9 Common Tomato Varieties And How To Use Them

All the flavors and colors of the greatest vegetal fruit on earth, explained.

I have disgusted more than one person in my life by eating a large tomato like an apple. I'll eat tomato products like tomato sauce or tomato soup, but there's something about the freshness of a raw tomato that calls my name—a glorious seasonal fruit that tastes wonderfully like a vegetable.

To put the mystery to rest for once and for all: While tomatoes are a fruit because they are a berry, they're also known as a "culinary vegetable" because of their savory umami flavor. They're the state vegetable of New Jersey and the state fruit of Ohio, where tomato juice is the state beverage. Arkansas has declared it the state fruit and vegetable! They come in many sizes and over a thousand varieties, so here's a casual guide to the ones you're most likely to find in the grocery store, at the farmers market, or growing in a backyard garden.

Beefsteak

True to their name, these are best sliced thick and slapped on sandwiches or placed atop a burger. But they're also perfect for slicing, salting, and eating plain. Beefsteaks are some of the biggest tomatoes, and they themselves have a "meatiness" that more watery varieties lack. They can weigh up to a pound, so they're not messing around. Brandywine is a similar type of large heirloom tomato.

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Goliath

This aptly named giant of a tomato tends to bulge out in all directions like a bulbous tumor, but they're delicious. Known to have fewer seeds than some other types and a good balance of sweetness and acidity, these are a popular hybrid for gardens and can be used pretty much any way a beefsteak can.

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Better boy

These are the tomatoes you picture when you think of a tomato. Versatile and commonly grown at home, these have a wide variety of uses, including being eaten raw in sandwiches and salads and cooked into sauce.

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Cherry

These are, in my opinion, the best tomatoes of all. Often sweet and firm, cherry tomatoes simply explode in your mouth when you take a bite. I have been told the bite-sized tomatoes freak people out because their minds connect the exploding red fruit to the sensation of eating an eyeball. Those people are seriously disturbed. I can eat like a pint of cherry tomatoes in a sitting, no problem.

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The best use for cherry tomatoes is to snack on them as I've described. Roasting them creates a great addition to pastas, but if you find a good batch, just eat them straight. The best ones are small enough that you're unlikely to squirt tomato juice and seeds in the direction of your dining partner.

Grape

If cherry tomatoes are the best, grape tomatoes might be the worst. They have decidedly less flavor than cherry and tend to be significantly less tart and sweet. Basically, why are they even here? It's easy to mistake grape for cherry since they're both usually sold in a grocery store and are about the same size, but grape tomatoes are more likely to be oblong like some types of grapes. Use them anywhere you would use cherry tomatoes if you can't find cherry tomatoes.

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Roma

Sometimes called plum tomatoes, Romas are best when cooked down into sauces. They're a good middle ground of sweet and juicy. They're the most common type to be canned and they're also used to make tomato paste; try eating them fresh in a tabbouleh. Whatever you do, don't leave them in the Uber.

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Campari

The campari is a hybrid tomato that's only about 20 years old. These are fine when you need little slices of tomatoes for sandwiches, but they also cook well—they have high sugar content and low acidity, making them very versatile. Often called "on the vine" when sold in basic grocery stores so you don't get confused by the name. Keeping tomatoes on the vine extends their shelf life.

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Heirloom

Here we enter the realm of the weirdo tomatoes. Heirloom tomatoes, unlike hybrids, are bred from seeds passed down from one plant to another. Usually appearing in a multicolored pack, heirlooms have a wider variety of colors and flavors. It's not surprising to get some that are so packed with flavor they can be eaten on their own and others that really need to be in a strongly dressed salad in order to make any sort of impression. I prefer the dramatic darker ones, which are purple to almost black in color.

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Green

There are two types of green tomatoes. Ripe tomatoes that are green in color are considered a variety of heirloom tomatoes. But you can also cook with unripened tomatoes that would eventually ripen into red varieties. In the latter case, green tomatoes are tart, almost sour, and add a nice contrast to the average tomato haul. Beyond the traditional preparation of fried green tomatoes, this variety can also serve as the main component in relish, and its tang makes it a good candidate for sauces.

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