Tomatoes are the number one vegetable grown in home gardens. Before I embarked on my gardening ship, I always thought that tomatoes were only red in color. As I progressed in my adventure and started discovering the fascinating reality, I realized that the tomato we are accustomed to is only one variety among the 15,000 other varieties. The tomato family is huge, and within it, there is a rainbow of colors. So why the discrimination in the tomato world?
Why red tomatoes are dominant in the market?
Commercial tomatoes are mostly red, except for some small varieties, which come in yellow or orange. These red tomatoes are hybrid varieties. To fit industrial needs, they were genetically crossed (not modified). Selected varieties are cross-pollinated to retrieve their best features. The resulting tomato is an improved one and may be highly productive, disease-resistant, and has a longer shelf life.
Studies have shown that the red-colored tomatoes have the dominant gene when crossed with other colors, such as yellow and orange. The first generation of the crossing always came out red. This explains their dominance in the market.
On the other hand, colored tomatoes are generally heirlooms. This means they have been genetically the same for generations. These varieties, unfortunately, are more demanding cultivation-wise. They are more susceptible to disease and may not be as productive as the commercial ones.
What gives the tomatoes their color?
Chlorophyll, Carotenoids, and Flavonoids are the three major pigments that are responsible for the different colors we see in plants. They absorb light to produce energy for the plant. However, each pigment absorbs in different regions of the light spectrum with different wavelengths.
Chlorophylls absorb in the blue and red regions of the spectrum, but not the green. This is why we see plants in green colors. Carotenoids absorb in the blue region, reflecting the yellow, orange, and red colors. Flavonoids absorb in the blue-green and ultraviolet regions with shorter wavelengths, adding hues of blues and greens to the red and yellow colors they reflect.
In tomatoes, chlorophyll is in high concentration in the early stages, hence the green color. As they ripen they the chlorophyll beaks down into the yellow color. Then the tomato gains its final color depending on the pigment that’s abundant in it.
If lycopene is in high concentration, the tomato will be red. If Carotene is the dominant one, the tomato will be yellow or orange. And in between these colors, there is a wide range of color hues.
Does the color of the tomato affect the taste?
It seems like almost everyone agrees that the difference in color makes a difference in flavor as well. Speaking of flavor, classic tomato flavor is mostly related to the level of its acidity. However, no two agree on what acidity is best. I, personally, prefer milder and more fruity tomatoes for my salads, while I find acidic tomatoes are more suited for cooking. Let’s take a look and the different tomatoes.
They are seem to be the highest acidity-wise. They deliver the classic tomato flavor, and they are great for canning, cooking, and turning into paste.
Some of my favorite varieties are Abu Rawan, Roma, celebrity, early girl, and better boy.
Pink tomatoes offer milder acidity with a slightly sweeter flavor. Similar to the red, they make great paste and sauces, but they are also great raw. My absolute favorite is the Pink Birkley tomato.
Yellow & Orange tomatoes
Tomatoes with yellow shades offer very low acidity with a sweet fruity flavor. They tend to have thicker skin, but the juiciness makes up for it. They are better eaten raw in salads or salsas, but you can also cook them.
A few of my favorites are: Orange Wellington and Artisan grape.
Purple & Black Tomatoes
Deep dark tomatoes have a high acidity along the line of the red tomatoes. They have richer flavor for some it is almost smoky. They are very attractive in salads, but you can also have them cooked into a sauce.
I have never grown a dark-colored tomato, but some of the most famous varieties are Black Prince, Cherokee Purple, and black cherry.
Not only Flowers
Most people think that vegetable gardening is dull when it comes to aesthetics. The truth is we should think outside the box (the market). There are endless possibilities of colors, even in vegetables. Other than the green bean, there are purple, yellow, and speckled beans. Other than the purple eggplant, there are the zebra, Blanca, and pink eggplant.
Open up your imagination and explore the world of colorful vegetables.