My beloved man, Roger, thinks all tomatoes should be red. If he did the choosing, every tomato in the garden would bear round, red fruits, but I won’t let that happen. Of the dozen plants we will grow this year, two will be non-red tomatoes that ripen to yellow, orange, green, or have a purplish blush. When late summer comes and we’re eating tomatoes every day, non-red tomatoes will bring needed variety to the plate, and may confound stink bugs and other pests that seek out red fruits.
Not that non-red tomatoes are perfect. Nutritionally, the highest levels of lycopene and beta carotene are linked to red fruit color, which is dominant in tomatoes. Yellow tomatoes and those that ripen to green or orange are riding on recessive genes. Flavor changes follow from the unique genetics of non-red tomatoes, so each variety tastes distinctive, another reason to try non-red tomatoes. Life doesn’t last long enough to try them all, but these are a few of my favorites from three decades of tomato gardening. The days to maturity given are from transplanting to first ripe fruits.
Delicious Yellow Tomatoes
Sungold Cherry (65 days) – Cherry tomatoes as a group are quite sweet and fruity, but with a sugar (Brix) rating of 10 or above, 'Sungold' cherry tastes like a true berry, without the bitter undertones found in some cherry tomatoes. The vigorous plants need secure cages to hold them upright, and ripe fruits require daily picking in late summer. Even if you grow only one plant, you will have extra fruits that can be frozen whole, or you can cut them in half and dry them.
Garden Peach (75 days) – Introduced to home gardeners in 1862, the pink-blushed yellow fruits of ‘Garden Peach’ also have a light fuzz on their skins, like peaches. A landrace strain from Peru, ‘Garden Peach’ produces well even in wet, humid weather, and the combination of skin fuzz and yellow color seems to deter tomato fruitworms, stink bugs, and even birds. For best flavor, allow the fruits to ripen at room temperature for a few days after they are picked, until they feel soft, like peaches.
Persimmon (80 days) – If you like your tomatoes big and juicy, put ‘Persimmon’ on your life list. The yellow-orange beefsteak-type fruits make gorgeous slices, and the vigorous plants show some tolerance to late blight. Seed savers have courted this old heirloom intensively for the last forty years, resulting in an extremely stable, dependable strain.
Best Black Tomato
Black Krim (80 days) – This Russian heirloom has the good manners of a hybrid, with the stocky plants providing excellent leaf cover for the ripening fruits. In my garden 'Black Krim' consistently produces two big flushes of beautiful red fruits with purplish-black shoulders, with robust tomato flavor and solid beefsteak texture. Purple varieties like ‘Black Krim’ are often said to have a smoky flavor, but mostly they are simply different.
I should mention here that despite their beauty, the three almost-black, anthocyanin-rich ‘Indigo’ tomato varieties I have tried were bitter failures on the table. I ended up feeding them to my chickens.
Favorite Green Tomatoes
Green Zebra (75 days) is a “modern heirloom” introduced in 1985 that has steadily gained popularity in both the US and the UK. The background color of the green-striped fruits changes from lime green to yellow when ripe, and they are my favorite tomatoes to use in cucumber salads. I once grew 'Green Zebra' in a bad late blight year, and it fared better than several other varieties. The plants grow tall and need secure staking, but I have a second green variety to suggest for small beds and containers.
Also developed in the 1980s, compact 'Lime Green Salad' (60 days) grows to only 24 inches (61 cm) tall, and the fruits turn yellow-green when ripe. They have fruity-tart flavor perfect for cold marinated salads, and you can use them in place of tomatillos in zesty salsas.
Still not convinced, or perhaps you have other non-red tomato varieties that have won your heart? Please suggest them! And don’t be discouraged if you find that your favorite seed suppliers are again short on seeds. You don’t need but one or two plants of non-red tomatoes, so look for seedlings at local nurseries or farmers markets.