America’s Best Tomato Varieties

We talked with experts across the country to choose the 20 best tomato varieties. From flavor-filled heirloom tomato varieties to the sturdier hybrid tomato, discover which varieties are among tomato experts’ best kept secrets.

| February/March 2008

This lineup of America’s 20 favorite tomatoes will fill your growing season with an array of colors and fabulous flavors.

How We Picked Winners

We tapped into the minds of all kinds of experts to help narrow the field. First, we invited members of the Seed Savers Exchange who have a special passion for tomatoes to nominate their favorite varieties. We also consulted people like Carolyn Male of Salem, N.Y., who has personally grown and tasted more than 2,000 varieties, and Robbins Hail, who tends 600 tomato varieties each season at Bear Creek Farms in Osceola, Mo.

After collating variety recommendations from Maine to California, we compared our emerging list of names with those that won top ratings in tomato taste tests around the country. Then we compared them with all the field trial performance data we could find, and checked the online variety ratings hosted by Cornell University and Dave’s Garden.

Hybrid vs. Open-pollinated Tomato Varieties

Before we reveal our top 20 picks, a few words on the hybrid versus heirloom variety debate. It’s a fact that hybrids are generally more productive and disease-resistant than open-pollinated tomato varieties (most heirloom tomato varieties are open-pollinated). But open-pollinated tomatoes generally offer the richest flavors, plus you can save their seeds to plant in future seasons. Hybrid tomato breeding focuses on the needs of commercial producers who favor tomatoes that resist diseases and ship well, often allowing flavor to take a back seat.

For home gardeners who want top flavor, open-pollinated tomato varieties often are your best choice. Of hybrids, only ‘Sungold’ consistently ranks with revered heirloom tomato varieties in lists of taste-test winners.

Since many open-pollinated tomato varieties tend to take their time ripening, they grow best in climates where summers are long enough to allow them to fully mature. Low productivity or disease susceptibility also can be issues. But when they are properly grown in well prepared soil, the open-pollinated tomato varieties profiled here stand strong long enough to produce good crops of such richly flavored fruits that you will want to eat every last one. Additionally, open-pollinated tomato varieties with broad, potatolike leaves (such as ‘Brandywine’) often put up a good fight when challenged by diseases.

Kris Johnson
12/16/2010 11:45:39 AM

You didn't include any tiny tomatoes. I've been loving my little sweet grape tomatoes that were very prolific this year. Since I live alone a big tomato is a challenge to use up, but I can just pop the little grape toms in my mouth and enjoy.

9/30/2008 8:27:00 PM

Why don't you list any cherry varieties?

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