What is the difference between heirloom and hybrid tomatoes?

Heirloom tomato-Paul Robeson

So I researched the difference between heirloom and hybrid tomatoes because I wanted to be really clear about those differences and found some interesting information I would like to share. In fact this should apply to all heirloom vs hybrid veggies not just tomatoes but since I sort of specialize in tomatoes (and pumpkins) I’ll address it from that viewpoint.


Heirloom tomatoes are seeds that have been  grown for a number of years, saved and passed down for generations.  All heirloom plants are open pollinated (OP) which means it is able to produce seedlings with all its attributes just like its parent plant. Why should we grow heirlooms? Simply put because they taste better. They might not look as pretty as they tend to crack or get catface scratches because of their thin skin and they can be more disease prone but it’s hard to beat the flavor of a heirloom tomato!  This is why you don’t see a lot of them in supermarkets as they don’t transport well  and might not be pretty-in otherwords they are not as marketable on a commercial level. Last year I picked mine the day before going to our Santa Fe Farmers Market to ensure the best flavor and many of them I had to handled very carefully so as not to crack them but oh what flavor. And you know the patrons of Farmers Markets don’t care how they look-they care how they taste.


Gardeners, farmers and plant breeders have been cross-pollinating varieties to get certain desirable traits they are looking for such as color, texture, disease resistance and taste, etc. for years. They try to get the best features of both parent tomatoes.  These are called hybrid tomatoes. Hybrids also occur naturally as well in nature but hybrids whether man made or by nature are not as stable in that they may not reproduce plants with identical traits.

Hybrids should not be confused with GMOs (genetically modified organisms)  which can be any plant, animal or microorganism which has been genetically altered using genetic engineering techniques. Hybrids are not potentially harmful to us and in fact have been popular since the early 50s’. True to American nature,  it became how they looked-not how they taste on a commercial level. Now don’t get me wrong, I grow a few hybrids every year because they generally tend to be more disease resistant and the actual tomato looks good but I only grow some in case I have a disasterous year with my heirloom tomatoes. And some hybrids taste as good as heirlooms, some look better too but overall give me a heirloom tomato anytime.

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