We're all familiar with regular tomatoes, but what's an heirloom? If you've noticed strange-looking tomatoes--those with different colors and shapes--then you've seen an heirloom. Heirlooms have recently come into vogue among tomato lovers.
Regular vs Heirloom
Hybrid (normal) tomatoes are selected for their yield, resistance to diseases and shelf life. Heirlooms are prized for their diversity of color, shape and flavor and come from plant seeds that are at least 50 years old.
The consensus for heirloom status is that the cultivar (variety) must be at least 50 years old. Many heirloom cultivars have been passed down through several generations of a family.
The renewed interest in heirlooms started in the 1970s. The term refers to varieties that were often unique and limited to only a few gardens.
In industrial agriculture, only a few varieties of a given food crop are grown due to the efficiencies that come with uniformity. Partisans of heirlooms view themselves as champions of world food diversity.
Which Are Better?
There is no clear-cut winner here; however, everyone agrees that tomatoes are best eaten right off the vine. Heirlooms have commanded premium prices, but some attribute this to snob appeal.
Haden Peterson writes on subjects as diverse as technology, culture and food and is published on eHow and Electron Press. Peterson provides technology solutions to business and nonprofit organizations in New York City, where he lives. He received a liberal arts degree from Raymond College.