The tomato is a mystery in itself. Alternately fruit, plant or vegetable, it fascinates cooks, inspires chefs, and arouses the imagination of painters and poets. But what can be said about the plant itself? What are the main tomato varieties? What are their characteristics, shapes, tastes and colours? To better appreciate them, here is the main information concerning all the world’s tomatoes.

Before discovering the different tomato varieties and their characteristics, it is first necessary to say a few words about the plant and its origins. Tomato, of which the scientific name is Solanum lycopersicum, is a self-fertile plant native to South America. According to historians, the tomato was first cultivated in Mexico around the early 15th century. Exported to Europe and the rest of the world shortly after, the tomato was first used as an ornamental plant before conquering kitchens. Prepared in different manners depending on the country, the tomato is still one of the basic ingredients of everyday cooking. The plant can be grown in-ground or in a container, as long as it is in a warm temperate climate. The fruits are considered to be ripe when they are completely red, firm and juicy.

Round-shaped tomatoes

Round tomatoes are undoubtedly the most common and most requested because they are easy to prepare and growing them does not require much maintenance, apart from staking. Among the most widespread varieties of round tomatoes, we can find Cobra F1, often grown on a large scale as its is very productive, Dona F1 and its large smooth fruit, and Hector F1, which is grown in-ground. Another example in this category is the tomato ‘Lycopersicum esculentum,’ which has a high yield and requires all plants to be staked. The aptly-named ‘Roma F1′, of which the beautiful fruits are excellent, is especially sought after for making Italian sauces. The tomato ‘Supersteack F1′ hybrid,  of which each fruit weighs a pound (half a kilo), is primarily intended to be stuffed. Let’s not forget the ‘Gold Dust’ tomato which has a very tasty flesh. Most of these tomatoes are grown from April to the end of June / July, before being harvested from mid-July to late October. It should be noted that the vast majority of tomatoes with clusters also produce round fruits. This is especially true of the ‘Premio F1′ hybrid, which has a high resistance to fungal diseases and viral infections, but also to the attack of nematodes and other pestiferous worms. The ‘F1 Rira’ cultivar has nearly seven fruits per cluster. The ‘Tomito’ cherry tomato, which comes in clusters, has a very special flavour and is also very attractive in salads. The ‘Sweet 100 F1′ cherry tomato is characterized by its small green collar.There also is the tomato ‘Cocktail clementine,’ of which the name evokes its rounded shape, the ‘Tangerine’ tomato which has a spicy taste, but also the ‘Tommy Toe’ variety, an early tomato native to Australia and that bears bright red fruits.  In short, there’s something for everyone.

Tomatoes with elongated fruit

The tomato’s fruit is not always round and even though some varieties naturally produce oblong fruits, others are genetically modified to meet consumer demands. Among the best known oblong tomatoes, we can include: Reif Red Heart, grown with a stake in high season, Andes Horn which could almost be confused with Espelette pepper, the Jersey Devil, an American variety with very firm flesh, the Roma that peels easily and goes with almost any sauce, or the Peasant tomato which comes straight from Siberia. To have a chance to see all these tomatoes and more, you have to go to the tomato and folklore festival in Saint-Denis-de-Jouhet which is held annually on the third Sunday of August.

Green, black and other tomatoes

Quite far from conventional wisdom, the tomato is not always red. It can also be pink, white, yellow, black, purple and even marble, depending on variety and fruit. Among the most incongruous tomato species, the most spectacular ones certainly are: the ‘Yellow Pear,’ which actually looks like a miniature pear and is mainly used as appetizers,  the ‘Lemon Boy’ tomato, which is round and bright yellow, the ‘Black Krim’ tomato which looks like a pumpkin, the ‘ Pinneaple’ tomato of which the flesh closely resembles that of the namesake exotic fruit , the ‘Banana Leg’ often confused with actual bananas, the ‘Cherry Ghost’, which has a very atypical white flesh tinged with red, the ‘Marvel Striped’ with its beautiful striped colours alternating orange and red, ‘Lily of the Valley,’ of which the fruits look like bells, the ‘Sticky Nightshade,’ very rare and of which the fruit grows inside a husk, or the ‘Russian Red’ of which the “angles” are very sharp and the taste is delicious. The culture of tomato is spread over two separate time-frames: from April to July for varieties harvested between July and October, and from mid-March to late June for the harvesting period but for varieties that take longer to mature. These unusual tomato varieties are mainly used in gastronomy for decorative purposes, or cultivated by enthusiasts to beautify their garden or vegetable garden.

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Published in Tomatoes by Alexander on 14 Sep 2011