Tomatoes – Heirloom vs Supermarket

Due to my un-relenting morning sickness, we weren’t well prepared for planting season in Spring 2010. We did build a new vegetable bed, but we hadn’t raised seeds to put in it, nor was I interested in going out and buying seedling. We just accepted that this year would be a relatively unsuccessful year for vegetables and we’d be more prepared for Spring 2011.

We did manage to plant four tomato seedlings in time. Heirloom varieties from the Digger’s Club; Principe Borghese, Tommy Toe, Green Zebra and Tigerella. Within a few weeks of planting these, tomato seedlings began to appear all through the composted vegetable patch.  We decided to relocate all the seedlings to the new veggie patch and see what would become of them.

Heirloom vs Supermarket: plant size


Diggers Heirlooms

It became apparent early on that the tomatoes growing from the compost were of mixed variety. There’s the Tomatoberry which we purchased from a garden shop last year along with a plethora of supermarket romas, grape and cherry tomatoes. The other thing that was noticable from early on was the sheer size of the plants. These tomato plants would not be naeatly staked like the heirlooms, instead they grew taller than me with branches in all directions. Common sense said we should have thinned them, but we were too fascinated by then and wanted to see if they’d fruit.


Supermarket hybrids

The fruit

The hybrids produced a lot more fruit than the heirlooms. In fact we were innundated with fruit from mid-January with more still on the way in late-April. We’ve made many batches of tomato sauce to freeze to use in winter. But, and there’s always a but, while prolific, the quality of the fruit from the hybrids was dismal when compared with the heirlooms.

The blind taste test

In order to determine if we were being biased against the hybrids I set up a taste test for my husband.


The tomatoes on test are: Hybrid grape hybrid roma, tomatoberry, tommy toe and green zebra (at this point I’ll mention that our Principe Borghese turned out to be a second green zebra and the Tigerella had no fruit ready on the day of the experiment.


After tasting each one (with closed eyes), Col rated them on things such as flavour, texture and acid.

Taste result?

As you can see above, the heirloom’s won hands down.

Squash test

Next up I squashed the tomatoes to see if it really is true that hybrids are bred to withstand more squashing than a traditional heirloom

squashgrape squashroma

squashtomatoberry squashtommytoe

squashzebra aftersquashing

From top left: the grape, roma, tomatoberry, tommy toe, green zebra, all tomatoes after squashing.

I applied the same pressure to each tomato onto the same part of their structure. It was quite amazing to see just how much squashier the heirlooms are. Another score for the heirlooms.

Heirloom vs Mutants?

The final observation of the tomatoes is that a lot of the hybrids are mutants. Instead of fruiting in an expected, uniform shape, they’ve done all sorts of strange things; points where there shouldn’t be points, strange bulges…




Overall I’m amazed that the hybrids fruited at all. A lot of hybrids are bred to only fruit for one season, which definitely wasn’t the case here. However while prolific fruiters, the fruit they did produce didn’t have that home grown tomato tastiness, filled with juice that squirts down your chin. Instead they are tough, oddly textured and very mildly flavoured. When buying tomato seeds for the garden heirlooms are the way to go if you’re after a tasty tomato that makes a fabulous bruchetta, looks great in salad and cooks up a treat. If you’re after quantity for preserves or sauces, the hybrid will certainly oblige although I’d be inclined to plant triple the quantity of the much easier to manage heirloom plants and have some great all rounder tomatoes.

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