Tomato Taste-Off, 2012

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

It's been a long, hard 7 years but I finally think I've achieved tomato nirvana. I've grown about 6 varieties of tomatoes each of the last 7 years. There have been some repeats but let's say I've sampled at least 30 varieties. This year my goal was to achieve the perfect balance both in flavor but also timing of harvest and by jove, I think I have just about got it.

I might not have gone into the taste test with as much enthusiasm as I ought, having waited for this moment all year. I'm terrified to mention it for fear I will be cursed with 9 months of rain and cold but I am kinda sick of sun AND tomatoes. We have been canning and roasting and salsa-ing and BLT-ing here and I think we are finally coming to the end of the tomatoes.

The taste test covers only the fresh eating tomatoes that I grew in the garden at home this year. We didn't do a taste test on the varieties for preserving that I grew at my community garden plot. Those are, along with my impressions:

1. Costoluto Genovese

Not a plum but a fat, meaty, ribbed tomato that's great for sauces. I canned all of mine. The crop was long and strong and I would grow it again. Maybe. Probably. I mean the name is just so fun to say.

2. La Roma II

Good producer but not AS prolific as San Marzano and I couldn't detect a difference in flavor so this one is out for next year.

3. San Marzano

This is my second year growing this one and it's just a super trooper and now that my Mom and I have a pressure cooker, it will be back in the garden next year and destined for jars.

4. Principe Borghese

Incredible fruiter--the super duper fruiter, the star of the garden! This is the smallish tomato traditionally used for sun-drying. It is decent as a fresh tomato but was wonderful for roasting and for salsas. It will be back next year, for sure.


Let's remember that taste is subjective. Use the following example re one of my all-time favorite tomatoes, Green Zebra:

Me-- "It's tart" translates to "It's an explosion of beautiful soprano song in my mouth".
Mom-- "It's tart" translates to "It's unpleasantly sour and doesn't taste like a tomato ought to".

So keeping that in mind, let's move on to the Taste Off!


1. Gold Medal

Big and bodacious, this is a surprisingly early producer among the big yellows. It has lovely blush streaks when ripe and good meaty texture. In terms of quantity it was the top performer, starting early and finishing last. The flavor is mellow, sweet, and just slightly floral--it doesn't have nearly the tartness of the tomato Pineapple, which I prefer.

Verdict: It's beautiful and prolific, starting early and finishing late, but those attributes have not earned it a guaranteed spot in next year's garden because the flavor was just good and not stupendous.

2. Paul Robeson

I grew this a few years back and couldn't get it out of my mind. It has a rich and slightly smoky flavor, some pretty marbling of purple and red, with a juicy and meaty interior. For a BLT, it can't be beat. During the taste test is was described as "yummy".

Verdict:  I'll be back.

3. Indigo Rose

The new girl. Developed by OSU vegetable breeder Jim Myers and purportedly full of antioxidants. I was full of anticipation all Summer. This tomato is one of the most beautiful tomatoes you will ever see with skin that's purplish black on the outside like an eggplant and red on the inside. The interesting thing about this tomato is that only the side of the fruit exposed to sun turns purple (which incidentally happens very early when the rest of the fruit is still green and totally hard) and then as it ripens you get the rest of the red coloring. The result is a stunning bi-color masterpiece that Dutch still life painters would have gone ga ga for. Needless to say it looks incredible sliced into a salad. 

The flavor is bright but mild and very juicy inside. It's not the most flavorful tomato in the world but I found the juicy texture really appealing and the look of it will make me want to grow it again. 

Verdict: The flavor is not much to write home about but it's so impressive looking in salads, the artist in me will want to grow this one again.

4. Stupice

I came back to Stupice after trying out some other early tomatoes and I'm so glad to be reunited. I'm done trying earlies--this is IT for me. I started eating Stupice by July 15th which is as early as I ever get to eat a tomato in my garden and it is still going strong. I love that it's early but indeterminant--so much bang for your buck.  It's still going great guns out there today, October 8th. The fruits are a smallish size perfect for salads and the texture is substantial enough to hold up. The flavor is a nice balance of sweetness and tartness. It's really a perfect all-around little tomato. 

Verdict: I'm done looking for an early tomato. 

5. Sungold

The tomato I would grow if I could only ever grow one tomato. Nothing beats it for taste and production. I've grown it every year since the first year I tried it--I cannot have Summer without it. It looks so gorgeous in salads and it tastes like tomato candy with a flavor that's bright and very sweet, balanced with just the right amount of tartness. The skin is soft and thin unlike some cherries.

Verdict:  Sungold, you are Summer and will always have a place in my garden and my heart.

6. Tumbler (not pictured)

I thought I was being clever to sneak in another cherry tomato by planting one of these with my potted fig but I wish I'd never bothered. I couldn't keep it watered enough and while the flavor was good, the skins were so tough and production was measly. These might both be a reflection on the poor placement and my abuse rather than the tomato itself but I'm not too excited to try Tumbler again. It might be a good bet for diligent, balcony gardeners though.

Verdict: It was nice knowing you.

And the winner is! And the three winners are (we had three tasters here)!

My pick: Paul Robeson

Matt's pick: Stupice

Mugsy's pick: Sungold 


  1. Thank you for posting your comments. I know what to try next year!

    1. A pleasure to share my results with fellow tomato lovers! Of course it does depend on your climate and soil and such, but these are the ones that have done best for me here in Portland, Oregon.

  2. Nice overview, and I admire your diligent research. I have always been happy with Stupice, and I love San Marzano for cooking and some eating. Since I don't can or freeze tomatoes these days, I'm all about what's good for cooking and eating right now. But after seeing your pictures, I could grow Paul Robson just for the sheer gorgeousness of that fruit.

  3. If you're into fresh eating tomatoes you've gotta try Paul Robeson. Such a rich flavor. It has quite the cult following!

  4. Stupice and Sungold are my all time favorites but I've also never tried Paul Robson which looks incredible! I'm the only one who is a fresh tomato eater at our house so one plant each of two or three varieties keeps me in garden snacks all summer long.

    1. Good to hear more votes for Stupice and Sungold! I agonize over my tomato selection each year and always plant too many but the new double grafts are really helping me out. I forgot to mention that the Indigo Rose and Gold Medal were grown on the same plant. Maybe you can find a Paul Robeson/Sungold plant next year so you can try it out.


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