The Tomatoes world
types of tomatoes and their differences
The growth of tomatoes in the UK dates back to the late 1500s. While tomatoes originated as a wild plant from the Americas, they are now one of the most popular plants around the world, used in thousands of much-loved recipes.
It may come as a surprise to you that there are around 10,000 different varieties of tomatoes around the world. Each variety has its own unique characteristics- from different colours (including yellow, black, pink and purple!) to shapes, sizes and tastes.
Tomatoes are part of what’s known as the ‘nightshade family’ or ‘Solanaceae’. A broad group of plants within the flowering family- solanum. Plants within the nightshade family include herbs, aubergines, bell peppers and blueberries.
We’re all familiar with the humble tomato, a fruit considered a staple within British cooking. That’s right, tomatoes are considered fruits! That’s all because tomatoes stem from one flowering plant and contain seeds. Vegetables are considered vegetables by the proportion of the plant that is edible. So, although tomatoes don’t have the typical features associated with fruits (like sweetness), they are technically fruit.
So, we all love a good tomato. What’s so good about them?
While the water content of a tomato is around 95%, that’s not to say that tomatoes don’t contain plenty of nutrients.
For one, they are a good source of vitamin C. They also contain potassium, vitamin K and the antioxidant lycopene. It’s no wonder tomatoes are considered good for our health for a number of reasons, including reducing the risk of heart disease.
Some research has even found that tomatoes contain anti-inflammatory properties- so you see tomatoes are a lot more than just an ingredient in a salad or a wholesome meal.
Each type of tomato varies in its flavour.
The riper the tomato and the sooner you ripen the tomato after it has been picked, the sweeter it will taste.
While some tomatoes can be acidic in flavour, others can be incredibly sweet. This sweetness is because of the sugars (fructose and glucose) contained within tomatoes. Whereas the acidic taste is down to the citric acids, giving them a more sour taste.
Flavours are not only genetically determined but are also affected by the climate in which they are planted. The amount of sunlight, water and nutrients they receive can determine flavours. Tomatoes considered ideal in flavour have a combination of both sugar and acidity.
Sweeter tomatoes have a greater sugar content but are less acidic, whereas tangy flavoured tomatoes have higher levels of acid and less sugar.
Generally speaking, the more red coloured tomatoes are sweeter in taste. Tomatoes that are orange or yellow have a more mild flavour, and black tomatoes have a more complex flavour combined with both acidic and sugary flavours.
While the British tomato season runs from June to October, tomatoes are readily available in the UK all year round. Tomatoes are available to buy in a number of different forms out of season too, from canned to pickled and sun-dried.
With peak tomato season around the month of June, now is the perfect time to take a look at some of the different types of tomatoes and the differences between each of them. Here are some of our favourites:
Costoluto tomatoes are Italian heirloom variations of the fruit. This type of tomato grows best in hot, dry climates where there is plenty of sun. Hence why they tend to be planted in Italy.
The Costoluto tomato is a medium-sized and juicy kind of tomato that is now also grown reliably in the UK.
A gardener’s favourite, the Costoluto tomato can be homegrown, with recommended sowing within the months of February to May. When grown, the plant itself can reach up to 2 metres in height.
The Costoluto type of tomato is typically used in Mediterranian inspired dishes, and as such can be roasted or cooked to be used within tomato-based sauces.
When you compare flavours of various tomatoes, you’ll find that the Costoluto is generally more acidic and rich than other variants.
Named after, you guessed it, a bull’s heart- the Bull Heart variant of the tomato is a large tomato, characterised by its unusual heart shape and beefy texture. Deep in the colour red, Bull Heart tomatoes are acidic yet sweet in taste. Also known as ‘Beefsteak’ tomatoes, the pulp of a bull heart tomato is generally more compact than others and contains fewer seeds.
Bull Heart tomatoes are versatile in their uses but work best in sauces and dips. While this type of tomato isn’t ideal for salads, it can still be used for this purpose. The mild flavour of the Bull Heart makes it easy to use in a range of dishes as its flavour isn’t too overpowering.
Bull heart tomatoes can also be found in green variations, which are more firm in texture and have a tangy flavour.
Striped in appearance and unique in being a deep, red colour, the Zebrino tomato is one of the most unique tomatoes out there. You’ll likely notice it as it is different from the typical appearance of other tomatoes.
When fully ripe, the Zebrino tomato changes to dark brown-red.
The harvesting season for Zebrino tomatoes is all year round, so you’ll find that they are readily available.
The Zebrino makes a lovely addition to a salad or home-cooked pasta.
Big, juicy and sweet in flavour, the Sorrento tomato is round in shape and red in colour.
Best served cold within salads, Sorrento tomatoes can be paired with Mediterranian dishes to exude the best flavours- such as mozzarella and basil.
Cherry tomatoes are what you’ve likely seen in your regular food shop.
Cherry tomatoes vary in size and colour but they are generally small, round and bitesize, making them one of the most versatile types of tomato. The cherry tomato is usually red, although you might see variations of it in yellow, green and black.
Sweet to taste, cherry tomatoes are crisp to bite and pack a tasty, fresh flavour.
Since the cherry tomato is so versatile, you’ll find that they can be used in a range of different recipes- from quick salads to tasty pasta. Eat raw or chop up and roast, cook or dry.
You can also eat cherry tomatoes as a tasty snack!
Tomatoes are well known for their versatility. With so many different types it can be difficult to know which tomatoes to use for which purposes.
Canned tomatoes - Heirloom and tomatoes on the vine are usually used for canned purposes. Canned tomatoes are usually readily peeled and often chopped ready to be used in pasta dishes, soups or sauces.
Sun-dried tomatoes - Sun-dried tomatoes are dried in the sun for around 4-10 days. When this happens, they lose their water content and are usually heavily salted to create a sharp flavour. Preserved in olive oil, sun-dried tomatoes make delicious antipasto dishes, snacks and can be used in pasta and on top of pizzas.
Other types of tomatoes
While the above are amongst some of the most popular tomatoes, there are lots of other variations. Here are a few other favourites:
Grown in Sicily, the Merinda tomato. Small, round and firm in texture, the Merinda tomato is unique in taste. The flavours are both salty and fruity with acidic undertones- a feature that made them hugely popular in Italy. Due to their thick skins, Merinda tomatoes are durable and therefore have a generally longer shelf life than other tomatoes.
This type of tomato is best consumed in a delicious salad as it can be thinly sliced and paired with herbs and cheeses.
Datterino tomatoes are plum-sized and are generally used for making sauces and pastes. Characterised by their sweet flavour, they are similar to cherry tomatoes as they have a higher sugar level than other variations.
Datterino tomatoes also work well for topping pizzas and taste delicious with various meats, vegetables and cheeses.
Originating from San Marzano in Naples, this long, thin tomato originated from volcanic soil near Mount Vesuvius. This type of tomato is well-known for its sweetness and intensity as it contains a balanced amount of acid.
With over 10,000 different types, there’s a lot to learn about the humble tomato!
Armed with all the above information, are you ready to purchase some tomatoes for your next Mediterranian inspired dish, pasta or salad?
We supply a range of tomatoes for your next delicious meal. We offer Sorrento, Camone Nero, Merinda, Bull Heart, Black Sun, Datterino and San Marzano varieties.