Why Do People Dislike Black Tomatoes?

February 10, 2012

I bought these black tomatoes for 49 cents in the dead of winter, because black tomatoes look dead to the consumer. What wonderful taste they are missing!

Credit: Doreen G. Howard
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In the dead of winter when grocery stores offer flavorless, hard tomatoes at astronomical prices, I found a package of five large, luscious black tomatoes for 49 cents today.

They taste wonderful! Like the black tomatoes that come from my garden every summer, they’re full of nuances of merlot, salt and citrus, with robust, tangy firmness.

I’ve been growing various black varieties such as ‘Purple Calabash’, ‘Black Prince’ and ‘Black Krim’ for 20 years, ever since I tasted the first one at an heirloom tomato fair in Texas. 

I couldn't believe my good luck in finding this package of five black tomatoes for 49 cents at the grocery store in February!

Nearly all black tomatoes come from the Crimean peninsula in the Ukraine, where they’ve been favorites of the locals for more than a century.  Hot summers there built pigment and fruit sugars that turn flesh and skin dark shades of mahogany, chestnut, bronze and deep purple.  That’s why black tomatoes do well in southern states with torrid summers.  They taste good up North, too, but colors are paler.

I grew this 'Purple Calabash' tomato in Texas where the long days of sun and heat build the best colors.  Northern-grown ones taste as good, but they aren't as vividly colored.

One summer, I grew enough ‘Southern Night’ determinate black tomatoes so that I was able to save over two pounds of seeds.  I gave them to Dr. Jerry Parsons of Texas A&M University (TAMU) for trialing.  The idea was to see how well black tomatoes grew in the Winter Garden area of South Texas, near the Mexican border, where commercial growers produce nearly 50 percent of the tomatoes found in stores and restaurants.

Jerry used the seed to plant two acres of the tomatoes at the TAMU trial fields in Uvalde, TX.  After the crop was harvested (determinates bear all their fruit within a 2-4 week period), he invited two dozen commercial tomato growers to view and taste the black fruits.  He wanted them to see the commercial value of a new crop.

All of the men invited loved the flavor.  Some raved about it.  But, everyone declined seeds, because they said they couldn’t sell a black tomato.  The consumer would be put off by the green and black interior, thinking it was rotten, and the tomatoes were not consistent enough in size to pack easily in shipping cartons. 

Obviously, the observations of those growers that June day in 1997 still hold true.  I first saw the black tomatoes I bought today last August in stores.  They were selling for $2.95 a five-pack. Now they’re almost being given away.  Draw your own conclusions.

Black tomatoes possess a multitude of flavors, plus the usual tang of homegrown ones.  They can be compared to fine wines in that their flavors are subtle, numerous and surprising, at times.

I think it’s sad that people do not experience the exquisite flavors inside black tomato varieties. We gardeners can.  Order some seeds today and grow a plant or two in your garden.  You’ll be delighted with the multi-layered flavor in each bite.


Doreen Howard has written for The Old Farmer's Almanac All-Seasons Garden Guide for 15 years and is the former garden editor at Woman’s Day as well as a photographer. She has grown more than 300 varieties of heirloom edibles and flowers in the last two decades.

In stores now!

Look for Doreen's newest book, Heirloom Flavor: Yesterday's Best-Tasting Vegetables, Fruits and Herbs for Today's Cook. Find in stores everywhere including Walmart and on the Web including amazon.com.

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Comments

Thanks for posting that they

By Maria (BearMountainBooks.com)

Thanks for posting that they do well in Texas. The heat here can really take its toll on tomatoes. I'm going to see if I can find some plants and give these a try this year. So many of my favorites don't do that well because of the heat. I hope these do. I don't care WHAT color they are as long as they taste good!

Be sure to plant early, by

By Doreen G. Howard

Be sure to plant early, by March 15, to beat the heat. When afternoons are in the 90s, tomato pollen goes sterile; same when nights are above 72F. A bonus, though, is Texas heat develops very deep black colors and richer flavors.

I found black tomatoes, at

By Nancy Smothers

I found black tomatoes, at Walmart in Alabama called brown tomatoes, and fell in love with them. Hope to find them again and going to look for plants or seeds to grow my own. Better than the regular tomato!

I think the flavor of the

By Carol Burrell

I think the flavor of the black tomatoes is marvelous! This year I'm planting Black Cherry, Black Krim and Purple Cherokee tomatoes. I've also converted my daughter and several of my co-workers over to the "dark side".

The black tomatoes are the

By Georgia Trathen

The black tomatoes are the best! In fact, I think I'm going to order a couple more varieties.

I love black tomatoes.

By J. Adams

I love black tomatoes. Unfortunately, around here, people know that they are heirloom varieties, and they are priced accordingly - even at the farm-stands. I am lucky enough to live in an area where growers also have golden, black, and purple GRAPE tomatoes, though, and they are a bit less pricey. I get a pint of these lovelies in mixed colors, and my salad becomes a tasty jewel box.

One of our favorite tomatoes

By Jennie Dean

One of our favorite tomatoes is the black prince. I can't image why someone would not love black tomaotes!

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