Few foods are as ubiquitous as tomatoes, found in everything from salads to sandwiches to pastas. These plump and juicy fruits positively take over farmers markets and produce sections of grocery stores in summertime — available individually, in cartons and on the vine. But with hundreds of varieties from which to choose, picking the right tomato can be an uncertain and frustrating experience. Our guide is here to help.
With a name derived from their richly marbled flesh, beefsteak tomatoes are the biggest type you can buy. Often served thickly sliced on sandwiches and burgers, these tomatoes are also ideal for Caprese salads and people who love a snack of tomatoes sliced and sprinkled with salt. Their generally low seed content also makes them less messy than some other types of tomatoes.
These colorful little tomatoes have a sweet taste that makes them ideal for snacking or serving on skewers with mozzarella. Available in a variety of sizes, cherry tomatoes add a burst of flavor when sautéed and served with fish or chicken, or oven-roasted to produce a light, fresh pasta sauce.
Similar to their cherry brethren when it comes to taste, grape tomatoes are usually smaller and have a more oblong shape, like their namesake. A popular choice for snacking, they’re often found in salads but are not highly recommended for roasting, as they break down fairly easily. It’s unconventional, but we love using them in bruschetta as well.
Paste tomatoes, also known as plum tomatoes, are usually medium-sized and fairly dry with lightly seeded flesh. You’ve no doubt seen Roma and San Marzano tomatoes for sale, both of which are types of paste tomatoes. They may look good, but really aren’t meant to be eaten raw — most varieties in this category are grown specifically to be cooked. In particular, paste tomatoes are known to make a mean pasta sauce.
Tomatoes should always be stored at room temperature away from direct sunlight. Don’t refrigerate them unless you want mealy, mushy tomatoes.
When shopping, choose smooth, firm tomatoes that yield to gentle pressure.
Tomatoes are at their best from June to August, and enjoy an even longer season in temperate climates. In winter, we opt for canned tomatoes as a flavorful substitute for fresh.
Like tomatoes so much that you want to grow your own? Go for it! More than 25 million people grow their own tomatoes each year, both indoors and outdoors. No matter where you’re gardening, there’s a tomato variety to fit your situation.