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Best Tasting Heirloom Tomatoes: (sweetest to most robust)

Best Tasting Heirloom Tomatoes: (sweetest to most robust)
Home » Grow Your Own Food » Growing Great Tomatoes » Flavor comparison of heirloom tomatoes

The popularity of heirloom tomatoes is based around two characteristics – their stunning array of colors and the unique flavor profiles of each variety.  The sheer number of heirloom varieties with unique flavors can be overwhelming however. 

Fortunately there are a few generalizations that can be made with regards to the relationship between flavor and color in the heirloom tomato varieties.

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Nationwide Taste Tests
Acid vs Sweet
Pink Heirlooms
Black Heirlooms
Red Heirlooms
Striped Heirlooms
Orange Heirlooms
White Heirlooms
Green Heirlooms

Basket of different varieties of heirloom tomatoes, ranging in all colors and sizes.
Popular heirloom tomato varieties

Nationwide Taste Tests of Heirloom Tomatoes

Many gardeners, chefs and  seed companies have performed taste tests on the most popular heirloom tomato varieties, resulting in a wide range of opinions. 

Because the flavor of heirloom tomatoes is so dependent on micro-climates and growing conditions, the most reliable taste tests are those that were trialed as close to your home and garden as possible. 

We do taste tests in Minnesota every year, both at the farm and at the farmers’ market in St. Paul.  The list of flavor profiles below are based on our farm’s taste tests of the heirloom tomato varieties that we grow. 

Criteria for Determining Heirloom Tomato Flavor

  1. Flavor profiles are based on what the tomato tastes like when eaten fresh, rather its flavor after cooking or preserving.
  2. When a taste test review notes that the tomato has a “classic” or “old-fashioned flavor”, it is referring to a balance of acid and sugar in the tomato, getting as close to 50/50 as possible;
  3. An important characteristic that plays into a tomato’s flavor is texture (aka “mouthfeel”).  Generally, if a tomato is said to be mealy, the texture is enough to detract from the flavor
  4. The flavor profiles based on heirloom tomato color are generalizations only.  For example, pale yellow tomatoes tend to be mild and low-acid.  Limmony and Hughs however is a yellow tomato that has a higher acid background, giving them a more robust flavor as opposed to mild and creamy.
  5. I have not included cherry tomatoes or plum & paste tomatoes, as they cannot be as easily grouped (and most of them are not heirlooms).  In general the cherry tomatoes are sweet, the paste tomatoes are meaty and higher acid, and the plum tomatoes are juicy and mild. 
  6. Finally, flavor profiles of each variety are not only subjective to an individual’s taste buds, but the flavor of the same variety can be highly variable depending on growing conditions (heat, water, type & rate of fertilizer, number of growing days, etc.)

Acid vs Sweet in Heirloom Tomato Varieties (by color)

Many people refer to tomatoes as being high acid or low acid, but most tomato varieties have relatively the same acidity. It’s really the sugar content that varies with different tomatoes. This means when people talk about a “high acid” tomato variety, they are actually referring to a tomato with a low sugar content.

As a general rule, the sweetest tomato varieties are typically not bright red in color; rather, they are shades of orange, yellow or purple. This is something to consider as you review the “flavor by color” information below.

How Color of Heirloom Tomatoes Relates to Flavor Differences

Pink Heirloom Tomatoes:

The large pink tomatoes offer up what most of us think of as the sweetest tomato flavor — a balance of acid and sweetness., but favoring the sweeter side. The most well-known (not necessarily the best tasting) of the pink heirloom tomatoes is the Brandywine. 

It has become the standard-bearer for the pinks, as it is a good size for slicing and typically has that blast of sweetness many people want in a tomato.

Four varieties of pink heirloom tomatoes
Four varieties of pink heirloom tomatoes

Here are the most popular highly rated pink tomatoes:

  • Brandywine —   a sweet tomato, offset by a notable acidity that achieves a balanced rich, succulent, old-fashioned home-grown tomato taste.  Depending on growing conditions, it can also be low-sugar, low-acid and fairly bland.
  • Mortgage Lifter —   known for its mild sweet flavor and meaty texture, this pink-fleshed beefsteak can tip the scale at two pounds.
  • Caspian Pink — similar flavor profile to Brandywine, and frequently beats Brandywine in taste tests.  Pro is that it is earlier than Brandywine
  •  Prudens Purple — another early Brandywine type.  Considered sweet, juicy and meaty; does well in short-season areas
  • Cherokee Purple — sometimes included in the “black” category. A complex flavor with an initial smokiness followed by a slightly sweet aftertaste.   Often compared to a zinfandel wine.

Black (or dark purple) Heirloom Tomato Varieties:

While often referred to as “black” tomatoes, most of these heirloom tomato varieties are more of a maroon or purple-brown color. Black tomatoes tend to have an earthy, almost smoky sweetness to them, with a bit less acid than bright red tomatoes. 

The flavor profile is often referred to as “smoky, complex and wine-like”.

