Tomatoes are one of the most popular vegetables in the world. Most serious gardeners already grow heirloom varieties, but we’ve put together a list of some of the most interesting tomato varieties out there, just in case you missed a few. You may already know a few of these, but you might find some new favorites to enjoy.
According to botanists, this South American native is actually a fruit. Despite this, most people prepare and eat it like a vegetable. I’ve been known to just bite into a particularly tantalizing specimen like I would an apple, or eat smaller varieties like grapes, snacking as I work in the garden.
One of the reasons why this is such a popular plant is that it can be grown almost anywhere. Although it’s native to the Americas, most of the world’s tomatoes are grown in China and India. Needless to say, you can find several on this list that will do well in your own gardening zone.
Heirlooms Tomatoes vs. Hybrids vs. GMOs
Heirloom tomatoes are old varieties, which have been grown for 40 years or more without cross-pollination. This allows for flavor consistency: you’ll taste what you expect. They’re open pollinated by wind, animals, or insects. Heirloom tomatoes are an important part of botanical history, and the only way to preserve them is to grow them and share seeds with other gardeners, so they can grow them, too.
Hybrids are tomatoes that have been carefully cross-bred to achieve a desired outcome. For example, bigger size, and better disease resistance, less care, early maturity, or higher yield. Plant hybridization has been going on since the dawn of time, and can happen on its own, through evolution, or via human intervention.
Genetically modified tomatoes have had their genes modified in a laboratory setting, and therefore cannot occur in nature. The tomatoes on this list are all heirlooms or hybrids. You can find most of them on organic seed sites, or via seed-sharing programs.
1. Fijian Cannibals Tomato
This is a bright red fruit in the tomato family, if not quite a true tomato. It’s used in sauces and flavorings the same way a tomato is. Unlike tomatoes, however, the leaves can also be eaten and used as salad greens. Legends tell us that the name comes from cannibalistic tribal beliefs that the sauce made from this fruit is perfect to eat with human flesh. I think I’ll just take their word for it.
2. Old Ivory Egg
These small, white plum tomatoes look just like tiny eggs. They’re very prolific and cold hardy, and may have originated in Sweden. It’s very flavorful for a white tomato, and downright addictive. Its sweet fruity flavor is vaguely lemony—not tart like lemons, but reminiscent of sweet lemonade.
Weisse, which means “white” in German, is a pure white tomato variety. This cold-hardy variety is known for its delicate, mild flavor. It’s ideal for North American gardens in colder growing zones.
4. White Currant
These bite-sized white-fleshed tomatoes have pale yellow skin, and are about the size of currant fruits. They’re super sweet and great for container gardens. This variety is also hardy and very prolific.
Yellow & Orange Varieties
One of my absolute favorite varieties and means “little blond head” in German. It’s a northern European yellow cherry tomato variety that’s literally bursting with sweet flavor. Its taste is absolute exquisite when plucked straight from the vine, after a day spent warming in the summer sunshine. Most of them never made it into my house. Of all the varieties on here, this one’s a must-have.
This Transylvanian native is named after the woman who fled Romania after WWII with one of her favorite tomatoes. Now that’s tomato dedication!
7. Cream Sausage
This is an heirloom paste tomato, also known as Banana Cream. Try using it to make a pale yellow ketchup, or golden tomato sauce. The flavor is sweet and lends itself well to cooking.
8. Atomic Grape
This tomato’s color evolves as it grows. Lavender and purple stripes give way to green, red, and blue stripes when fully mature. It has an olive green interior, that turns blush when super ripe.
9. Chocolate Stripes
An heirloom variety that has a rich, sweet taste. Its fruits can reach up to 1 pound in size, and is dark brown in color with olive green, lime green or vivid orange stripes. The flesh itself is reddish brown.
10. Amur Tiger
A Russian cherry tomato variety that’s striped with red and yellow. Fruits range in size from a large marble to a ping-pong ball, and the plants are very productive.
