Find the Best Seeds: Choose Great-Tasting Varieties

| 4/1/2010 12:00:00 AM

Tags: corn, tomatoes, peppers, vegetables,

I really enjoy reading my seed catalogs each spring, but they all seem to say everything tastes great. Any suggestions on  how to pick truly great-tasting varieties? 

Look for catalogs that at least differentiate some varieties as having “average flavor” while others are noted as “great tasting.” Also watch for companies that are running taste tests and reporting winning varieties. If you notice that a catalog seems to say everything tastes great, then you probably can’t trust its claims.

Be aware that there are some trade-offs to choosing varieties based only on great flavor. I once asked vegetable breeder-extraordinaire Rob Johnston of Johnny’s Selected Seeds about the yields of a great-tasting variety he was introducing, and he responded that you can only ask so much of photosynthesis. What he meant was that you may get great taste, strong disease resistance, high yields or compact plants, but it’s rare to find everything you want in a single variety. However, if flavor is your priority, you can find some true standouts. The pepper, tomato and grain corn varieties listed below have such outstanding flavor that they’ve earned a permanent spot on my annual “must-grow” list.

The sweet pepper is ‘Carmen,’ and for me here in Kansas, it is pretty much the perfect pepper. The yields are excellent, it ripens early and the flavor is extraordinary — especially if roasted over charcoal. Last summer my 20 plants produced 10 gallons of peppers! I roasted them all at once and froze them so I could enjoy these smoky, candy-sweet treats year-round.

Among tomatoes, many gardeners agree that ‘Sungold’ is a flavor standout. These orange cherry tomatoes taste so good that several people I know who claim not to like fresh tomatoes have told me they enjoy ‘Sungold.’ This variety is a hybrid, so it’s not a good choice if you want to save seeds, but Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is now offering a de-hybridized version of ‘Sungold,’ which I’m going to try this year.

Finally, there’s ‘Floriani’ red flint corn. We’re working with seed companies to make this wonderful variety more available. Our thanks to Ira Wallace at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange for adding it to the company’s catalog. And now the Fedco seed co-op in Maine has discovered how good it is. Here’s what it says in its catalog: “Stop the presses! Fabulous flavor is why we stuck ‘Floriani’ in the catalog at the last possible moment ... Floriani’s richly sweet and delicious corny taste beat the competition silly in our pancake and corn bread muffin bake-off.”

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