What is an heirloom tomato
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Diana B is a trusted home cook.
http://en.wikipedia.org... In short, they're tomatoes that taste like tomatoes.
When anything is referred to as "heirloom" it means the seeds can be traced back genetically uncrossed and unmutated for at least 50 years. That's why you see all the pretty different colors from the standard red tomato because the genes of those particular seeds haven't been altered to only yield the red color that we're all used to. It also means, as Diana mentioned, that they taste much more wholesome and tend to be more nutritious.
Sam is a trusted home cook.
Something you shouldn't consider purchasing until summer time.
It's winter now, and all tomatoes are shipped from southern hemisphere to US markets. Canned tomatoes are option now, or hot house tomatoes and cherry tomatoes are best for 'fresh' tomatoes until local sources produce local tomatoes in season.
There is no absolute definition of "heirloom" in this context. I would say they are varieties that are stable from generation to generation unlike modern hybrids. Unless you're growing them yourself, that's a technicality. What's not a technicality is this:
People have been breeding, aka "altering the genes of", tomatoes for over 500 years. Everything we eat has been genetically "mutated" -- and that's (usually) a good thing. A tomato that hasn't been improved in the last 50 years will be inferior in any number of ways -- they tend to split before they're fully ripe, they're susceptible to disease, the plants don't produce nearly as well as current breeds, they're prone to damage during transport, and they don't have as long a shelf life. All this results in paying substantially more for the fruit. Are they worth the money? Not to me but you decide. But make the test fair, home-grown to home-grown, vine-ripened to vine-ripened.
I'm no master gardener but one trait I've noticed growing several heirloom varieties is that they don't ripen all at once like a hybrid does. One half will be over-ripe while the other is still green. Some people claim heirlooms are sweeter and that may be true for some varieties vs. some others but I haven't had one yet that could match the best of the current hybrids straight off the vine.