This one is great for slicing, because not only is it greenish-yellow and red striped on the outside, the interior flesh is also multicolored. It’s is said that the various colored fleshy areas taste different from one another too. Therefore, this a very well rounded tomato in terms of flavor. I’m thinking of how good these would be in a rainbow Caprese salad!
Purple & Blue Varieties
12. Cherokee Purple
These tomatoes are very tasty, with a sweet, acidic and sometimes smoky flavor. Craig LeHoullier, a retired chemist from Raleigh, N.C is credited with introducing this tomato to the world at large. The original seeds were given to him from a neighbor who said the variety had been in their family for 100 years, and that the seeds were originally traded from Cherokee Indians.
13. Purple Calabash
This is one of the world’s oldest heirloom tomatoes, grown by American president Thomas Jefferson. The purple calabash has a distinct rich flavor reminiscent of wine. It’s believed that this ribbed and scalloped tomato dates to pre-Columbian Mexico.
14. Pruden’s Purple
It has a dark pink (bordering on purple) hue, and is similar to the Brandywine variety in terms of flavor. It boastes good production and usually matures early.
Multi-Colored (not striped) Varieties
15. Blue-Gold Berries
These colorful cherry tomatoes are mostly yellow, and reddish-yellow on the inside, with a blush of indigo at the top. The indigo color comes from anthocyanin: an antioxidant that gives these visually appealing tomatoes an added health bonus.
16. Ozark Sunset
Very good sweet flavor, with small-sized fruits. Their exteriors fade from dark blue to red, and their interiors are a dark, rich red.
17. Orange Russian
A bi-colored oxheart variety with a marbled red, orange, and yellow appearance. It’s a very meaty tomato, which is delicious both fresh and cooked.
Unusually Shaped Varieties
18. Pink Accordion
Also known as “Zapotec”, it’s a large and fleshy tomato that produces pleated fruit, hence its name. Ruffled tomato shapes were quite common, historically. This slicing tomato would make a delicious and beautiful open-faced sandwich.
19. Costoluto Genovese
A fluted Italian favorite from the 19th century. It has a rich flavor and is a great one to use in both sauces and tomato pastes.
20. Black Beauty
The darkest colored tomato in the world. The fruits are mostly black, but can fade to reddish purple on the bottom, and you can get a lot of color variations on the same plant. Ripe with the antioxidant anthocyanin—which accounts for its color—this one is a favorite among seasoned gardeners.
21. Paul Robeson
This is a black Russian heirloom tomato variety named after Paul Robeson: an African-American opera singer, who was also an actor, star athlete, and civil rights activist. He was admired greatly by the Russian people, so they named a beloved tomato variety after him. I wonder if he was a tomato lover?
22. Dark Galaxy
Created by Israeli scientists who bred conventional and wild tomatoes to get this photosensitive variety, which gets darker the more sun it is exposed to. High in antioxidants, and incredibly tasty. This one would look amazing in a gothic or witchy garden.
23. Green Zebra
This tomato has dark green and yellow stripes. Its flavor is more tart than other tomatoes, and also tends to hold its shape when cooked. Needless to say, it’s also perfect for fried green tomatoes.
24. Emerald Evergreen
Yellow-green to lime green colored when ripe. It’s one of the best-tasting green varietals: very sweet and delicious.
A small variety from the Ukraine. It’s not quite cherry-sized and not quite large, with complex flavor notes. The fruits are juicy and the plants are prolific.
Small, bite-sized tomatoes packed with a flavorful punch. A perfect tomato for container gardening.
A favorite slicing tomato variety from France. Enjoy its intensely sweet flavor raw, in salads or on sandwiches.
28. Ross Red Salad Tomato
This tomato was born after one of Paul Ross’s cherry tomato plants crossed naturally with another, unknown type. Plants can grow between 10-13 feet in height, and are very prolific. This is such a favorite that even the Svalbard “Doomsday” Global Seed Vault in Norway houses some of its seeds.
These are just some of the many choices you can make when looking for unusual tomatoes for your garden. The best part of these tomatoes is that they’re not just beautiful on the outside: they’re genuinely tasty and versatile.