New Flavorful Tomato Cultivars For Home Gardeners
What is an "heirloom" tomato? There is no legal definition of an heirloom cultivar. Anyone can call anything an heirloom, if they want to. However, we loosely define an heirloom as "old" and open pollinated (i.e., seeds from the fruit breed true). Everyone loves the taste of their favorite "heirloom" tomato. But let's be honest. Heirlooms are really cultivars that have been superseded by something better. Passionate individuals save these cultivars because they have great flavor. They are willing to put up with plants that have low yield or are susceptible to multiple diseases because the fruit have fabulous taste or are visually appealing.
We've taken a step back to exploit the natural diversity in heirloom tomatoes to understand the chemistry of a really great tasting tomato. We've grown hundreds of them – some going back to the 19th Century. Kind people have sent us seeds of cultivars they love. Others we've purchased from various sources. In our large-scale consumer trials, many do not do well. Some don't give us enough fruit for 100 people to taste them. Others turn to mush within 24 hours of picking. Others leave us wondering why someone bothered to save them at all. But a few just shine. They make you realize what a tomato should taste like. Inevitably, the plants aren't easy to grow, so we asked ourselves whether we could capture the best of both worlds - flavor and performance. The answer to that question is an emphatic yes.
We screened hundreds of heirloom tomatoes, using a large consumer taste panel run by our colleagues in the UF Food Science & Human Nutrition department to identify the varieties with the best taste. We screened modern lines that have high productivity and shelf life, but just didn't excite our taste buds. We produced and extensively tested dozens of hybrids for performance and flavor. Many didn’t have the taste or performance we desired. But a few were remarkable. The taste panels told us that they were just as good or even better than the heirloom parents. Yields far exceed those of the heirlooms in our North Florida fields. While yields are not quite good enough for large scale commercial producers to adopt them (that's another story altogether), they are ideally suited for home gardeners. Heirloom taste without the heirloom challenges. We think they epitomize what breeders call hybrid vigor; the best of both worlds. They're not true "heirlooms". And yes, because they’re hybrids, you will need to buy new seeds each year. We hope that you'll think it's worth it.