Tomato Vocabulary: Types, Descriptions, and Names

Tomatoes green1
Tomato vocabulary includes green tomatoes.
Tomato vocabulary: there are more than 1,000 tomato varieties.

There are more than 1,000 varieties of tomatoes.

In the kitchen there are three major tomato categories based on use: (1) cherry or miniature tomatoes used for salads and snacking; (2) slicing and eating tomatoes used on sandwiches and hamburgers as well as eaten out of hand, and (3) cooking tomatoes for canning and sauces.

Best tips on How to Grow Tomatoes.

Here is a tomato vocabulary, common types, labels and tomato descriptors you will find referenced in seed catalogs and at the farmers’ market.

Short guide to tomato labels and names:

Beefsteak tomato: is a slicing or eating tomato that can be eaten raw or cooked. These are large, bright red tomatoes with a slightly elliptical shape. The beefsteak is the classic sandwich or hamburger tomato. It is so large and juicy with such a large seed cavity that it usually does not hold its shape when cooked.

Bicolored tomato: is a two colored, usually striped tomato. Bicolored tomatoes are often heirloom varieties.

Black tomato: is a black or deep-purple skinned tomato variety. Black tomato varieties include ‘Black Cherry’, and the globe tomatoes ‘Black Krim’ and ‘Black Russian’.

Cherry tomato: is about 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter, red or yellow-gold in color for snacking, adding to salads, or eating raw. Also use the cherry tomato as a garnish. It has excellent flavor.

Cool-summer tomato: is a tomato variety that will ripen where the accumulated heat over the course of the growing season is too low for most tomatoes. Cool-summer tomatoes are suited for cool-summer regions. Cool-summer tomato varieties include ‘San Francisco Fog’, ‘Oregon Pride’, and ‘Seattle Best of All’.

Currant tomato: is smaller than a cherry tomato, about ½ to ¾ inches (13-19 mm) in diameter and weighs about ⅛ ounce. Currant tomatoes are sometimes called “mini cherry tomatoes.” Currant tomatoes are usually red or yellow and are sweet and crisp for snacking or using on salads.

Early tomato: is a tomato variety that sets fruit at lower night temperatures than a main crop tomato. Early tomato varieties are grown in short-season regions and often in high-elevation areas. Early tomato varieties include ‘Early Girl’. ‘Burpee’s Early Pick’, ‘Quick Pick’, and ‘Stupice’.

Globe tomato: is a medium-size, round, usually red tomato that is firm and juicy. The globe tomato is similar to the beefsteak tomato but smaller. It is good raw for slicing and eating out of hand and cooked.

Grape tomato: is an elliptical, egg- or pear-shaped tomato about the size of a grape. The grape tomato can be a baby Roma or a variety such as ‘Juliet’ which produces grapelike clusters of small fruit. The Roma is a tomato variety that is meaty, with few seeds, red or yellow and most often used as a canning or sauce tomato.

Green tomato: are tomato varieties that are green when mature. Some green tomato varieties are globe tomatoes and some are beefsteak. These tomatoes have a piquant flavor and are best used for frying, broiling, and adding to relishes. Green tomato varieties include ‘Aunt Ruby’s German Green’, ‘Emerald Evergreen’, and ‘Green Bell Pepper’.

Hawaiian tomato: is a tomato variety developed for growing especially in Hawaii where many tomato diseases flourish. Hawaiian tomato varieties include ‘Anahu’, ‘Healani’, ‘Kalohi’, and ‘Puunui’.

Heirloom tomato: is an old–more than 50 years–tomato variety. Heirloom tomatoes vary in size and appearance. Many heirloom tomatoes varieties have been in cultivation for hundreds of years. Heirloom tomatoes come in a rainbow of colors, textures, and tastes. Most are the size and shape of a globe or beefsteak tomato.

Hybrid tomato: are first-generation tomatoes from controlled parent lines. Hybrids grow to a uniform size and often are very similar in quality. The seed of hybrid tomatoes do not breed true.

Hydroponic tomato: is a tomato grown in water without soil in a greenhouse. Hydroponic tomatoes often lack flavor.

Large-fruited tomato: is a tomato variety that grows a large tomato. Large-fruited tomato varieties include ‘Beefsteak’, ‘Beefmaster’, ‘Big Beef’, and ‘Burpee’s Supersteak Hybrid’. Large-fruited tomatoes are often used for slicing.

