Different Types of Tomatoes: The Best Options for Slicing, Salads, and More
Choosing from the dozens of different types of tomatoes at the supermarket can be overwhelming. Which are the best slicing tomatoes? What about the best tomatoes for salads? And is there a best-tasting tomato that rules them all? We’re breaking down some of the most common tomato varieties, as well as the basics of growing them yourself.
Tomatoes on the Vine
Many tomatoes are harvested before they are fully ripened to save farmers time and money. Tomatoes sold still on the vine have been vine-ripened for optimal taste and consistency. They are typically medium in size, round, and very juicy but not watery.
When choosing between the different types of tomatoes, tomatoes on the vine are some of the best. Because of their optimal flavor, they are the best tomatoes for salads, slicing, and any other dishes where the tomato is the star of the show. However, they may be more expensive since they take longer to grow. For that reason, we don’t recommend using them for sauce making or any other large quantity recipes.
Cherry tomatoes are small, round tomatoes that are perfect for snacking and salads. As their namesake suggests, they are about the same size and shape as a cherry. Most cherry tomatoes are red, but they do come in other colors like yellow and orange. They are sweeter, softer, and juicer than many other tomatoes and “pop” with an explosion of flavor when eaten whole.
We recommend using cherry tomatoes in dishes where they can remain whole. In addition to using them raw, they are delicious when roasted in the oven with olive oil and spices or even sun-dried.
The difference between cherry tomatoes and grape tomatoes is that grape tomatoes are slightly smaller and more oblong, like their namesake. They also have a slightly tougher skin and therefore a longer shelf-life than cherry tomatoes. Their classic tomato taste makes them a great option for a variety of dishes. We love using them whole or sliced lengthwise in pasta dishes, summer salads, and more.
Red Whole Tomatoes
When considering different types of tomatoes for your dish, fresh is not always better than canned. Canned red whole tomatoes are a great pantry staple and are one of the best tomatoes for creating sauces. Whether you’re cooking up pasta sauce, pizza sauce, shakshuka, or even tikka masala, canned tomatoes are perfectly balanced for optimal taste and moisture.
Heirloom tomatoes come in a variety of colors (red, orange, yellow, green, and even purple) and unusual shapes. Most store-bought tomatoes these days are pollinated manually by farmers, and many are also genetically modified. However, heirloom tomatoes are open-pollinated naturally from bees, giving them greater genetic diversity.
Rather than using the same stock of seeds each year, heirloom tomato farmers pass down the best seeds of each season to fuel the next year of tomato crops. Instead of focusing on producing tomatoes that are consistent in size, shape, and color, heirloom farmers choose their seeds and tend to their crops to produce the most flavor possible. Heirloom tomatoes are delicious in any dish, and in addition to being one of the best-tasting tomatoes, many cooks consider them the best slicing tomato because of their unique colors.
Growing Your Own Tomatoes
While your local supermarket likely offers tons of different types of tomatoes, tomatoes are also an easy vegetable crop to grow in your backyard. Growing your own can be a rewarding and delicious experience for the whole family. Here are a few tips to get you started with planting, caring for, and harvesting your tomatoes.
Growing From Seed
Growing tomatoes from seed can be a visual and rewarding experience for children and adults alike. It can save money and help teach kids the importance of consistently caring for a plant.
If you wish to start your tomatoes from seed, you’ll need to begin in mid-to-late February. Water gently at first to avoid drowning your seeds and expect germination in about seven days.
Growing From Plants
While growing from seed can be exciting, it can also be time-intensive and require lots of energy. Growing tomatoes from starter plants can be easier for beginner gardeners and provide a higher success rate and a better harvest. And, many greenhouses offer many types of tomato plants, so you can grow anything from cherry to heirloom.
Start plants outside after any threat of the frost (we recommend two to three weeks after the average last frost date to be sure). Planting in May will bring you a strong harvest all summer long.
Tomato Plant Care & Maintenance
Tomato plants grow best in full, warm sun on the west or north side of your home. Check the area in question at various times of day before planting to make sure no trees or structures cast shadows on it.
Different types of tomatoes have unique soil needs, but as a general rule, tomato plants like acidic, well-drained soil. If you have healthy soil you may not need to fertilize your plants at all. However, many gardeners opt to fertilize twice a season for the best tomato harvest.
Water your tomato plants once a week, but be careful not to over-water late in the season or your tomatoes may taste watery by harvest time.
While there are a lot of different approaches and opinions around staking, we recommend keeping your tomatoes off the ground through one method or another. Doing so will prevent them from rotting and provide support for your plant. Stakes and tomato cages are our experts’ preferred methods.
Harvesting Your Tomatoes
For most of your tomatoes’ growth period, they will be light green in color. One of the easiest ways to determine when it is time to harvest your plants is when your tomatoes are half pink/red and half green.
You can also choose to let your tomatoes fully ripen on the vine for enhanced flavor. If you opt to vine-ripen, keep a close eye on your plants and the high temperature each day. Different types of tomatoes have different ripening points, but for most tomato varieties, the ripening process slows at temperatures over 85ºF. This means that in the heat of the summer, your tomatoes may not fully ripen on the vine. If you wait too long hoping they will ripen, they may begin to rot.
Common Issues With Tomato Plants
Tomatoes are hardy crops and aren’t prone to many diseases or issues. However, they can suffer from the effects of blossom end rot, a disease that turns the bottoms of your tomatoes black and mushy. If you notice dark spots appearing on the bottom ends of your tomatoes, you’ll want to add calcium to balance your soil.
You can buy lime or gypsum from your local home and garden store or try a homemade approach by adding crushed eggshells to your soil. As they compost, they will release calcium into your soil and hopefully banish your blossom end rot.