes. The best tasting tomatoes are marketed as “slicing” or good for “fresh eating”. They’re often advertised as being good in salads or fresh on sandwiches. These tomatoes have been bred for flavour instead of other characteristics (like being good for canning).
“Getting great flavor out of a tomato is part nature, part nurture. The genetics of the seed you start with – the breeding lines behind the variety, plus where that actual packet of seed you’re using was produced – and the way you grow it both factor in.”A Way To Garden: A Hands-On Primer For Every Season, by Margaret Roach
The best tasting tomatoes have a complementary balance of acidity and sugar. These varieties generally have lots of sweet AND lots of sour. A fresh tomato will also give off organic compounds that enhance its flavour and bring us that “fresh garden tomato” aroma.
“There is honestly nothing that can compare to the taste of a fresh, vine-ripened tomato, plucked at the perfect peak of sweetness and eaten warm and sugary, tart and juicy, right there in the garden as you make a big mess all over your shirt.”The “You Bet Your Garden” Guide to Growing Great Tomatoes, by Mike McGrath.
Some tomatoes are very sweet while others are downright tart. This has to do not only with the genetics of the variety of tomato, but also with the weather, soil conditions, ripeness of the tomato, and other environmental factors. They love lots of sun, some compost, and deep watering.
There are some patterns in the tastes of tomatoes, but as usual, all rules are made to be broken. Yellow and white tomatoes are generally delicate in taste and are low in acid. Dark red tomatoes can have an intense balanced taste. Many green tomatoes are tart (even zesty). But there will always be a tomato to surprise you!
“Tasting a variety of different homegrown tomatoes is much like tasting a range of distinctly different beers, wines, or chocolates. There are dominant flavour notes and a whole host of nuances and subtleties. The sampling of a tomato becomes a thought-provoking exercise in adjective seeking.”Epic Tomatoes: How to Select & Grow the Best Varieties of All Time, by Craig LeHoullier
The Best Tasting Tomato Varieties
Here are 21 of the best tasting tomato varieties. Look for these in seed catalogues, online, at local nurseries, or ready-to-eat at the farmers market. You’ll have your own top-ten tasting must-try tomato list before you know it!
Aunt Ruby’s German Green
Aunt Ruby’s German Green is a large, yellow-green tomato with a balanced taste of sweet and tart.
The flavour of Aunt Ruby’s German Green is among the best of green tomato varieties. It has a richness and a bit of spice that are unexpected from its appearance. This variety is best picked and enjoyed before overly-ripe or before cold autumn weather arrives.
“Can grow to over 1 pound and are just delicious.”Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
Aunt Ruby’s German Green is a large beefsteak-type tomato cultivar. As with Brandywine, the shape of individual fruits is irregular, flattened, and well-lobed. The tomatoes start out green, but do develop some yellow and sometimes even a bit of pink when ripe.
The Aunt Ruby’s German Green tomato is named for Ruby Arnold, who grew this variety after her grandfather handed it down through the family.
- Seed Savers Exchange (Iowa) sells Aunt Ruby’s German Green tomato seeds
- Baker Creek (Missouri) sells Aunt Ruby’s German Green tomato seeds.
Black Krim is a large, dark red-green tomato with a bold, full balanced taste.
The flavour of Black Krim tomatoes is rich, bold, and full. It has a sweet taste, balanced with an appropriate amount of acidity. The flavour is complex, with a hint of smokiness. Sweetness increases when left to ripen fully on the vine.
Black Krim tomatoes are a large, beefsteak-style tomato. Fruits are generally a dark red-purple or maroon colour. They can also be a dark red-green burgundy shade – but they’re generally quite dark and smoky-looking overall in comparison to other heirlooms. They tend to darken with more sun.
The Black Krim tomato is an Eastern European heirloom named for the region of Crimea and the Black Sea that surrounds it.
- Seed Savers Exchange (Iowa) sells Black Krim tomato seeds
- Baker Creek (Missouri) sells Black Krim tomato seeds
Brandywine is a large, pink-red tomato with an intense tomato flavour that’s well-balanced between tart and sweet.
The flavour of Brandywine tomatoes is a balanced richness with a hint of spice. The flesh of these tomatoes is known to be particularly creamy. The Brandywine is perhaps most commonly named as the best tasting tomato variety. It has the perfect balance of sugar and acidity, with that superb old-fashioned tomato taste.
Growing conditions can affect the flavour quality more than some other varieties on this list. Brandywine may be the most delicious tomato in your garden, especially if it has a particularly good year.
