My Favorite Tomatoes by Paul James

Before I get to the gist of this post, let me just say that as a plant, I don’t think tomatoes are all that exciting.  They tend to be a bit gangly, which is why they’re usually staked or caged. They hardly qualify as a thing of beauty, even when in flower.  They’re prone to several different diseases – bacterial, fungal,and viral – plus a few persistent pests.  And they’re kinda picky about where and how they’re grown.  Moreover, when it comes to nutrition, tomatoes lack serious credentials. Among all vegetables, they rank 13th in vitamin C and 16th in vitamin A. And at 93.5% water (more than watermelon!), they don’t offer much in the way of anything beyond a little fiber.  So why are tomatoes so hugely popular? In a word, flavor.  There’s just something incredibly enticing about the mix of sweetness and acidity that makes tomatoes irresistible to people all over the world.

When it comes to judging the flavor of tomatoes, opinions vary wildly. I have a friend who thinks Green Zebra is the best tasting tomato of all, and while it’s a fine tomato, it wouldn’t make the list of my five favorites.  But here are the ones that would:

Slicer: Brandywine

When I bite into one of these vine-ripened babies, my taste buds travel back in time to my grandfather’s farm. Brandywine – both red and pink varieties – has that classic tomato taste that I crave.  This is an amazing tomato any way you slice it.

Cherry: Sweet 100

Yes, there are all sorts of cherry tomatoes out there, but I tend to fall back on this old favorite for two reasons: It’s sweet but not too sweet (which is a problem I have with a number of new varieties), and it  produces like crazy, even in summer heat. Oh, and did I mention it tastes great?

Paste: La Roma II

Yes, San Marzano is the epitome of the classic paste tomato, but La Roma II is nearly identical in flavor and a bit more tolerant of our summer heat. If you’re a red sauce fan, you really should grow this variety.

Heirloom: Cherokee Purple and Black Krim

Okay, so I threw in a tie. That’s because these two heirlooms are equally great, and I simply couldn’t include one without the other. Depending on the soil they’re grown in, both can be a tad more acidic than sweet, but they’re both delicious. Really delicious.

Cluster: Juliet

This All America Selection winner is about as good as it gets for making salsa. Each “cluster” contains at least a dozen fruits, so you get a lot of decent sized “grape” tomatoes from each plant. You also get a lot of built-in disease resistance.


People often asked, “What’s the best tasting tomato?” Until recently, I had no idea how to answer that question because tastes vary enormously from one person to the next. But just the other day I heard our own Emmie Sherry, who for ten years has worked in vegetable and herb sales, offer a positively brilliant response: “It’s the first one you pick.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.