Heirloom Tomato Roundup

A visual guide to 12 of our favorite varieties, with recipes to showcase each.

Bowl of tomatoes

Randy Mayor

Odd Shapes and Many Sizes

Heirloom is a term used to describe any tomato plant that's openly pollinated (by wind and bees) and has been cultivated for more than 50 years. They come in many shapes and sizes―from the two-pound beefsteak to cherry tomatoes as tiny as currants―and colors―red, orange, gold, yellow, purple, even green and nearly white.

Read on for our guide to 12 great heirloom varieties, with a recipe designed to highlight the unique flavor of each.

Brandywine Tomato

Randy Mayor

Brandywine

This tomato is an excellent multipurpose beefsteak variety. Although it's difficult to verify exact origin, some experts speculate that it was first cultivated by the Amish more than a century ago. This fruit is grown in yellow, red, pink, and purple-fleshed varieties. With a classic tomato taste, the classic red Brandywine is full-flavored with a pleasant acidity, a floral aroma similar to roses, and a supple buttery texture.

View Recipe: Roasted Brandywine Tomato, Fennel, and Shrimp with Feta

Mortgage Lifter tomato

Randy Mayor

Mortgage Lifter

This pink-fleshed beefsteak was originally bred by a radiator repairman from West Virginia in the 1930s. Seedlings of the tomato were sold for $1 each, paying off his $6,000 mortgage in six years. This tomato can tip the scale at two pounds. It's also known for mild, sweet flavor.

View Recipe: Gorgonzola and Mortgage Lifter Tomato Pizza

Limmony tomato

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Limmony

A Russian variety, this pale yellow beefsteak tomato has a strong, zesty, sweet citrusy flavor. It is also sometimes spelled Lemony.

View Recipe: Heirloom Tomato Salad with Tomato Granita

Mr. Stripey tomato

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Mr. Stripey

A pale yellow tomato with pinkish-orange blush, and occasionally, green stripes, Mr. Stripey is a delicate beefsteak with low acid content that allows its sweetness to shine. The flavor boasts notes of melon, and the firm skin provides a nice contrast to the tender flesh when eaten raw.

View Recipe: Mr. Stripey Tomato, Arugula, and Pancetta Sandwiches

persimmon tomato

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Persimmon

A prolific rose-orange beefsteak, some say this creamy, meaty, gorgeous tomato was cultivated by Thomas Jefferson. It has a near perfect acid-to-sugar balance.

View Recipe: Halibut with Persimmon Tomato and Dill Relish

Cherokee Purple tomato

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Cherokee Purple

As the name implies, this meaty beefsteak variety has a deep purple color that tends toward brown or black. The firm, juicy, sweet-tart flesh, along with its jammy hue, often leads people to find the flavor evocative of a spicy zinfandel wine. Indeed, it has similar vegetal undertones that are balanced with a natural sweetness.

View Recipe: Ham and Cheese Tartines with Cherokee Purple Tomato Salad

Abraham Lincoln tomato

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Abraham Lincoln

This dark red globe tomato is juicy and meaty with a robust flavor similar to ketchup, but slightly less sweet.

View Recipe: Farro, Green Bean, Corn, and Abraham Lincoln Tomato Salad

Green Zebra tomato

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Green Zebra

At full maturity, this is a yellowish-green tomato with dark green striations. Although it's a beefsteak variety, the fruit is typically smaller than its kin, about the size of a baseball. The flavor is mildly spicy and slightly tart.

View Recipe: Green Zebra Tomato and Crab Stacks

Old Ivory Egg tomato

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Old Ivory Egg

A mild-flavored yellow plum, this tomato earned its name because it is the size and shape of a chicken's egg. It's a creamy ivory color that turns yellow as it ripens. Enjoy the mild, sweet flavor of this variety either cooked or raw. It's a great garden selection, as it produces fruit up until frost.

View Recipe: Old Ivory Tomato, Watermelon, and Mint Salad

Sungold tomatoes

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Sungold

These little prolific orange cherry tomatoes grow in pretty, long clusters. The flavor is a nice balance of citrusy tartness, with hints of grape, orange, and floral flavors and a pleasant sweetness.

View Recipe: Sungold Tomato Salsa Cruda with Orzo

Yellow Pear tomato

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Yellow Pear

Sometimes called Beam's yellow pear, these are firm, tart, tiny, pear-shaped tomatoes with citruslike acidity.

View Recipe: Heirloom Tomato Salad with Herbs and Capers

Green Grape tomato

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Green Grape

This delicious little fruit looks like a big Muscat grape. The mild flavor has a nice sweetness balanced by bright acidity, and it's deliciously juicy.

View Recipe: Thai Beef and Green Grape Tomato Salad

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