“Huge heirloom; quite possibly the best-tasting tomato.”The “You Bet Your Garden” Guide to Growing Great Tomatoes, by Mike McGrath.
These large beefsteak tomatoes generally weigh at least a pound (if not two) when ripe. A single Brandywine tomato will often be enough for four fresh tomato sandwiches! Brandywine tomatoes have almost the colour of a ripe watermelon. They are perfect for salads, sandwiches, and eating straight off the vine.
The Brandywine tomato is a classic heirloom tomato that was first introduced in seed catalogues over a hundred years ago. They’ll need a strong trellis and lots of room to grow. This variety is named after Brandywine Creek in Pennsylvania, south of Philadelphia.
- Botanical Interests (Colorado) sells Brandywine tomato seeds
- Seed Savers Exchange (Iowa) sells Brandywine tomato seeds
- Bakers Creek (Missouri) sells Brandywine tomato seeds
- TomatoFest (California) sells Brandywine tomato seeds
Cherokee Purple is a large, purple heirloom tomato with an intense flavour that is the perfect balance between sweet and tart.
The flavour of Cherokee Purple tomatoes has a complex balance of sweetness and tartness. It has the classic full flavour of a good heirloom tomato. Cherokee Purple tomatoes are large, sweet, and juicy. The taste of this tomato is among the most well-regarded of those who appreciate a rich tomato flavour.
“Cherokee Purple defines the ideal intersection of sweetness, tartness, depth, and texture.”Epic Tomatoes: How to Select & Grow the Best Varieties of All Time, by Craig LeHoullier
Cherokee Purple tomatoes are generally quite large, and can be thought of as a beefsteak type. Their colour is a graded purple with green undertones (green “shoulders”). The palest parts of the tomato are a dusky-rose colour. Sometimes they look like a red tomato with green stripes. They are not a true dark purple like Black Krim. Cherokee Purple tomatoes grow in all shapes and sizes, from fairly round to imperfectly knobby. Its not uncommon for each tomato to weigh a pound.
Cherokee Purple is an heirloom tomato cultivar grown and passed down by indigenous peoples in Tennessee. Cherokee Purple tomato plants are large, indeterminate vines that can grow quite tall. These plants will need a strong trellis system to keep the delicious fruits off the ground. The trellis is more than worth the effort – these are the perfect tomatoes for fresh eating!
- Botanical Interests (Colorado) sells Cherokee Purple tomato seeds
- Seed Savers Exchange (Iowa) sells Cherokee Purple tomato seeds
- Baker Creek (Missouri) sells Cherokee Purple tomato seeds
Ferris Wheel is a large, pink tomato with a delicate old-fashioned flavour that’s a nice balance of sweetness and tartness.
The flavour of Ferris Wheel tomatoes is a delicate balanced taste that corresponds nicely with its lovely appearance. These tomatoes have almost a velvety taste that’s perfectly sweet. A slice of this variety is perfect on a piece of sourdough toast.
Ferris Wheel tomatoes are similar to Brandywine in appearance, in that they are large pink tomatoes that are generally 1-3 pounds each. They have beautiful ribbed lobes which seem slightly less prone to cracking than Brandywine.
The Ferris Wheel tomato is an heirloom variety from Wisconsin that was first introduced in seed catalogues at the turn of the 19th century.
German Red Strawberry
German Red Strawberry is a medium-large, red heart-shaped tomato with a complex, sweet flavour.
The flavour of German Red Strawberry is a complex sweetness. Well-ripened fruits are almost like candy, although there is certainly depth to the flavour. This is a great choice for those who love enjoying a sweet, vine-ripened tomato that’s still warm from being out in the sunny garden.
German Red Strawberry tomatoes truly do look like a giant strawberry. Sometimes there is even a bit of green left on the top of a fruit! The inside of the tomato is bright red and very meaty. While there are many seed cavities, they are all quite small and contain very few seeds and pulp.
The German Red Strawberry tomato is a Germain heirloom popularized by Dr. Carolyn Male. Her classic book, 100 Heirloom Tomatoes for the American Garden, is a favourite among tomato gardeners. She raised over a thousand heirloom tomatoes during her career and German Red Strawberry was one of her favourites.
- TomatoFest (California) sells German Red Strawberry tomato seeds
- Reimer Seeds (North Carolina) sells German Red Strawberry tomato seeds
Georgia Streak is a large yellow tomato with red streaks with a flavourful taste that is the perfect balance of sugar and acidity.
The flavour of Georgia Streak is well-balanced and succulent. It is perhaps more towards the sweet end of the range than the sour end, but it is certainly well-balanced. Georgia Streak tomatoes are flavourful and juicy!
