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A tomato mix

Reviews on tomatoes that were either bought, or grown but of unknown name:
Ecoville Albert Heyn Supercoop Looie Tomaten

This page started as a taste test of tomatoes that I'd bought, around 2008, as a mix from a market stand found in Dordrecht (and possibly elsewhere) calling itself "Ecoville" and selling a wide range of fruits and vegetables: gooseberries, feijoas (pronounced "fech-o-wa"), most members of the cabbage family including calabrese, onions, various types of mushroom and of course tomatoes, in the sizes big, small and mixed. I bought a kilogram of this tomato mix of shapes, colours and sizes (this mix was much more expensive than just the standard red type, I must add) and took them home to sort them into the various types. I wanted to ask the name of each, but after finally going back to the stand and then promising to bring an example and later producing a print of the tomato group photo I had taken, which was found useless because of its washed-out colours - as the run-on sentence suggests, all this took months - I gave up and decided to ask next year. When next year rolled round, I was living elsewhere. Having foreseen such a turn of events, I'd saved seed, but due to humidity it had gone mouldy and I had to clean and sow all the seed at once, and somehow managed to kill all the seedlings.

So I can't say anything about the plants or how it was to grow them, other than that one unlabelled batch of seedlings was potato-leaved. As to what they were, I can only guess. Added to this list is an impressively tasty supermarket tomato (if that isn't an oxymoron!) of whose name I am similarly ignorant, and whose seedlings met the same fate. Any other impressive anonymous supermarket tomatoes I may find will be added to this page.

This is how many tomatoes were in the mix: enough to fill two-point-five plastic boxes that usually hold a kilogram of cherries each. Not shown is the single Green Zebra tomato in the mix, which I instantly recognized and as instantly snarfed.

This seemingly endless variation was soon sorted into 11 different types: pink roma, pink salad, yellow-orange salad, lemon-yellow salad, red grape, orange grape, yellow cherry, pale yellow (presumably "white") cherry, brown cherry, purple cherry and striped brown-green cherry. The red salad tomatoes are Truffaut Précoce and came off my own windowsill. They were added to the mix to show the difference between a real red tomato and a pink one.

Such a mix of different and contrasting colour was an ideal opportunity to show the not always obvious difference between similar tomato colours. The first photograph shows purple versus brown (which is often called "black", although any dark tomato may be called black).

The second photograph shows "white" versus yellow.

The third photo used a homegrown Truffaut Précoce to show the difference between red and pink, but the red tomato didn't seem to contrast very strongly with the pink ones around it. So I photographed them side by side from a different angle. Still not satisfied, I put them on a dustbin lid by way of neutral evenly coloured background. Though fuzzy, the third photograph shows best what makes a pink tomato pink and not red.

Now, the taste test, box by box, type by type:

Red grape

Is this the original Red Grape? Most were oval, the small ones were round, one was even flask-shaped. I'm not sure whether the flask was a separate kind, but it tasted the same as the others: firm and sweet, almost like Bloody Butcher.

Lemon-yellow salad

There are many yellow salad types, so this tomato would have to identified by taste rather than appearance. And by the taste I can already guess it isn't, to name two yellows of good reputation, Taxi or Czech's Excellent Yellow. It is almost as bland as Yellow Pear, which has no noticeable taste. The flesh is soft, the gel is delicately acid.

White cherry

Names I can pull out of the air, although I haven't yet tasted any of these: Dr Carolyn, Snowstorm, Ghost Cherry, Mirabelle Blanche. It's too small and transparent to be Snow White Cherry, and not sweet enough. This cherry is as soft-fleshed as the lemon-yellow salad tomato, and has a zingy acid taste with no sweetness whatsoever.

Yellow-orange salad

This is the hue also called "golden". Again, this type and size of yellow tomato could be many things. Its flesh is firmer than that of the lemon-yellow salad tomato, and it is gently sweet, almost as much as Tangella, although Tangella is a darker, fuller orange.

Brown-striped-green cherry

Is this the Black Zebra Cherry that I saw on the site of Solana Seeds, or a cross between Green Zebra and a black/brown cherry, or is Black Zebra Cherry itself a cross between Green Zebra and a black/brown cherry? But there are other brown-green-striped cherries, Zebrino F1 and others whose names elude me. In any case, this tastes exactly like two tomatoes spliced into one: the green is like Green Zebra, with a green sweet pepper taste that I don't really like, and the brown has the full taste of the brown cherry in this mix. Some were riper than others; the riper the fruit, the more "brown" flavour and the less "green" flavour it has, so I can see how lovers of the green tomato taste might advise to eat these before they are fully ripe.

Yellow cherry

Most of these cherries were round, the larger ones had pointed ends. Name guessing again: Lollipop? Galinas? Blondkopfchen? Gold Nugget? Probably the first, as this cherry has no sweetness and delicately acid gel, like the lemon-yellow salad tomato but without the blandness, making it more pronouncedly acid. What a coincidence; lemon-coloured tomatoes are not necessary lemon-flavoured, yet the three in this mix (including the "white") have that lemony zing.

