Vegetable Gardening: Tomatoes, Heirloom or Hybrid?

Have you ever wondered what the difference between heirloom and hybrid tomatoes?

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, then let’s get to bottom of what the differences between hybrid and heirloom tomatoes really are and which is the right type for you.

Heirloom Tomato

First, let us talk about the characteristics of heirloom tomatoes.


– Are varieties of tomatoes that have been around for 40+ years without having been crossbred with another variety of tomato.

– They are ‘open-pollinated’, which means that they are pollinated naturally by insects or by 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.

– Heirlooms are produced in a variety of colors such as purple, orange, yellow, red, green, white and pink.

– Have less resistance to pests and disease then hybrids.

– They generally do not produce as many tomatoes as hybrids.

– The tomatoes take longer to mature then hybrids.

Cherry Tomatoes-001

In contrast, many of the characteristics of hybrid tomatoes differ from the heirloom varieties.


– Are created from two different tomato plants, each a different variety in order to get the best qualities of each parent.

– Seeds produced by hybrid tomatoes may can produce variable offspring and may not have the same characteristics of the parent – some do and some do not.

– The taste is less flavorful then that of heirloom tomatoes.

– Have greater pest and disease resistance.

– Handles stressful growing conditions better then heirlooms.

– Can travel for longer distances without damage to the outer skin.

– Produces more tomatoes then heirloom varieties and mature more quickly.

San Marzano Tomatoes

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.

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

green tomato

There are some things that aren’t different 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 both ‘organic’ hybrid and heirloom tomatoes.

According to scientists, both types of tomatoes have the same health benefits – one is not healthier then the other.

So which side do you fall on in the great tomato debate?  I have grown both types in my garden with good results.  I love growing San Marzano tomatoes, which are an heirloom variety of tomato that I like to use for making sauce.
My personal opinion is that when you grow produce in your home garden – one of the goals is having fruit and vegetables that taste better then the produce from your local grocery store.  So for me, that would be growing more heirloom varieties then hybrid.  However, if you have difficult growing conditions where pests and disease are a problem, then perhaps hybrids would be a good choice for you.

Cherry Tomatoes

 Before we leave the great tomato debate, here is an interesting fact:  In response to consumers wanting more flavorful tomatoes like heirlooms that also have the ability to handle tough conditions like hybrids – farmers are now working on improving the flavor of hybrid tomatoes.

So, what type of tomatoes do you grow?  Please list the variety and why you like them.

For great tomato heirloom and hybrid varieties, check out the article “Best Tomatoes to Grow”.

Noelle Johnson
Noelle Johnson is a horticulturist and certified arborist who lives and gardens in the desert Southwest. When she is not writing or helping other people with their gardens, you can find her growing fruits and vegetables, and planting flowering shrubs and maybe a cactus or two.