Georgia Streak tomatoes are generally large, with most tomatoes weighing in at at least one pound. The tomatoes are generally yellow with red marbling (streaking), both inside and out. The red streaks are delicate and the tomatoes are generally nicely lobed.
The Georgia Streak tomato is an heirloom tomato from Georgia, USA. These tomatoes are very pretty. They almost look like they’re out of an old painting.
- Reimers Seeds (North Carolina) sells Georgia Streak tomato seeds
- Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (Virginia) sells Georgia Streak tomato seeds
Glamour is a medium-sized, red tomato with that classic, sweet-tart tomato flavour of an old-fashioned tomato.
Glamour has that classic, sweet-tart tomato flavour that everyone is looking for. They’re a good pick if you want to grow only one type of tomato for both fresh eating and canning.
Glamour tomatoes are average size and nicely rounded. Ripe tomatoes will weigh about 6 oz, or about 170 grams. They are about the size of a tomato at the grocery store.
Glamour is a tomato cultivar that was bred in New York state in the 1950’s. Glamour tomato plants are among the easier-to-control among indeterminate vine varieties. Because they are not too large, they don’t take very long to grow! Ripe Glamour tomatoes should be ready about two and a half months after the plants are planted out in the garden.
- Victory Seeds (Oregon) sells Glamour tomato seeds
- Reimer Seeds (North Carolina) sells Glamour tomato seeds
Great White is a large, yellow-white tomato with a perfectly sweet flavour that is almost tropical.
The flavour of Great White tomatoes is known for its fruity, tropical taste. The flavour is a delicate sweetness, and is very low in acidity. Seed-saving icon Jere Gettle describes this variety as follows:
“This tomato is superbly wonderful. The flesh is so good and deliciously fruity, it reminds one of a mixture of fresh-cut pineapple, melon and guava. One of our favorite fresh-eating tomatoes!”Jere Gettle, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
Great White tomatoes are large and very pale. They’re a creamy colour that is almost white (certainly the palest tomato I’ve seen).
The Great White tomato is an open-pollinated type that was first sold by the Gleckler Seedmen in the 1980’s. Its parent seeds were sent to the company by a home gardener.
- Baker Creek (Missouri) sells Great White tomato seeds
- Johnny’s Selected Seeds (Maine) sells Great White tomato seeds
Green Giant is a large, deep-green tomato with a full, complex tomato flavour.
The flavour of Green Giant tomatoes is full, complex, and surprisingly sweet for such a dark green tomato. While many would expect it to be very tart, the taste is actually well-balanced with sweetness and tartness.
“The intensity of flavour nearly overwhelms, and it is perhaps most similar to Sun Gold in approaching perfection”Epic Tomatoes: How to Select & Grow the Best Varieties of All Time, by Craig LeHoullier
Green Giant tomatoes are very large. They have very small seed cavities (which means more juicy tomato flesh). The Green Giant tomato is an heirloom variety from Germany.
Green Zebra is a medium, green-yellow striped tomato with a delicate tart taste.
The flavour of Green Zebra tomatoes is somehow delicate, yet irresistibly rich. These tomatoes have a lovely tartness that’s almost zesty. These are worth seeking out for their acidic “zing” that’s balanced out with an unexpected sweetness. Let them ripen fully on the vine to ensure a balanced taste.
These tomatoes aren’t particularly large, and might even be a tad smaller than your average grocery store tomato. What isn’t average about them is their colour! The smooth tomato skin is bright yellow with almost neon-green stripes. Green Zebra tomatoes truly are stunning, even if you’re not prone to tasting with your eyes.
“A favorite tomato of many high class chefs, specialty markets, and home gardeners.”Jere Gettle, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
The Green Zebra tomato was bred by legendary plant breeder Tom “Tater-Mater” Wagner, a botanist in Washington who grew up on a farm in Kansas. This variety is open-pollinated, but since it was first sold in the 1980’s, its not truly a historical heirloom. That being said, many gardeners refer to Green Zebra as a “modern heirloom”!
- Baker Creek (Missouri) sells Green Zebra tomato seeds
- Burpee (Pennsylvania) sells Green Zebra tomato seeds
Hillbilly is a large, yellow tomato with marbled red stripes and a flavour that is rich and sweet.
The flavour of Hillbilly is definitely on the sweet side. There is a fruity complexity to the sweetness and certainly a low amount of acid. This is a gorgeous bi-colour heirloom that looks just as lovely when sliced.
Hillbilly is an heirloom tomato variety that is thought to have originated in West Virginia.
