Tomatoes for Flavor and How to Use Them

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tomatoes on the vineFlavor is the best reason to grow tomatoes in the home vegetable garden. (You can always find tomatoes without much flavor at the grocery store.) Choose flavor first when deciding which tomatoes to grow. Next, decide–before you plant–how you are going to eat and enjoy the tomatoes you grow.

Tomato flavor comes from more than 400 volatile chemical compounds; at least 30 contribute to aroma. Some tomatoes are higher in sugar content; these are the sweet flavored tomatoes. Some tomatoes have a high acid content; these tomatoes are tart. Some tomatoes are balanced—sugars and acids in nearly equal amounts; these tomatoes are often described as having full-tomato flavor. 

Tomatoes for Salads, Soups, Sauces, Salsa, & Sandwiches

How do you use tomatoes? When deciding which tomato varieties to grow, make a list of how you and those in your household enjoy tomatoes. Here are the top tomatoes to grow for the 5-S’s— salads, salsa, sandwiches, sauces, and soups. Plant 1 to 3 tomato plants for each household member (for sauces and canning plant 6 tomato plants for each person in the household).

Tomato salad
Standard and cherry tomatoes are best for slicing into salads.

Salad Tomatoes

There are two choices when it comes to salad tomatoes. Choose large, plump beefsteak tomatoes to soak up the flavor or vinaigrette and add texture to a salad. Choose small cherry tomatoes for color, sweetness, and a tomato that will hold its shape.

  • Brandywine: exceptional rich flavor, succulent; pink, creamy flesh. Amish heirloom; open-pollinated; indeterminate; 80 days.
  • Costoluto Fiorentino: high sugar and high acid content make for terrific tomato taste. Italian heirloom; open-pollinated; indeterminate; 80 days.
  • German Pink: meaty, almost seedless. German heirloom; open-pollinated; indeterminate; 85 days.
  • Golden Gem: high sugar content, golden-yellow. Chinese hybrid; indeterminate; 65 days.
  • Marmande: full, rich flavor. French heirloom; open-pollinated; semi-determinate; 70 days.
  • Red Cherry: sweet flavor. Heirloom; open-pollinated; semi-determinate; 65 days.
  • Riesebtraube: big tomato taste, grape-sized fruit. German heirloom; open-pollinated; 80 days.
Standard and beefsteak tomatoes are ideal for slicing.

Sandwich Tomatoes

Choose big, meaty beefsteak tomatoes for sandwiches and hamburgers. These tomatoes are wider than they are long and are perfectly suited for slicing.

  • Beefsteak (also called Red Ponderosa and Crimson Cushion): mild and sweet flavor, thick flesh. American heirloom; open-pollinated; indeterminate; 90 days.
  • Box Car Willie: delicious tomato flavor. American heirloom; open-pollinated; indeterminate; 80 days.
  • Cherokee Purple: Sweet, rich, delicious flavor. Tennessee heirloom; open-pollinated; indeterminate; 80 days
  • Hillbilly: Sweet, fruity flavor. West Virginia heirloom; open-pollinated; indeterminate; 85 days.
  • Mortgage Lifter: sweet flavor and meaty. West Virginia heirloom; open-pollinated; indeterminate; 85 days.

Salsa Tomatoes

For fresh salsa you will want a plump, meaty tomato.

  • Big Boy: meaty flesh, great flavor. Hybrid; indeterminate; 78 days.
  • Druzba: balanced sweet and tart flavor, smooth flesh. Bulgarian heirloom; open-pollinated; indeterminate; 80 days.
  • Eva’s Purple Ball: sweet and juicy flavor; smooth, pink flesh. German heirloom; open-pollinated; indeterminate; 70 days.
  • Mule Team: bright red, excellent flavor, and texture, long harvest. American heirloom; open-pollinated; indeterminate; 80 days.
  • Stupice: sweet, satisfying tomato flavor and early to harvest. Czechoslovakian heirloom; open-pollinated; indeterminate; 52 days.
For canning and sauces, plant 6 tomato plants for each member of the household.

Sauce Tomatoes

Choose a ripe plum tomato that has a good balance between flesh and juice. You will also want a savory tomato. San Marzano is the Italian favorite for sauces.

  • Juliet: Full tomato flavor—high in both acid and sugar. All-America Selection hybrid; indeterminate; 60 days.
  • San Marzano: mild flavor, meaty texture. Italian heirloom; open-pollinated; indeterminate; 80 days.

tomsto soupSoup Tomatoes

Tomatoes for soup are almost always pureed; look for ripeness and deep flavor. Add cherry tomatoes for extra sweetness.

  • Principe Borghese: meaty with little juice and few seeds. Italian heirloom; open-pollinated; determinate; 75 days.
  • San Marzano: mild flavor, meaty texture. Italian heirloom; open-pollinated; indeterminate; 80 days.

Note: Open-pollinated varieties will grow true next year if you save the seeds; hybrids often will not; determinate tomatoes will require the least space in the garden, about 3 feet across and tall; indeterminate tomatoes require about 4 feet across and some maintenance pruning as the season goes on; days to maturity are from transplanting into the garden—add six weeks if you are starting your own seed.

Also of interest: How to Grow Tomatoes.



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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