What’s the Difference Between These Tomato Types?

Learn about the differences between heirloom and hybrid tomatoes.

Vegetable Gardening: Tomatoes, Heirloom or Hybrid?

Do you like to grow tomatoes in your garden?  Have you heard the terms “hybrid” and “heirloom” tossed around and wondered what the difference is?  Gardeners who are passionate about vegetable gardening call this the “great tomato debate.”

If you love growing tomatoes, learn the differences between hybrid and heirloom tomatoes and which is the right type for you. Read about five ways to successfully grow tomatoes.

Plus, check out these genius gardening hacks you’ll be glad to know:

First, let’s explore the characteristics of heirloom tomatoes.

Heirloom Tomatoes:

  • These varieties have been around for 40-plus years without being crossbred with another variety.
  • Are “open-pollinated,” or pollinated naturally by insects or the wind.
  • Their seeds will produce the exact same type of tomato time after time.
  • They are more flavorful and delicious then hybrids, with a thinner skin.
  • Produced in colors such as purple, orange, yellow, red, green, white and pink.
  • Have less resistance to pests and disease then hybrids.
  • Generally do not produce as many tomatoes as hybrids.
  • Take longer to mature than hybrids.

In contrast, many of the characteristics of hybrid tomatoes differ from the heirloom varieties. Want to grow more edibles than just tomatoes? Here are more patio plants you can eat.

Hybrid Tomatoes:

  • Are created from two tomato plants, melding the best qualities of each parent.
  • Seeds produced by hybrid tomatoes produce variable offspring and may not have the same characteristics of the parent — some do and some don’t.
  • The taste is less flavorful then that of heirloom tomatoes.
  • Have greater pest and disease resistance.
  • Handle stressful growing conditions better than heirlooms.
  • Can travel for longer distances without damage to the outer skin.
  • Produce more tomatoes then heirloom varieties and mature more quickly.

So What Do These Differences Mean to You?

Heirloom tomatoes grow true from seed, taste delicious and come in many different-colored varieties. However, they also are more prone to pests/disease, take longer to grow and do not produce as many tomatoes as a hybrid variety. Here are even more tomato-growing tips!

Hybrid tomatoes are bred to capitalize on the strengths from both parents.  As a result, they produce more fruit while handling tough growing conditions.  But that comes at a cost, offering a less-flavorful tomato with tougher skin.

There are some similarities between these two types of tomatoes.  It is helpful to note that heirloom tomatoes aren’t organic. What makes a tomato organic is the way it is grown, so you can purchase “organic” hybrid and heirloom tomatoes. According to scientists, both types have the same health benefits — one is not healthier than the other. Plus, learn how to make a rustic rebar plant cage for your tomatoes.

Before we leave the great tomato debate, here is one last interesting trend to watch: In response to consumer demands, farmers are working on bringing heirloom flavor to hybrid tomatoes.

Up next, discover a dozen vegetables you can grow in pots.

Noelle Johnson
Noelle Johnson is a horticulturist and Certified Arborist who lives and gardens in the desert Southwest. Growing up in Southern California, it wasn't until she married and moved to Arizona that she began to try her hand at gardening. She received her degree in Urban Horticulture and went to work managing landscapes for golf courses and later working as a landscape designer. Noelle now helps people create the gardens of their dreams through helpful advice, focusing on using beautiful, low-maintenance plants. Freelance writing and speaking to groups about gardening for birds and butterflies keep her busy as well. Noelle occasionally serves as a bird rehabilitator in her community and says her feeder is always full. When she is not writing or helping other people with their gardens, you can find her “playing” outside – growing fruits and vegetables, and planting flowering shrubs and maybe a cactus or two.