Four varieties of “black” heirloom tomatoes
Four varieties of “black” heirloom tomatoes

Here are the most popular of the highly rated black heirloom tomatoes:

  • Paul Robeson — of fairly recent popularity, Paul Robeson is getting  good marks all around the country for its “smoky,” “complex”  distinctive flavor.
  • Purple Calabash —  often compared to red wines such as Cabernet.  The taste is rich and full of old-fashioned tomato flavor with just the right blend of sweetness and acidity.  The flesh is smooth and meaty with evenly distributed seeds.
  • Japanese Black Trifele — a pear shaped variety. Flavor is deep, chocolatey, smoky, and rich.
  • Carbon — among the darkest of the black tomatoes.  Exceptionally rich and sweet flavor.  My favorite black.
  • Black Krim — intense, slightly salty taste.
  • Black from Tula — perceived by many as the “best-tasting black”, with thin skin and a sweet, complex flavor.
  • Vorlon — cross between Prudens Purple and Cherokee Purple resulting in meaty, rich, sweet taste.  Lynne Rosetto Kasper’s favorite black in 2011.
  • Purple Russian — the best black tomato in a plum variety.  Meaty, sweet and excellent for salads and sauces.

Red Heirloom Tomatoes:

Bright red heirlooms are often mistaken as hybrid tomatoes at market, as they look very similar.  Red heirlooms however, are more varied in their flavor profiles than hybrids, tending toward the robust, higher acid flavors. 

Red heirloom tomatoes also differ from red hybrid tomatoes in that their skin is much thinner. Many of the bright red tomatoes you see in grocery stores were hybridized to have thicker skin so they would ship better. In the process of hybridization they lost a lot of their distinctive flavor.

The red heirloom tomatoes are often what people are thinking of when they ask for that “old-fashioned flavor”.  Just know that since red heirloom tomatoes have thinner skin than hybrids, they will not last as long on your countertop.

The range of flavor you can get with properly grown red heirloom tomatoes however, is much higher than red hybrid tomatoes.

Four varieties of red heirloom tomatoes
Four varieties of red heirloom tomatoes

Here are the most popular of the highly rated bright red heirloom tomatoes:

  • Costoluto — “old-fashioned tomato flavor”; performs well when skinned and used in slow simmered sauces.  The flesh is meaty with an abundance of juice and tart tomato flavor.
  • Druzba — smooth, juicy fruits with robust sweet-tart flavor; meaty and great for canning.
  • Legend — Introduced at Oregon State University as highly disease resistant variety. Nice blend of sugar and acid.
  • Aussie —  big, impressive beefsteak variety. Old fashioned, big robust tomato taste.
  • Stupice — best flavor I can find in an early tomato (early tomatoes tend to lack flavor); small
  • Thessaloniki — prolific crack-free heirloom with a meaty, classic flavor; sometimes considered “earthy flavor”
  • Carmello — considered by the French to have the “perfect acid-sugar balance” .  Productive, with juicy texture.  Dona is a smaller version of Carmello.

Striped Heirloom Tomatoes:

Striped heirlooms (sometimes called marbled or bicolored), are beautiful and they tend to have a rich, juicy, super-sweet flavor that is low in acid (exception of the Green Zebra)

Here are the most popular of the highly rated black heirloom tomatoes:

Five different bicolor heirloom tomatoes
Five different bicolor heirloom tomatoes

Gold medal (below) is one of the larger striped or bicolored heirlooms…..beautiful!

Early striped heirloom tomatoes
Early striped heirloom tomatoes
  • Gold Medal —  popular for its appealing sweet taste and marbled beauty,  originating from the Black Forest region of Germany.
  • Green Zebra — tangy, with a very robust flavor (i.e., high acid)
  • Mint Julep — Often confused with Green Zebra, Mint Julep is a hybrid tomato with a sweet taste and a pear shape
  • Black Vernissage — small and very prolific with that rich flavor similar to the Russian black tomatoes
  • Indigo Rose — a hybrid tomato that is more bicolor than striped. The blossom end remains a dark purple color with the bottom of the tomato turning orange when ripe; tangy flavor

Orange & Yellow Heirloom Tomato Varieties:

Orange tomatoes (not yellow), are sweet and lower in acid than the bright red tomatoes. They are the varieties that will most remind you that tomatoes are, botanically speaking, fruits.

Yellow (and white) tomatoes tend to be mild and creamy and low acid. Two yellow heirlooms that are more robust (higher acid) in flavor however would be Hughs and Limmony.

Here are the most popular of the highly rated orange and yellow heirloom tomatoes:

Orange yellow and green heirloom tomatoes
Orange yellow and green heirloom tomatoes
  • Persimmon — One of the best flavors of all the orange tomatoes. Meaty with few seeds.  Creamy meaty, texture.
  • Juane Flamme — small (large plum size), sweet and low-acid, bursting with juice.  Almost a tropical flavor.  My favorite small orange.
  • Kellogg’s Breakfast — vibrant sweet taste, meaty with few seeds.
  • Limmony — a yellow beefsteak with a strong, zesty, sweet citrusy flavor. It is also sometimes spelled Lemony.
  • Hughs — a surprisingly robust flavor from a yellow tomato; large and meaty; a great slicer with a lot of flavor
  • Jaffa — fruity and small; a reliable tomato that is not prone to blossom end rot like many tomatoes of this size

White Tomatoes

White tomatoes aren’t brilliant white. They’re more of a pale pale yellow. Pale yellow and white tomatoes  are noticeably less acidic than red tomatoes.

