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What Is a Black Tomato?

By Amy Hunter
Updated May 16, 2024
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A black tomato is a member of a family of tomatoes that, as the name implies, is black in color. While they may look odd, the taste is exceptional. There are many varieties of black tomatoes, from cherry size to larger, slicing tomatoes.

The black tomato originated in Russia and slowly spread to other parts of the world. Originally, black tomatoes were available in only a few varieties, but as the intense taste became more popular, gardeners began to develop more varieties. Estimates are that there are at least 50 different varieties of black tomatoes available for consumers.

Someone interested in trying black tomatoes will probably not have much luck at their local grocery store. Many people find the appearance of black tomatoes shocking, and they have a shorter shelf life than the hybrid varieties specifically developed for mass transportation and grocery store display. Local farmer's markets may have vendors that sell black tomatoes, particularly markets that attract heirloom farmers.

Another way to try black tomatoes is to grow your own. Black tomato seeds are available through many mail order catalogs. Start the seeds inside approximately three months before the weather will be warm enough to transplant the tomatoes.

By growing your own black tomatoes, you can pick some of the most interesting varieties without worrying about what is available locally. While many newer varieties of black tomatoes exist, to understand the true flavor and appeal of a black tomato, choose one of the many heirloom varieties. The seeds of many of the heirloom black tomatoes trace back to Russia.

Black From Tula is a black beefsteak tomato with a sweet flavor. It produces large fruit. The Black Krim is an abundant producer with rich tomatoes that have a mildly salty flavor. The Black Pear tomato is, as the name implies, shaped like a small pear, and is excellent for eating on its own. The Cherokee Purple is an heirloom variety that originated in the United States, in Tennessee. It is sweet and very productive, although its thin skin means that it is best eaten right out of the garden.

Black heirloom tomatoes, like other heirloom varieties, are indeterminate tomatoes. This means that the tomatoes will continue to grow and produce fruit all summer. Most modern day tomato plants are determinate, which means they reach a certain size, set their fruit, and then their life cycle is complete. Determinate fruit are more compact and easily supported by tomato cages. Indeterminate varieties, such as the heirloom black tomatoes, grow better on a trellis, as they will quickly outgrow a tomato cage.

What Are the Most Common Black Tomato Varieties?

You can find over 50 types of black tomatoes, and the most common types may convince you to stop buying grocery store tomatoes. Compared to the unsatisfying taste of commercially grown tomatoes, black tomatoes have a bold, rich flavor and superior meaty texture. The first black tomatoes originated in the Crimea region near the Black Sea, and eventually, new varieties were produced to showcase the fruit’s extraordinary flavor.

Black Krim

Thought to be one of the earliest heirloom black tomatoes, the Black Krim is a large beefsteak tomato ideal for eating in a salad or sliced on a sandwich. Its slightly salty taste with smoky undertones makes the tomato one of the most sought-after varieties for cooks, gardeners and tomato lovers.

Cherokee Purple

This dark purple tomato can grow to 12 ounces or more, and its roots date back to the early 20th century in the Cherokee region of Tennessee. Unlike many heirloom varieties, the Cherokee Purple is resistant to disease and relatively easy to grow. It has a sweet, smoky taste that’s best enjoyed fresh.

Black Beauty

Although many black tomatoes have a dark red or purple color, the Black Beauty is jet black until it ripens. After approximately 85 days on the vine, the fruit changes from black to dark purple. When you slice into the fruit, you see the vibrant, crimson flesh that’s unforgettable in fresh salads and antipasto.

Chocolate Amazon

If you can find this rare variety, the Chocolate Amazon is sure to change your view on tomatoes. Unlike most warm-weather plants, the Chocolate Amazon continues to produce fruit into the fall months. The fruit can weigh 1 pound or more, and the succulent flavor is tomato perfection.

Velvet Night

When you live in a residence with limited outdoor space, the Velvet Night may be the perfect tomato for your home. It’s a dwarf plant that produces round cherry tomatoes with an unmistakable sweet flavor. Compared to hybrid cherry tomatoes, Velvet Nights are much larger: they can weigh up to 2 ounces.

Chocolate Stripes

Unlike any fruit or vegetable you’ve seen before, the Chocolate Stripes is a feast for your eyes and tastebuds. It has a deep red color with splashes of dark green stripes. The plants are highly productive, and the fruit is enormous. Some plants can produce fruit over 2 ½ pounds.

Paul Robeson

With a shorter growing period, the Paul Robeson tomato reaches maturity only 65 days after it germinates. The tomatoes have a dark olive color near the skin and a purple base color. If you’re searching for Paul Robeson seeds online, you may have trouble ordering them until next year. They’re one of the top-selling black varieties, and seed companies have struggled to meet the demand.

Tasmanian Chocolate

With the same shortened growing season as the Paul Robeson, you can enjoy a bounty of Tasmanian Chocolate tomatoes in early summer. The large purple/green tomatoes are supported by a tiny plant. The plant only reaches three feet tall, and it needs a sturdy tomato cage to prevent the plant from collapsing under the weight of the tomatoes.

Where Can You Find Heirloom Black Tomatoes?

Although there are a few exceptions, most big box stores and corporate grocery-store chains do not carry black tomatoes. Compared to commercially grown hybrid tomatoes, black varieties are not as productive, profitable or easy to store. The plants produce less fruit than the genetically-modified red varieties. Some small privately-owned markets sell heirloom black tomatoes, but the price drives many customers away. Because they’re harder to grow and store, you may spend 20 to 30% more on a black tomato.

Your best source for delicious fruit is farmer’s markets. The price of the tomatoes will still be higher than red beefsteak varieties, but you’ll get a better deal than you would at a store. Another place to check is a local community garden. If you become a garden member, you can share vegetables and growing tips with the other gardeners.

Is a Black Tomato More Difficult To Grow Than a Hybrid?

Commercial farmers rely on determinate tomato plants for large harvests, but most black tomatoes are indeterminate. When plants are indeterminate, the fruit grows and ripens at different times, and you can enjoy them throughout the season. When determinate tomatoes reach maturity, the harvest is complete.

Dwarf black varieties are simpler to grow than the larger types because the plants are easier to control. Prolific plants like the Chocolate Stripes or Cherokee Purple require a trellis rather than a metal cage to develop correctly. Since the harvest period of black tomatoes is longer, you have to fight off the insects, birds, and wildlife for the entire summer, but the hard work pays off when you feast on the tasty fruit.

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Discussion Comments

By anon978076 — On Nov 14, 2014

Black tomatoes are actually purple in color. I wouldn't describe their taste as intense. Brandywines are intense. Blacks are more nuanced and complex in flavor, with a hint of saltiness. Also, there are heirloom tomatoes that are determinates. I have grown Clear Pink Early and Healani, which are both determinate and open-pollinated heirlooms.

By sapphire12 — On May 08, 2011

My family love to grow Cherokee Purple. They really are delicious and grow quickly, and are great in sauces and salsas. I love heirloom tomato varieties in particular because they have such a rich heritage and, to me, feel less manufactured than the varieties you could just buy at a grocery store.

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