Main crop tomato: is a tomato variety that grows to full size in regions where the days and nights are warm and well-suited for tomato growing. ‘Celebrity’, ‘Big Boy’, and ‘Better Boy’ are main crop tomatoes. Main crop tomatoes are also called standard tomatoes.

Orange tomato: is an orange-skinned tomato variety. Orange tomato varieties include ‘Amana Orange’, ‘Ida Gold’, and ‘Orange Jubilee’.

Paste tomato: is a small, oval, thick-meated tomato with the maximum amount of flesh and virtually no seed cavity. Paste tomatoes are used to make tomato paste or for sun-drying. Paste tomatoes are sometimes called plum tomatoes.

Pear tomato: is smaller than a cherry tomato, egg- or pear shaped, and looks like a small plum tomato. The pear tomato is used like a cherry tomato for snacking or on salads.

Pink tomato: is a pink-skinned tomato variety. ‘Brandywine’ and ‘New Big Dwarf’ are beefsteak-size tomatoes with pinkish colored skins. ‘Dwarf champion’, ‘Giant Belgium Pink’, and ‘Pink Beefsteak’ are globe-sized pink tomatoes.

Plum tomato: is also called Italian plum tomato and Roma tomato. The plum tomato is egg-shaped, red or yellow, and flavorful. The plum tomato can be 2 to 4 inches (5-10 cm) long and 1 to 2 inches (2.5-5 cm) in diameter. The plum tomato is thick and meaty, not juicy, and contains few seeds. It is sometimes called a paste tomato.

Purple tomato: is an heirloom tomato with a purple skin. Purple-skinned tomato varieties include ‘Purple Calabash’, ‘Brandywine’, and ‘Cherokee Purple.’ Purple tomatoes can be dusky pink with purple shoulders to dusky rose-purple all over. Purple tomatoes are usually the size of a globe or beefsteak tomato.

Roma tomato: is a tomato variety that is meaty, with few seeds, red or yellow and most often used as a canning or sauce tomato.

Round tomato: is a globular or oval tomato 2 to 5 inches (5-13 cm) in diameter, usually red, pink, orange, yellow, or green colored. The round or common round tomato is usually firm and juicy and used for slicing, eating out of hand, or cooking.

Sauce tomato: is usually a plum tomato, Roma tomato, Italian tomato, or paste tomato. Sauce tomatoes are usually egg-shaped with thick meat and few seeds. Sauce tomatoes are excellent for sauce making. Their thick flesh holds shape when cooked and canned.

Slicing tomato: is a large slightly squat shaped tomato used for slicing. The large seed cavity of the slicing tomato contains lots of juice. The beefsteak tomato is a slicing tomato, up to 6 inches (15 cm) in diameter. The slicing tomato is used raw, not cooked.

Standard tomato: is a main crop tomato variety suited for growing in warm weather regions. See “Main crop tomato.”

Striped tomato: is a tomato striped, sometimes red and yellow, sometimes red and green, sometimes red and white, as well as other colors. Striped tomatoes are often heirloom tomato varieties. Striped tomato varieties include ‘Marvel Striped’, ‘Big White Pink Stripe’, ‘Hillbilly’, ‘Green Zebra’, and ‘Mister Stripey’.

Sun-dried tomato: is a tomato that has been dried in the sun or in tomato dryer. Sun-dried tomatoes are usually chewy, sweet flavored, and dark red. They are used to flavor sauces, soups, sandwiches, salads, and other dishes.

White Queen tomato
White Queen tomato

White tomato: is a tomato variety that has a white skin. White tomato varieties include ‘White Queen’, ‘White Wonder’ and ‘Snow White Cherry’.

Yellow cherry tomato: the same size as its red counterpart but slightly less acidic and usually blander in flavor. Cook the yellow cherry tomato as a side dish or sauté it with herbs.

Yellow pear tomato: is the yellow version of the pear tomato: slightly smaller than a cherry tomato and resembles a tiny pear. The yellow pear tomato may be blander tasting than the red pear tomato.

Yellow tomato: is a yellow-skinned tomato variety. Yellow tomato varieties include ‘Azoychka’, ‘Banana Legs’, ‘Garden Peach Tomato’, and ‘Yellow Brandywine’.

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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