Some consider them the sweetest tomatoes and some consider them the blandest tomatoes.  The common factor is low-acidity.

Here are the most popular of the highly rated “white” heirloom tomatoes:

White Tomesol tomato
White Tomesol tomato
  • White Tomesol — creamy, mild, sweet flavor; start off white and mature to pale yellow
  • White Queen – nicest shape and whitest color of the white varieties; ~ 12 ounces
  • Great White – large 1-2 lb creamy white fruit; very sweet and juicy

 Green Heirloom Tomatoes:

The commonality of green tomatoes is a bright acidity, but the degree of sweetness tends to vary quite a bit.

Here are the most popular of the highly rated green heirloom tomatoes:

  • Aunt Ruby’s Green — bright with acidity, but well-balanced with sugar.  Incredible juiciness.
  • Green Zebra — tangy and zingy are adjectives often attached to Green Zebra.  Very popular for taste and eye appeal.
  • Green Giant — huge green meaty tomato with great acid-sugar balance; starts off “granny smith” green and matures to a soft yellow-green

Guides for successfully growing heirloom tomatoes

Other Attributes of Heirloom Tomatoes

In addition to unique flavors and colors, heirloom tomatoes have different growth habits, yields, etc. If you are having trouble deciding which ones to grow, it will help if you base your decision around how you will use it. This summary about distinctive characteristics of heirloom tomatoes will help make the selection process much easier.

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Sunday 14th of May 2023

I'm beginning to think some ppl have never had a good tomato. There's a couple on this list that the only thing good about them is pretty color. Indigo rose and vernissage.

dorothy stainbrook

Monday 15th of May 2023

If I’ve learned anything from the public at the farmers’ markets it’s the nuances of what people think is “good”. I can’t tell you how many times someone has told me to just pick them out the best tasting tomato and they’ll buy it. For me, that means a robust Druzba variety or a rich black variety like Carbon or Paul Robeson. What they really imagine when they say best tasting however is a mysterious combination of their food memories and their particular palate. Some people think best is the creamy mild yellow tomatoes.

So this post was just an attempt to clarify the “general” flavors associated with particular colors of heirloom tomatoes. There are some similarities based on color. It’s up to you to decide if it is a “good” tomato.


Monday 17th of April 2023

By far the best tomato I've ever grown was a Wild Boar variety called "Summer of Love". Delicious huge tomatoes, and the vine pumped them out all summer long. Unfortunately they haven't been available from them for the last couple of years. I'd love to be able to grow them again someday.

dorothy stainbrook

Monday 17th of April 2023

Interesting. I like a lot of the Wild Board tomatoes. I’m growing Mint Julep and one of their large striped ones (the name eludes me at the moment). I’ll keep my eyes open for that one.


Saturday 25th of March 2023

Tomatoefest has a big beef that is not a hybrid. Go to there web site and type in big beef to find it. I have been buying seeds from them for 10 Yeats and have had good success.

dorothy stainbrook

Saturday 25th of March 2023

Will do. Thanks Mike!


Friday 24th of March 2023

At least 75 years ago I worked on a produce farm. The far had a contract with Campbell’s soup and they used a variety called Rutgers. I cannot see any mention of this variety that to my mind was the best flavored tomato

dorothy stainbrook

Saturday 25th of March 2023

Hi Mike, I did grow Rutgers a while back (around 2015 I think). It wasn't a big hit at the farmers' markets here in Minnesota. That said, different tomato varieties can taste quite different depending on when and how they are grown. I've found the taste to vary year to year also. One year persimmon was hands down the best tasting tomato I've ever grown, but it has never replicated the flavor since then. Still grow it, but it's never returned to "food memory" status.


Wednesday 22nd of March 2023

Thank you for this article💕 one can never get enough garden talk and I really love tomatoes 🍅 I love the tiny currant heirlooms and have grown Lillian’s yellow when I can find the seeds just because of the cute name they’re a little too mellow though. I do love the costoluto and black krim and the more flavor the better 💕can’t wait to try more varieties. Every year I try as many heirlooms with different colors and sizes as possible. We are still receiving snow here in utah so gardening seems like a dream right now 🤣

dorothy stainbrook

Friday 24th of March 2023

Hi Lynda, I have found the same thing with Lillian's yellow (a little too mild). Also love those currant heirlooms, and they look so pretty and decorative when placed on top of a tomato dish. We're still heavy in snow here in Minnesota also (March 24th)! Have to say it's bringing me down...but the sun is out today so there is hope!

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