Originally Published July 12, 2022
Updated February 7, 2023
Tomatoes come in many shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors. But which one is right for you? To answer that question, you will want to round up the answers to the following questions. What type of tomato do you want? How do you plan to use your harvest? How often do you want to harvest? Where are you growing your plants? There are hundreds of tomato seed varieties available, which can make selecting one or two seem overwhelming. Knowing what you want from your plants can help you choose a variety that best fits your wants and needs. Keep reading to learn what makes one tomato different from another.
Types of Tomatoes
Slicing Tomatoes - Slicing tomatoes are large, round, and full of tasty juice. These are the largest category and commonly grow to the size of a fist or bigger. They produce medium to large fruits that can reach up to 1-2 pounds. These varieties are ideal for juicing, sandwiches, and salsa as they are full of flavor. Includes popular varieties such as Beefmaster Hybrid, Mortgage Lifter, Brandywine, Burpee Big Boy, German Johnson, and the Pineapple Tomato. Find these and more on our slicing tomato page. Slicing tomatoes is a broad category that includes all beefsteak, oxheart, and globe type varieties.
Beefsteak - The largest giant type of slicing tomatoes. They have a meaty texture, thin skin, few seeds, a ribbed shape, and are best in the late summer. While they are the widest tomato type, they may also have a flattened shape. Because of their thin skins, juice content, and large size, beefsteaks aren’t preferred for transporting in large amounts or commercial production.
Oxheart - A mid to late-season indeterminate giant-type slicing tomato with a fruit that is taller than the beefsteak varieties with a pointed end, making it appear in the shape of an ox heart. They are firm, meaty, and have few seeds. Because they are very similar to the beefsteak types, they are not popularly used in commercial production for many of the same reasons.
Globe - When most people picture a tomato, it takes the form of a globe type. Globe tomatoes are a rounded slicer type. They have thicker skin that allows them to travel better than other slicers making them popular for commercial production. They are also large enough to be used on sandwiches or hamburgers but are not as big as the giant beefsteak and oxheart types. Globe tomatoes come in an assortment of color options and some unique patterns.
Paste Tomatoes - Paste tomatoes are known by several names, including sauce, Roma, and plum tomatoes. They are recognized by their oblong shape, meaty flesh, and low water content. These tomatoes are best used for cooking and preserving. Because their flavor is locked into the meaty flesh, cooking can amplify their amazing flavors. Paste varieties are commonly used for sun-dried tomatoes, pasta sauces, pastes, soups, canning, stuffing, and salsas.
Roma - Roma types are an “everyday” affordable tomato that can be used both cooked or fresh for many purposes. They have high sugar and acid contents that make for good flavors when cooked down. Because Roma tomatoes have thicker skin and a firm texture, they are ideal for transporting and commercial production.
San Marzano - An indeterminate Italian type with fruits that are thinner than Roma types. While they are smaller, they have more flesh per fruit, are sweeter, and less acidic. The San Marzano flavor profile makes them more popular for sauce-making with an artisan flare, winning them international praise. San Marzano tomatoes are one of the few varieties approved for creating genuine Neapolitan pizza.
Cherry Tomatoes - Cherry (mini) tomatoes are easily recognized for their size, juicy texture, and flavor. Although they are the smallest type of tomatoes, they are bursting with flavor. These fruits are perfect for snacking, used in salads, or grilling on kebabs. Many tomatoes can be harvested from a single plant as these often grow in clusters rather than individually. One of the most popular varieties is the Sungold Hybrid Cherry tomato. Read more about making these tomatoes the "Hero At Your Next Dinner Party".
Cherry - Cherry tomatoes are juicy, crisp, and extremely sweet, being almost candy-like. Cherry varieties are for snacking or adding to salads due to their delightful flavor. They are also juicier and easier to eat by popping them in your mouth whole.
Grape - Grape tomatoes are used similarly to cherry tomatoes and are usually slightly smaller, although size depends on the specific variety and growing conditions. They are snack-sized, oblong shapes and are often added to salads or pasta dishes when sliced in half. Their flavor is also sweet but more balanced than cherry types. Grape varieties are easier to transport as they are less fragile and last longer due to their meatier texture and lower water content.
Salad Tomatoes - Medium round tomatoes from golf to tennis ball sized. They may grow individually or in clusters able to be harvested on a connected common vine. While other types are also commonly used in salads whole, these tomatoes are usually cut in half or diced in. While these varieties are commonly used in salads, they can also be used for other purposes. Those varieties closer to a tennis ball size may also be used for slicing onto sandwiches, such as subs, where traditional slicing tomatoes may be too large.
Cocktail - Also called saladette or salad tomatoes. Usually 2-4 ounces. They are larger than cherry tomatoes but smaller than globes. Their concentrated flavors offer more substance making them ideal for use in salads. Cocktail tomatoes will develop in clusters on a common vine.
Indeterminate vs. Determinate Tomatoes
Knowing if your tomato is an indeterminate or determinate type can be important depending on what your planned use is. Indeterminate tomatoes will mature throughout the growing season, allowing you to use your fresh harvest over a period of time. This type is most popular for home gardeners who want to supply their home with fresh fruits and vegetables all season long. Because they are continually growing, these types are considered vining and generally require growing supports, trellis, or cages. Indeterminate tomato vines can reach 8-10 feet long with proper support, genetics, and the right growing conditions.
Determinate varieties will mature all at once. These are ideal for those wanting to preserve their harvest or the products that are made from tomatoes. If you are wanting to can your tomatoes or sauces, this is the best option for you to get it all done at once. Because these plants reach maturity roughly at the same time, they tend to have more of a bush habit that doesn’t require much additional support or trellising. These plants may reach up to 5 feet tall, depending on local growing conditions and natural genetics.
Growing Tomatoes in Container Gardens
Growing tomatoes in containers isn’t difficult. Most tomatoes can be grown in a container of some sort with the right added support, nutrients, and growing methods. They can even be grown hydroponically. Many companies provide fresh, domestically grown tomatoes during the cold winter months successfully. However, tomatoes are not recommended for beginner home hydroponic growers. Growing in soil has always been reliable for beginner to expert gardeners. For home gardeners looking to grow tomatoes in containers on their patio or balcony gardens, try some of the following varieties.
Slicing: Husky Red Hybrid, and Patio Hybrid.
Paste: Cream Sausage
Cherry/Salad: Patio Choice, Sungold, and Baxters Early Bush Cherry.
Regardless of growing in a field, raised bed, container, or greenhouse, there is a tomato that will suit your needs. Don’t let the many choices available overwhelm you. Start by identifying what you want to use your tomatoes for. Once you know that, ask yourself if harvesting over the growing season or all at once is important to you. Then, identify if your growing space will limit your choice. If growing in containers, focus on varieties known to do well in these conditions. For information on how to start tomato seeds indoors check out the blogs linked below. Tomatoes should be started indoors 6-8 weeks before your last frost date. Because your seed starts will be in containers for several weeks it is important to use a growing medium with added nutrients. We recommend using Minute Soil+ amended coco coir as it has enough added nutrients to sustain plants over long periods of time.