- Seed Savers Exchange (USA) sells Hillbilly tomato seeds
- Bakers Creek (USA) sells Hillbilly tomato seeds
Kellogg’s Breakfast is a large, orange tomato with an exquisitely-balanced sweet taste.
The flavour of Kellogg’s Breakfast tomatoes is the perfect balance of sweetness and tartness, with the added benefit of not being too intense or too mild. It is superbly balanced, with a meaty, juicy texture. It makes a great tomato sandwich!
Kellogg’s Breakfast tomatoes are large, beefsteak fruits. Most ripe tomatoes weigh about a pound, and some will break the two-pound mark. Kellogg’s is a classic large orange heirloom tomato. The inside of the tomato is just as bright orange as the outside.
The Kellogg’s Breakfast tomato hails from gardener Darrell Kellogg of Michigan. I don’t think it has anything to do with Kellogg’s breakfast cereal (but who knows…). This tomato is another favourite of expert heirloom grower Dr. Carolyn Male.
- Seed Savers Exchange (USA) sells Kellogg’s Breakfast tomato seeds
- Baker Creek (USA) sells Kellogg’s Breakfast tomato seeds
Lillian’s Yellow is a large, yellow tomato with an intense, juicy flavour that is perfectly balanced between tart and sweet.
The flavour of Lillian’s Yellow is a bold, full taste with the classic heirloom tomato balance of tartness and rich sweetness. The flavour of Lillian’s Yellow is much more intense than would be expected from a yellow-fleshed tomato. The flesh is uniform, meaty, and has almost a creamy texture.
“Possessing a superbly uniform, nearly creamy, juicy texture, it is a loud tomato that fills the senses, perfectly balanced between tart and sweet.”Epic Tomatoes: How to Select & Grow the Best Varieties of All Time, by Craig LeHoullier
Lillian’s Yellow tomatoes are large and, juicy. These tomatoes are perfect for sandwiches, salads, and just eating a slice. The Lillian’s Yellow heirloom tomato was saved and introduced by Lillian Bruce of Tennessee.
- Reimer Seeds (North Carolina) sells Lillian’s Yellow tomato seeds
- Victory Seeds (Oregon) sells Lillian’s Yellow tomato seeds
Lucky Cross is a large, yellow hybrid tomato with a classic sweet-tart balanced taste.
The flavour of Lucky Cross has the depth of a red heirloom tomato with the colour of a yellow type. These are incredibly flavourful yellow tomatoes, and will surprise anyone used to mild-tasting yellow varieties.
Lucky Cross tomatoes are large. They are a cross of a Brandywine tomato and a striped tomato. The Lucky Cross tomato was bred in the 1990’s by tomato legend Craig LeHoullier, author of the book Epic Tomatoes. He describes the Lucky Cross as having “big tomato flavour and perfect balance.”
- Victory Seeds (Oregon) sells Lucky Cross tomato seeds
- Reimer Seeds (North Carolina) sells Lucky Cross tomato seeds
Magnus is a medium-sized, dark pink heirloom tomato with a fine balanced flavour that is slightly sweet.
The flavour of Magnus is the classic old-fashioned balance of sweetness and acidity. Magnus tomatoes are average sized tomatoes, about the size of a tomato at the grocery store. While these are not the most intense-tasting tomatoes, they are very flavourful for a “normal-looking” tomato (great for picky eaters!).
Magnus was bred over a hundred years ago by a tomato breeder named Alexander Livingston. Magnus is profiled in the wonderful book “Epic Tomatoes”. Craig profiles the tomatoes as “lovely, nearly-round, medium-sized pink specimens that possessed a really fine flavour, well balanced but slightly on the sweet side.”
- Reimer Seeds (North Carolina) sells Lucky Cross tomato seeds
- Victory Seeds (Oregon) sells Lucky Cross tomato seeds
Mortgage Lifter is a large, red tomato with a delicious, sweet, rich taste.
The flavour of the Mortgage Lifter tomato is rich and sweet. It was bred to be big and delicious! It has a meaty texture with few seeds, making it perfect for slicing on a sandwich or adding to a fresh salad.
Mortgage Lifter tomatoes are very large, with individual tomatoes growing to 2 pounds or more. They have the classic heirloom shape of a tomato that’s slightly flattened and has the classic lobed form (almost like a fairy-tale pumpkin). These may well be the largest tomatoes you ever grow.
The Mortgage Lifter tomato was bred in West Virginia in the 1930’s by a home gardener nicknamed “Radiator Charlie”. After breeding the stable cultivar, he sold so many tomato seedlings that he was able to pay off his mortgage after a few years.
