Doug Williams from Grow it Forward Farm, when asked his favorite tomato for flavor, said, “Cherokee Carbon with a great balance of sweet and acid!” then added, “all the little artisan cherry tomatoes are really cool to grow for the colors and shapes. The also have surprisingly different but nice flavor.”
In stores and on menus, you can find tomatoes year round. We want tomatoes for the BLTs and salads or sauced and served. But why doesn’t it taste like a tomato!
Texas imports over 2 Billion pounds of tomatoes yearly and that number is growing faster than most other states. Researchers spend years working on developing tomatoes with high yields, tough enough to travel over 1,500 miles, picked green and ripened in port (yes the stem is left on, hence the sign “Vine Ripe”) and also be pest and disease free. These are eye pleasing and all, but still lacking in flavor.
Seems like the flavor code your memory yearns for is only as close as your local farms, neighborhood gardens or farmers markets AND only during tomato season.
It all seems fleeting today as my counter is full of just picked tomatoes bursting with flavor and we are eating them for breakfast, lunch and dinner with a couple of snackers in-between. I have a garden, but I still like to frequent the closest farms (listed here) or farmers markets to find what other varieties and flavors are in season.
Just as there are as many varieties and flavors, there are people you have flavor preferences. I personally love the little orange Sun Gold, that has a higher acidity than sweetness, giving it that eye-popping bright taste…most do not even make it home as they are easy to devour and share while at the farmers market.
So, what makes the tomato flavorful? A combination of sugar (sweet), acid (acidity) and volatile compounds (aromas). Or as my grandpa would say, “sure tastes goooood!”
There are three reasons tomatoes taste like tomatoes and are best when grown close to home.
- Tomato Varieties – Some of the best tasting tomatoes are the heirlooms with a soft texture that releases the higher balance of sweet and acidity when you take a bite. Smaller tomatoes can also be sweeter as the sugars are in smaller packages. However, color in general will hint to the flavor; red is a 50/50 balance of sweet and acidity, yellow is higher sweet so may seem tasteless, orange is a bit higher in acidity for that bite I like, and the darker black/purple are the higher in both sweet and acidity with a full smoky flavor.
- Growing Conditions – Jacksonville, Texas stadium is named the Tomato Bowl…and for good reasons, the soil in East Texas produces a distinct flavor that many Dallasites enjoy. Growers have a short window to get the plant to set tomatoes before the temperatures soar to the upper 80’s. Weather, sunshine and water can all be a factor in a good tomato year.
- Harvest to Market – Flavor freshness is acquired when a tomato is picked when firm with a vibrant color tint and the stem smell lingering. Refrigeration is not recommended or needed as the market day is just around the corner with a much shorter distance than the imports.
I must say there is nothing like a just picked tomato as soon as the season starts! This taste is what draws more people into a market to buy “tomatoes that tastes like real tomatoes”. This isn’t your grocery store tomato here folks!
My suggestion is to buy a variety and do your own taste test, mindfully eat them daily, give feedback to your farmer on your favorites, and buy by the box and jar them up for off season, summer-flavor reminiscing.