A few tomato terms and definitions:
Heirloom and Hybrid
In a broad sense, heirloom plant species are vegetables, flowers, and fruits grown from seeds that are passed down from generation to generation. The seeds are at least 50 years old. Heirloom tomato seeds have not been genetically altered. They’re exactly as Mother Nature made them. You can often recognize Heirlooms by their irregular shapes; many are ribbed or have multiple lobes and they grow in many colors including red, orange, yellow, dark purple or green. I happen to be quite fond of bi-colored tomatoes.
Hybrids, on the other hand, are bred to produce crops that are uniform in taste and appearance. They’re more disease resistant than Heirlooms. Hybrids produce high yields of crops at a low cost. Seeds from hybrids are sterile and cannot be passed down, so if you save seed from a hybrid and plant it next season, it will not result in the same tomato from which you saved it. Instead, the result will be one of the parent plants. Hybrid tomatoes are mass produced, often picked when green and then shipped great distances to warehouses awaiting purchase.
Most tomatoes that you buy in the local grocery store are hybrids. They’re the same shape (round or oval), same color (red) and when you gently cup one in your hand they are, more often than not, hard. That’s not the worst of it. This is the tomato that so many people will buy. They’ll go home, slice it and notice that it’s white inside. Take a bite and it’s almost flavorless. That, my friends, is the hybrid tomato.
The biggest difference between heirlooms and hybrid tomatoes is flavor. Heirlooms are unquestionably more flavorful and have a complexity of taste that isn’t found in hybrids. The heirlooms tend to have thinner skins and are overall more fragile than hybrids. You won’t see them piled high in truck beds to be shipped someplace. These beauties can be downright finicky. Some are more temperamental than others, making them more prone to disease or low yields.