- Bakers Creek (Missouri) sells Mortgage Lifter tomato seeds
- Burpee (Pennsylvania) sells Mortgage Lifter tomato seeds
Nepal is a medium-sized, red tomato with an intense flavour that is well balanced between tart and sweet.
The flavour of Nepal tomatoes is loud and full. While this looks like your average grocery-store tomato, it has an unexpected intense old-fashioned tomato taste.
“It has an aggressive, full flavour that will delight those who love intense tomatoes.”Epic Tomatoes: How to Select & Grow the Best Varieties of All Time, by Craig LeHoullier
While not the firmest tomato, these still are meaty and juicy. If you’re wanting to swap out a bland store tomato with something that looks similar but tastes amazing – this is it!
Nepal is an heirloom variety grown in the Himalaya Mountains in Nepal.
Pineapple is a large yellow tomato with a red blush and a sweet, fruity taste.
Pineapple tomatoes are known for their fresh, fruity, almost citrusy flavour. These are among the sweetest tomato varieties (and they’re also very beautiful). They have the lower acid content of many other yellow tomatoes. The yellow flesh is nicely textured and generally has a bit of red marbling.
Pineapple tomatoes are a nice choice if you love Sungold and are looking for something a little larger for fresh tomato sandwiches. These tomatoes can get quite large, with your average tomato weighing at least a pound.
The Pineapple tomato is an heirloom variety believed to have originated in Kentucky.
- Baker Creek (Missouri) sells Pineapple tomato seeds
- Park Seed (South Carolina) sells Pineapple tomato seeds
Sun Gold is a small, orange hybrid tomato with an intense, sweet flavour.
The flavour of Sun Gold tomatoes is always excellent, but the flavour changes quite a bit as the fruit ripens. They start out with a snappy tartness and ripen to a sweetness that is like candy. Like many yellow-orange tomatoes, Sungold tastes almost fruity. This variety can have almost a mild tropical citrus flavour, unique to this variety.
Sun Gold tomatoes are cherry tomatoes. They’re small but mighty, and may well be the first tomato that ripens in your garden. They are a pale orange colour when they first start to ripen. The colour deepens to a rich orange as they become ripe (and sweet).
Sun Gold tomatoes were bred by. Sungold tomatoes are the one hybrid tomato that heirloom gardeners are willing to make an exception for. This new kid on the block certainly deserves a spot in your garden.
- Botanical Interests (Colorado) sells Sun Gold tomato seeds
- Burpee (Pennsylvania) sells Sun Gold tomato seeds
- Renee’s Garden (California) sells SunGold tomato seeds
- Johnny’s Selected Seeds (Maine) sells Sun Gold tomato seeds
- West Coast Seeds (BC, Canada) sells SunGold tomato seeds
Yellow Oxheart is a medium, yellow tomato with a perfectly balanced flavour.
The flavour of yellow oxheart is a succulent blend of sweetness and tartness. They have a perfectly balanced taste with juicy flesh. It is a heart-shaped variety with a golden yellow colour. These tomatoes range in size, with most being medium sized but the odd one will reach one pound.
The Yellow Oxheart tomato was introduced by the Livingston Seed Company, likely in the 1920’s. It was reintroduced by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange in Virginia, who received the seeds from seed saver Jeptha Yoder in Pennsylvania.
- Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (Virginia) sells Yellow Oxheart tomato seeds
- Victory Seeds (Oregon) sells Yellow Oxheart tomato seeds
Tips for Growing the Best Tasting Tomatoes
A lot of leaves can capture a lot of sunlight, so a plant with dense, healthy foliage can convert more sunlight into sugars and other flavorful components. Heirloom varieties have a greater percentage of leaf than do market-ready hybrids, which may partially explain their flavorful. Do all you can to keep leaves healthy.
Lastly, remember that the most delicious tomatoes seem to come right off the vine, eaten fresh in the garden. Soft, ripe, and fragrant…there is nothing like a truly homegrown tomato.
“What you have is the warmth of the sun. A cold tomato has far less taste. This smells of days of sunshine.”Monty Don, French Gardens: The Gourmet Garden (picking and smelling a ripe tomato in a french restaurant’s garden)
For more information on the cultivars described above and other tomato varieties, visit the Rutgers Database of Tomato Varieties.
“There are no “wrong” tomatoes (other than those waxed-fruit varieties in the supermarket); you should grow what you like.”The “You Bet Your Garden” Guide to Growing Great Tomatoes, by Mike McGrath.