Pink salad

The flesh of this tomato (Opal Essence?) is the softest of the whole mix, and the taste is similarly limp: like the taste of salmon, watered down. It is sour, but in a vague, non-committal way, like a tomato that doesn't want to taste of anything, yet can't escape its chemical composition. Not a nice tomato at all, but an intriguing one for both its appearance, softness and wayward taste.

(This rather dark photograph shows how and why pink tomatoes can look red on photographs. Check the cut-off tomatoes at the top of the next picture for the actual colour.)

Brown cherry

Would this be Brown Berry, the reddish type of "black" as opposed to the clearly purple Black Cherry? It has a full and intense tomato taste, but without being either sweet or earthy/smoky as black tomatoes are expected to be. One of the nicest in the mix, the winner being the orange grape.

Pink roma

After the strange weak taste and substance of the pink salad tomato, I half expected the pink roma to figuratively slap a trout across my face in the same way. Surprise: the pink roma tastes exactly like a red roma: sweet, a bit sour, on the bland side because of being a paste tomato, but no worse and even a fair bit better than a supermarket tomato. I've read that the "pink" mutation which makes the fruit's skin white rather than yellow can spontaneously appear and disappear in any red tomato type, so it may well be that the only difference beween this and a standard red roma is the colour.

Purple cherry

Possibly the Black Cherry that brought black mini-tomatoes into fashion, this one has a taste as full as the brown cherry, but noticeably sweeter; some (the unripe ones?) were tart. If not for the tart ones, this cherry would have beaten the brown cherry for taste, but the brown cherry surpasses it by being more consistently tasty.

Orange grape

I called this a grape because it is elongated, but the longer ones were flask-shaped rather than grape-like. Not knowing any orange mini-flask tomatoes, I have no idea what this might be, and very much regret losing all seed of it, as it was the nicest tomato in the mix. Like the golden-yellow salad tomato, together with which it upholds the notion that orange tomatoes are sweet, it has firm flesh and the sweet, fruity taste of a miniature Orange Banana.

A few weeks later when the mix was sold out, I bought instead a huge boat-shaped tomato called "Coeur de boeuf". As this simply means "oxheart" and this tomato was a beefsteak, this means that not only could this tomato be just about anything, but asking the sellers for a precise name would be useless. The tomato was orange-yellow with a red blush at the bottom end which continued as a minimal red marbling on the inside. Could this be, I asked myself after perusing a catalogue, Kellogg's Breakfast? Pineapple? Old German? Northern Lights? What it was not, sadly enough: tasty. The yellow meat was as bland as cucumber, and, ironically, lemony precisely in the red part. Then again, it is human error to think that anything lemon-coloured must be lemon-flavoured; orange tomatoes are known to be sweeter than reds, and precisely red tomatoes can be very sour ("that good old-fashioned tomato taste"). If it had been a cucumber, I wouldn't have had reason to complain. As it is, I was disappointed.

To really turn my world upside down, after an ecologically grown tomato that tastes like a supermarket tomato, a supermarket supplies me with a tomato that tastes like an heirloom. The Dutch supermarket Albert Heyn, like most supermarkets, sells only red tomatoes in the sizes salad, roma, cherry and beefsteak, some of them ecologically grown (but no less watery for that). But one day it had, next to the usual boxes of red cherries, ditto boxes of yellow cherries. Compared to the tastier but still bland red ones, the light citron-yellow cherries, half transparent to show their greenish gel, burst with freshness. They introduce a subtle distinction between "sour" and "acid", the first being a depressing taste that makes lips pucker, the second the uplifting taste of lemon drops. Paradoxically, it was probably their greater sweetness that made the yellow cherries seem more acid than the red ones. If I had to guess, this would be... Lollipop? Or a hybrid? A visit to "AH" was never complete without buying a box of yellow goodness.

Sadly, the best food is always the first to disappear off the shelves, so one day the cherries were gone. They have not returned yet; when they do, it will be cause for celebration.

Three years later (2011): still no lemon-yellow cherries, but instead a mix of orange and red mini-flasks (taste forgettable, mentioned only to show that AH does try) and a pack of exactly four black tomatoes. Yum yum! According to the label on the pack, these are "Mini Kumato" from Belgium. I draw a blank. An F1, perhaps. They were slightly larger than salad-sized, not quite beefsteak material, and, being supermarket tomatoes, more weak-tasting than they should be. The naturally strong black tomato taste compensated for this to the point that they tasted as common red supermarket tomatoes should taste. They were sourish, not as sour as my home-grown Black Krim, just enough to offset the sweetness. And they were sweetish, just enough that they could not qualify as sour. As said: what the common supermarket tomato should taste like.

PS. Found it: there's a picture of "Kumato" at Tomato garden pictures under "Tomato varieties 1".

AH tries again, but sadly fails! This attempt is a pink pear, suitable, as the packaging says, for stuffing. Indeed; and maybe the stuffing might give it some actual flavour. It is hollow-ish, with watery flesh and tiredly sour seeds. The "pink" is really off-red, appearing dark orange under the yellowish kitchen light.

