This Aug. 25, 2012 photo shows a varied assortment of heirlooms and hybrids tomatoes at the Bayview Farmers Market near Langley, Wash. More than 700 different tomato varieties have been brought to the market and each year sees still more new introductions. (Dean Fosdick via AP)

This Aug. 25, 2012 photo shows a varied assortment of heirlooms and hybrids tomatoes at the Bayview Farmers Market near Langley, Wash. More than 700 different tomato varieties have been brought to the market and each year sees still more new introductions. (Dean Fosdick via AP)

Despite new varieties, search for the perfect tomato goes on

Page through any of the freshly arrived seed catalogs and you’ll note the words “new” and “improved” splashed across many of the tomato varieties available to home gardeners for 2016.

New flavors, lively colors, different sizes, higher yields, and better disease resistance and pest tolerance are among the noteworthy traits.

Despite all the new varieties, however, breeders believe there’s still more room for development. The search for the perfect tomato continues.

“Iceberg lettuce is iceberg lettuce, but there are so many different kinds of tomatoes that we strive for perfection in a number of directions,” said George Ball, chairman and chief executive officer of W. Atlee Burpee & Co., in Warminster, Pennsylvania. “There are cherries, small round salad tomatoes, slicers and paste, among others.

“We define the perfect tomato for what it delivers in taste,” Ball said. “Everything else is delivery, with uniformity being a close second. We’re looking for consistency in size and shape. We don’t want a lot of different-looking tomatoes on the same plant. We’re also trying to bring out a vibrancy in colors.”

Tomatoes originated in the coastal highlands of South America and are second only to potatoes as the most consumed vegetable in the U.S., the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center says.

Over 700 different tomato varieties have been brought to market, and each year sees more new hybrids. But many consumers prefer the rich flavors and proven history of heirlooms — tomato types that have been cultivated for at least 50 years. We’re talking plants with a pedigree, like Brandywines, German Johnson, Persimmon, Beefsteak and Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter, the latter a large, meaty tomato introduced by a West Virginia radiator repairman to help him stay financially afloat during the Great Depression.

“We do carry many heirlooms, and while the flavor is quite good, productivity and disease resistance usually is not quite as good,” said Janie Lamson, owner of Cross Country Nurseries in Stockton, New Jersey, who sells more than 180 tomato varieties.

The solution to some of those problems is a tomato series called “heirloom marriages,’” says Sue Amatangelo, brand manager for Park Seed Co., a mail-order plant and seed operation in Hodges, South Carolina. That’s where two classic varieties are crossed to create a new tomato with the advantages of both.

“Varieties such as Genuwine — a cross of the heirlooms Brandywine and Costoluto Genovese — offer the deep, tangy tomato flavor and aroma lacking in so many modern varieties, combined with improved plant vigor, crop size and appearance,” Amatangelo said of that 2015 Park Seed introduction.

What else is on the way for tomato development?

Expect to see more blends from grafting, or attaching desirable fruiting varieties onto vigorous, disease-resistant rootstalks. Also look for more dwarf plants as gardening on patios and decks grows still more popular. Anticipate finding the right blends of acids with sugars to push tomato flavors forward.

And then there are weather adaptations.

“We’re going toward regionalization big time,” Ball said. Now, for instance, “in the Northwest, you can grow a great cherry tomato outside but you have to go to a greenhouse for the big steak varieties. We want to improve upon that.”


For more, see this Ohio State University Extension fact sheet:

You can contact Dean Fosdick at

More in Life

Christ Lutheran Church Pastor Meredith Harber displays necklaces featuring the cross in this undated photo. (Photo by Meredith Harber/courtesy)
Minister’s Message: Interwoven together for good

I hope that we can find that we have more in common than we realize

Virgil Dahler photo courtesy of the KPC historical photo archive
This aerial view from about 1950 shows Jack Keeler’s home on his homestead east of Soldotna. The stream to the left is Soldotna Creek, and the bridge across the stream probably allowed early access to the Mackey Lakes area. The road to the right edge of the photo leads to the Sterling Highway.
Keeler Clan of the Kenai — Part 6

“Most of those homesteaders won’t last”

A sign points to the Kenai Art Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Sunday, May 9, 2021. (Camille Botello / Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai Art Center accepting submissions for ‘Medieval Forest’

The deadline to submit art is Saturday at 5 p.m.

People identifying as Democrats and people identifying as Republicans sit face to face during a workshop put on by Braver Angels in this screenshot from “Braver Angels: Reuniting America.” (Screenshot courtesy Braver Angels)
KPC lecture series to feature film and discussion about connecting across political divide

“Braver Angels: Reuniting America” is a nonpartisan documentary about a workshop held in the aftermath of the 2016 election of Donald Trump

Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion
This basil avocado dressing is creamy, sweet, tangy, and herbaceous — great for use on bitter greens like kale and arugula.
Memories of basil and bowling with Dad

This dressing is creamy, sweet, tangy, and herbaceous

Photo courtesy of Al Hershberger
Don and Verona pose inside their first Soldotna grocery store in 1952, the year they opened for business.
Keeler Clan of the Kenai — Part 5

By 1952, the Wilsons constructed a simple, rectangular, wood-frame building and started the town’s first grocery

Minister’s Message: Finding freedom to restrain ourselves

We are free to speak at a higher level of intelligence

Dancers rehearse a hula routine at Diamond Dance Project near Soldotna on Thursday. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Moving into magic

Diamond Dance Project all-studio concert puts original spin on familiar stories

Orion (Jacob Tremblay) and Dark (Paul Walter Hauser) in “Orion and the Dark.” (Promotional photo provided by Dreamworks Animation)
On the Screen: ‘Orion and the Dark’ is resonant, weird

Fear of the dark is natural, not some problem that Orion has to go on adventure to overcome

Most Read