Tomatoes: best varieties for flavour

by Adam Pasco

Now we get down to the nitty-gritty of choosing the best flavoured tomato, and to my mind it has to be...

Plum tomatoesAsk me to recommend just one vegetable crop to grow for great returns and it would have to be tomatoes. Which other crop can match it for variety? Whole catalogues are available, listing literally hundreds of different varieties of tomato seed. Every one is different and unique in some way (although not all of them are worth growing).

There are bushy, spreading varieties that are great for pots, baskets and borders, and upright ones for training as cordons. These can be grown in the greenhouse or outside, but require support and need their side shoots pinching out regularly.

Plant growth and habit is only one characteristic, as fruit quantity, size, colour, quality and flavour are far more important. Now we get down to the nitty-gritty of choosing the best flavoured tomato, and to my mind it has to be 'Gardener's Delight'. They're deep red (surely tomatoes have to be red), bite-sized, juicy, sweet and full of flavour. If you haven't grown it then make a point of doing so next year.

While 'Gardener's Delight' is great for eating fresh in salads I'm looking for something meatier to cook in soups or sauces, so for this my tomato of choice is the large Italian plum tomato called 'Roma'. It's fat, fleshy and very productive when grown outside in a sunny position.

Just one word of caution. In my neck of the woods in the East Midlands I really can't risk growing tomatoes outside without plants succumbing to blight. This really is a devastating fungus disease, attacking the foliage and fruits of tomatoes (as well as potatoes). To guarantee a crop then I have to apply a preventive spray using a fungicide like Dithane 945 (containing mancozeb).

I know this is disappointing if you're trying to grow crops organically, and want to avoid spraying, but I don't know of a viable alternative. Yes, there are a few varieties that claim some natural disease resistance (like 'Ferline', 'Legend' and 'Fantasio') but this isn't any use if it's the flavour and character of other old favourite varieties that you're after.

Plant breeders are busy working hard on this 'Holy Grail' of tomato breeding, trying to develop new varieties with disease resistance to blight. Until they do a combination of cultural and chemical control is all we have available.

That won't stop me sowing a selection of new tomatoes next year, as I always try and grow about ten different ones. 'Gardener's Delight' and 'Roma' will be among them, but what about the rest? Any suggestions?

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Gardeners' World Web User 15/12/2009 at 20:01

While Gardeners delight is good, it has been surpassed for flavour by Sungold and Red Cherry Premium. Absolutely nothing wrong with orange or any other colour of tomatoes!! Indeed, yellow and orange tomatoes are recommended for people who have arthritis rather than red tomatoes.

Gardeners' World Web User 16/12/2009 at 13:24

I love Roma tomatoes, but won't grow them again as they are a bush variety. As you say, blight is terrible and it's necessary to spray, but it's very hard to spray plants which are thick with foliage carrying dozens of tomatoes. I grew a few dozen plants each of Roma and San Marzano this year. I had to spray the lot but still lost most of the Roma as I couldn't get at the foliage. The San Marzano are a cordon variety, easy to spray and have the most wonderful tomatoes (ask any chef or Italian person). I harvested hundreds of them, most of which were made into passata or "sun dried" and bottled. As for Gardeners' Delight, they seem to vary from one seed company to another, which is very odd. I agree with Realfood that they have been surpassed by Sungold which have an incomparable flavour.

Gardeners' World Web User 16/12/2009 at 13:48

Must agree with Realfood, Sungold is up there with the best. Unfortunately I've been unable to crop any for the last two years because of blight. Had to resort to buying from Sainsburies, they do some good flavoured cherry toms, thank god.

Gardeners' World Web User 16/12/2009 at 17:04

I grow Sungold in my conservatory - didn't need to buy any seeds last year as seedlings came up in some of my flowerpots and I just transplanted them. I really must stop eating them like sweets straight off the vine. Moneymaker is easy and will survive the blight if you catch it immediately and take off the affected leaves and any fruit showing black bits.

Gardeners' World Web User 16/12/2009 at 18:59

Sungold totally rocks. But the flavour I loved the best this year was 'Purple cherokee', which has this gorgeous, smoky-yet-sweet flavour, a bit like red wine. I had a bit of a rant about it on my blog a few months back when I sat myself down and did a tomato taste test:

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