Types of Tomatoes and How To Use Them

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Is there another culinary ingredient that is more ubiquitous than the treasured tomato? Maybe. Maybe not…

We are in love with tomatoes, especially when they are in peak season. This post will help you understand the difference between the most popular tomatoes available and how best to use them. Besides having great health benefits, they are also delicious and beautiful in dishes of all types and cuisines. But, you already knew that. Let’s dig a little deeper into this amazing gift from Mother Earth.

A bowl filled with and surrounded by a large variety of types of tomatoes including cherry, beefsteak, heirloom, and roma.

Which Tomato Should I Use?

Recipes often call for a specific type of tomato, but occasionally we are left to make that choice on our own. Tomato lovers (and there are so many of us!) might say, “Just pick one. They are all wonderful!” But truth be told, the type of tomato we use could be the difference between a good result and a great result! If so, how do we make the best choice?

All tomatoes, as strange as it might seem, are fruits, even though they are almost universally used as vegetables in cooking. (ALERT: “Knowledge” is knowing a tomato is a fruit: “Wisdom” is not using it in a fruit salad!).

There are perhaps more similarities than differences in the members of the “tomato family,” but to the caring cook, those differences are important.  Let’s start by listing the most common types of tomatoes and considering how their characteristics differ.

The 5 Most Popular Types of Tomatoes Used in Cooking

Cherry

The smallest tomatoes are cherry tomatoes, with grape tomatoes only slightly larger and more oval in shape. They are often red, but they can also be other colors, such as orange and yellow.

The two types are similar in many ways, but the cherry tomato is juicier, while the grape tomato has a thicker skin, which allows it to maintain its texture when cooked. Both are excellent in salads, and by themselves as a snack. (Try dipping in Homemade Ranch or your favorite dressing!) Although both work well for skewers and kebabs, the firm texture of the grape tomato is preferred by some.

Two hands holding a bunch of ripe cherry tomatoes.

Recipes Featuring Cherry Tomatoes:

Steak and Eggs with Blistered Tomatoes
Black-Eyed Peas with Cherry Tomatoes
Halibut with Kale, Bean, and Cherry Tomatoes
Cheddar, Bacon, Tomato, and Ranch Pasta Salad

Roma

Roma tomatoes are commonly chosen for use in making Italian sauces and tomato paste. Usually red, they can be pink or orange.

Their garden-fresh flavor makes them popular for salads and bruschetta.

Since they are smaller than the larger beefsteak tomatoes, they are perfect for some sandwiches, but are not as often used for slicing.

A hand holding a ripe roma tomato above a scattering of other roma tomatoes.

Recipes Featuring Roma Tomatoes

Homeamade Marinara Sauce
Roasted Tomato Basil Soup
Slow-Roasted Tomatoes
Fried Calamari with Fresh Marinara Sauce

Beefsteak

The tomatoes most commonly used for slicing are beefsteak tomatoes, which can range in size from only slightly larger than a typical Roma tomato, to ones large enough to overlap your hamburger bun!

They are usually mild in taste and juicy and are perhaps the best choice for canning and making sauces.

Beefsteak tomatoes are perfect to slice for sandwiches and that is perhaps where they are used the most.

Four ripe beefsteak tomatoes sitting next to each other on a brown plate.

Recipes Featuring BeefsteakTomatoes

The Ultimate BLT with Basil Aioli
World’s Best Veggie Burger
Tomato Tart

Green

Especially in the Southern United States, green tomatoes are popular. The most common green tomato, however, is not a separate type. It is a beefsteak tomato that was picked before it ripened.

They are slightly less sweet than a ripe tomato and their firmer texture makes them ideal for slicing for such favorite dishes as Fried Green Tomatoes.

They are also used in canning and for sauces.

A person using a chef's knife to slice a green tomato on a cutting board with slices scattered around.

EXPERT TIP: It is important to note that unripe tomatoes are more difficult to digest and can cause gastrointestinal problems for some people, so green tomatoes should not be eaten raw. Did we mention they are perfect for Fried Green Tomatoes? They are the best!

Heirloom

Heirloom tomatoes vary in size and may be red, green, yellow, purple, or shades of these colors.

They are unique in the tomato world (hence their name) because their seeds are saved to be used for the next crop without the cross-pollinating of all other types.

Heirlooms are prized for their deep, sweet taste, considered more “natural” by aficionados. This taste advantage makes them a favorite for canning and sauces and is perfect for slicing.

Heirloom tomatoes sitting on a wood plank

Recipes Featuring Heirloom Tomatoes

Classic Caprese Salad (Recipe coming soon)
Gazpacho
Southern Tomato Pie

Celebrate All Types of Tomatoes Year-Round!

Tomato sauce freezes beautifully. We make a big batch of our homemade marinara sauce, or any sauce with fresh tomatoes, and enjoy it throughout the year.

In the end, beyond the general factors included above, it is a matter of personal taste when considering types of tomatoes.

Maybe the tomato lovers are right when they say, “Just pick one. They are all wonderful!”

Southern Tomato Pie in a white pie dish with tomatoes nearby.