What Is a Heirloom Tomato?

heirloom tomato

A heirloom tomato is an ordinary tomato. The unique attribute is the term ‘heirloom’. It refers to a variety that has been passed down via several generations. Such variety is a generational heritage because of the value it carries. Thus the original attributes of the variety are maintained.

We can define an heirloom tomato as an open-pollinated tomato. It is an heirloom cultivar that has been selected for its desirable characteristics. Its propagation has been maintained for generations. Thus heirloom tomatoes are features no genetic manipulation. They maintain their original taste and growth characteristics. In other words, they are organic, non-hybrid tomato variety.

The strict definition of an heirloom tomato is a variety that has been propagated by open pollination since the 1940s. Since they have not been altered in any way be genetic manipulation, they come in many shapes and sizes. Some even feature color combination. One thing you need to keep in mind is all heirloom tomatoes are open-pollinated. However, not all open-pollinated tomato varieties are heirlooms.

Classes of Heirloom Tomatoes

This tomato variety seeds can be classified into four different categories. The classification is according to tomato researchers and experts. The most famous names are Carolyn Male and Craig LeHoullier. Here are the classes.  

  • Family heirlooms: This classification describes seeds passed down for many generations via family
  • Commercial heirlooms: These are open-pollinated seed varieties introduced earlier than 1940. Or simply, a variety of tomatoes that are more than 50 years in circulation.
  • Created heirlooms: This class of tomatoes is achieved by crossing two heirlooms. They can also result from crossing an heirloom and a hybrid. However, the experts have to dehybridize the resulting seeds for years. The aim is to eliminate undesirable characteristics and establish the wanted attributes.
  • Mystery heirlooms: As the name sounds, they are varieties that came up mysteriously. Perhaps they are products of natural pollination between two or more heirloom varieties.

What Are The Best Heirloom Tomato Seed Varieties?

It is not easy to answer this question. The performance of any heirloom variety depends on the geographical location of origin. For instance, where one seed variety does well may not support another variety. A good way to know what to plant would be to base your choice on what others in your locality plant. You can also find the information in high quality local written blogs.

If you love buying heirloom tomatoes then you can check their origin. Compare your climatic conditions with those of that geographical area of origin. Look for any similarities in climatic conditions. If similar you can try your luck with that variety. However, some common varieties are that can help you to start your home garden include:

  • Amish Paste tomato,
  • Brandywine tomato,
  • Cherokee purple tomato,
  • Hillbilly tomato,
  • Mortgage Lifter tomato and,
  • Yellow pear tomato


Many gardeners who have tasted it contend that it could be the sweetest tomato variety. Whether the assertion is correct depends on an individual’s taste buds. However, there is agreement that heirloom tomato varieties are the most valuable. On the flip side, the heirloom variety of tomatoes is less resistant to diseases. They also tend to have shorter shelf-life in comparison hybrid varieties. You need to keep in mind that hybrid varieties are bred to resist certain diseases.

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