In 2012, AH tries again, this time with success! A few years ago, they sold two-in-one packs of red and orange mini-flasks, whose taste was forgettable. This year's attempt is three-in-one packs of red, orange and yellow grape and cherry tomatoes. Like the Kumato packs, these are from Belgium, which is seemingly more discerning about tomatoes than the Netherlands.

The orange grapes taste as much like tangerine-flavoured lemonade as their colour suggests. The flesh is sweet and the gel not overly sour. The taste of these is close to the orange grape that is my favourite from Ecoville's cherry mix; maybe they're the same.

The yellow cherries strongly resemble the "yellow goodness" mentioned higher up, but seem slightly darker. Their colour varies from pale greenish yellow (not fully ripe yet?) to golden yellow. All have the same delicate lemon taste due to the gel, but the flesh on the fully golden cherries is almost as sweet as that of the orange grapes. Clearly a cherry that's edible both underripe and ripe.

The red grapes, finally, are a dully acid normal tomato flavour to remind the eater why the orange and yellow ones are so special. Taste varies, though; in another pack bought in 2013, the orange ones were a bit limp and tasteless, while the red were firm and sweet.

Sometime in 2014, AH started selling the three types separately, rather than in a set of three which added to the price. The red grapes were already being sold separately by both AH and other supermarkets as "snoeptomaatjes" (tomato candy), but now the yellow cherries and orange grapes are sold as "mini yellow" and "mini orange", country of origin: Spain.

And then, Supercoop makes a brave attempt! The "wild" (ie. heirloom and/or unusual) tomatoes that I'd heard of being sold at Albert Heyn and had bought at Ecoville were now being sold in small boxes at Supercoop and yes, these tomatoes have a common origin: an organic tomato farm somewhere in the Netherlands.

I bought a couple of boxes, since, although an attempt had been made to put all the different coloured varieties in each box, some boxes were mostly in one colour. The box I photographed happened to be evenly mixed. There were ten varieties in all, nine of them in the picture below (the white cherry was from a later box).

Sadly, the taste of these tomatoes was overall not very developed, especially the purple ones. A poor year for tomatoes, maybe. Here are my impressions per colour:

White cherry: very sweet, slightly zingy.

Yellow cherry: sweet.

Green striped salad: probably Green Zebra. Sour, mushy and bland.

Orange grape: sweet and zingy.

Orange salad: sour and slightly zingy, it was probably meant to be sweeter.

Large pink cherry: sweetsour, strangely zingy, interesting. Could this be the same variety as the soft, limp-tasting pink salad above? (Which I thought might be Opal Essence, but now suspect of having been Brandysweet Plum, in which case it would have been the potato-leaved batch of seedlings.)

Red mini-roma: sweetish. Which, for a roma type, is good enough.

(Oops, no separate pic, see the rightmost tomato in the open box.) Red salad: sweetish, slightly earthy. A rare instance of a commercially available red tomato having an interesting taste.

Brown cherry: sweet and smokey with a light zing. The tomatoes are slightly elongated; I wounder if they could be Black Plum.

Purple cherry: sour with a bland aftertaste; a pity, as they can taste so much better.

At the same time, the yearly "fawn on the Queen" festival being just over, there was a sale on rather dried-out and scabby orange tomatoes which had been stocked for that event. Though not a fan of the Dutch royal family, I bought them anyway for the fact that orange tomatoes tend to be sweeter than red ones. It seems symbolically appropriate that these tomatoes, sold solely for their Prince-of-Orange colour, were watery and tasteless.

Looie Tomaten is a company dedicated to growing tasty tomatoes, one of whose products, "Looie Subliem" (red cherry toms packaged in triangular cardboard boxes, very expensive) I found and sampled at AH when they were going cheap. Although the impression I got from the packaging was that this was a small family business, and that is undoubtedly how it started, it is now a large company with its own website and several branches, one of them in Spain. The diversity is a bit disappointing, just four tomato types of which one is only available in Spain, and the names (translated: Dream Tomato, Honey Tomato, Looije Sublime) were coined and trademarked by the company, so there is no way to know if these are heirloom tomatoes and if so, what their real name is. Since the company is not only into "taste" but also into "eco" and "personnel-friendly" and "making the world a better place", its website's news page has slightly invasive items, like random employees having to introduce themselves, their hobbies and interests (which reveals that the company relies on Polish labour) and company managers helping farmers in poor countries, or visiting beautiful America! (Have these people ever seen a trailer park?) And their eco-friendly tomatoes are grown on substrate in greenhouses, because let's face it, that's the only way to profitably grow tomatoes in this country. Still, the taste of these tomatoes is consistently top-notch Bloody Butcher sweet - sweet enough to have been used as a flavour in an Italian ice cream parlour, the website reports - because not only do the plants get the best care possible in a professional environment, but each crop that's picked is subjected to a taste test before sending it off to market.

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