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What are heirloom tomatoes?

Photography by Jeff Coulson Author: Credits: Photography by Jeff Coulson

Our Best Collections

What are heirloom tomatoes?

If you have noticed a growing abundance of irregularly shaped tomatoes in a multitude of colours, take it as proof that the idiom “everything old is new again” holds true. Heirloom tomatoes, as they’re called, are popping up at roadside fruit stands, specialty markets and large grocery chains.

That’s no surprise to chef Mona Johannson, whose family grows more than 300 varieties of heirloom tomatoes in the fields of their organic Sunshine Farm in Kelowna, B.C. We asked Johannson to dish the dirt on this produce phenomenon.

What are heirloom tomatoes?
Heirlooms are historical varieties of tomatoes that have been passed on through generations, many from the 1920s onward. They are typically grown on a smaller scale because they have thin skin and are oddly shaped, making them difficult to transport.

How are they different?
Commercially grown tomatoes have more consistency in flavouring, while each heirloom tomato has its own personality and flavour profile. Heirloom tomatoes are unique in size, colour and shape. They range in hue from pale yellow to rainbow-striped. “They’re visually spectacular,” says Johannson.

Which heirloom varieties are most common?

People often seek out Roma tomatoes for canning and sauces, while beefsteak is popular for everyday eating.

Where can I buy them?
Farmers’ markets are the best places to find fresh heirloom tomatoes. Their shelf life is very short—from less than 24 hours to a few days—and they don’t travel well, so it’s best to buy them locally.
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What are heirloom tomatoes?

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