How to set up a tomato tasting

How to set up a tomato tasting

Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) has been holding tomato tastings for ten years. The events have always been popular and we often have guests attending from across the country. But if you can’t make the trek to Heritage Farm in Northeast Iowa, here's how you can set up a tasting of your own.

Read More

Top 3 Heirloom Tomatoes Chosen at SSE 2015 Tomato Tasting

Top 3 Heirloom Tomatoes Chosen at SSE 2015 Tomato Tasting

The 10th annual Tomato Tasting at Heritage Farm near Decorah, IA took place on September 5th, 2015. Hundreds of attendees sampled heirloom and open-pollinated tomatoes to find the best flavor and crown a champion.

Read More

(Almost) Instant Replay: 9th Annual Tomato Tasting Results

(Almost) Instant Replay: 9th Annual Tomato Tasting Results

Perhaps the only thing that the staff a Seed Savers Exchange love more about their jobs than growing plants  is actually getting to eat some of the amazing fruits that these plants produce. As part of our work here we get to take part in taste evaluations and no evaluation is more anticipated and beloved than our Annual Tomato Tasting.

Read More

Reinvention of the Humble Tomato Tasting

Reinvention of the Humble Tomato Tasting

Due to the popularity of our on-site Tomato Tasting, and the wild success of last year’s Apple Tasting event in Des Moines, we had the idea to hit the road with our tomatoes. As we began developing plans for a Tomato Tasting Block Party at the Tiny Diner in Minneapolis, we got inspired to expand beyond our initial vision for an off-site outreach effort.

Read More

And the winner is...

And the winner is...

Despite concerns that our tomatoes would not ripen in time for the event, over 40 heirloom and open-pollinated tomato varieties (and one mega-mart hybrid tomato) competed for the title of this year's favorite. SSE staff, friends, and family brought tomatoes from gardens across northeast Iowa and Wisconsin to serve over 800 event attendees.

Read More

Tomato Tasting and Seed Saving Workshop

tomato tasting 2011 JT 060

Seed Savers Exchange near Decorah, Iowa, is hosting a free Tomato Tasting and Seed Saving Workshop on Saturday, September 1, 2012. The Tomato Tasting will run from 1:00 – 4:00 pm, offering visitors the opportunity to sample a wide variety of heirloom tomatoes and learn how to save tomato seeds. Dester tomato image

The event will be held at the Lillian Goldman Visitors Center. More than 40 varieties of tomatoes of all colors and sizes will be available, including yellow cherry, pink beefsteak, striped stuffing, red grape and green roma’s. This year’s tasting will include 10 rare varieties from Seed Savers Exchange’s seed bank collection. Last year, Dester, a beefsteak tomato from the rare varieties was voted most popular.

The Oneota Food Co-op in Decorah is sponsoring this year’s Salsa Contest. Limited to 25 entrants, applications are available at the Co-op, by calling 563-382-4666, and online at The registration deadline is Monday, August 27. The co-op will also be providing food for purchase during the event.

Tomato tasters sampling over 40 varieties of tomatoesThere will be tomato seed saving workshops beginning at 12:00 noon featuring Seed Savers Exchange staff as well as tomato advisor and expert Craig LeHoullier. LeHoullier will give two talks, Tasting the Biodiversity of Tomatoes and Tomatoes with Great Stories and Great Flavors. Visitors will be able to tour Seed Savers Exchange’s tomato gardens. Guided hayride tours begin at 12:00 noon and are scheduled for every 45 minutes.

“This family event gives people the opportunity to experience the wide diversity of tomatoes available, and learn how to improve their own gardening experience,” says Diane Ott Whealy, co-founder of Seed Savers Exchange. The event will include music with special activities planned for kids.

All events are free to the public.

Founded in 1975, Seed Savers Exchange operates an 890-acre farm in northeast Iowa where thousands of rare fruit, vegetable, and other plant varieties are regenerated and preserved in a central collection. Its non-profit mission is conserving and promoting America’s culturally diverse but endangered food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants. For information visit


For more information contact:

Shannon Carmody Seed Savers Exchange 563-387-5630

The results are in!


The ‘Dester’ took home the blue ribbon at the 6th Annual Tomato Tasting and Seed Saving Workshop at Heritage Farm last weekend. With over 40 varieties in the lineup, the competition was steep for this year’s unlikely winner.

The ‘ Dester’ tomato was something of a Cinderella story from the SSE trial gardens. Every year our commercial crew grows out a number of new varieties from the collection or from member-growers to discover new offerings for the SSE catalog. This year a champion was born! The ‘Dester’ is a large, full-flavored, pink beefsteak tomato. It was the first tomato on the sampling line, yet the flavor stuck in visitors’ minds when it came time to cast their vote—more than 40 tomato samples later.

Other top finishers included last year’s favorite, ‘Lemon Drop,’ a small yellow-green cherry tomato with a sweet—almost tart—flavor, and ‘Black Sea Man,’ a Russian heirloom with brownish-pink fruit and full-bodied or “complete” flavor, as one participant put it. The salsa tasting line featured 14 homemade recipes. Ironically, the blue ribbon went to Anne Sheahan’s Mango Salsa, proving the eclectic pallets of this year’s voters. (We’ll try to get the heirloom tomato version of the recipe for next year!)

Visitors passed through the display gardens snapping pictures of the towering, 10-foot-tall ‘Hot Biscuits’ amaranth, and the barn wall completely covered in ‘Grandpa Ott’s’ morning glory on their way to seed saving workshops.

SSE tomato advisor Craig LeHoullier was back by popular demand to provide a personal and passionate introduction to the cult of the heirloom tomato, including a list of the tomatoes he would choose to be stranded with on a desert island. (In case you’re wondering, or planning for a "three-hour tour," his list included ‘Cherokee Purple,’ ‘Lucky Cross,’ and ‘Cherokee Chocolate’.)

Craig’s talk was followed by a lively question and answer session, which gave him a chance to show off his encyclopedic knowledge of heirloom tomatoes and their histories. He even managed to dispel a few myths before breaking for a trip through the tomato tasting line. (Don’t believe the hype, says LeHoullier there’s no such thing as a low-acid or disease-resistant tomato!)

“The joy of gardening is that there are no absolutes,” said LeHoullier before prompting the crowd for their favorite qualities of heirloom tomatoes.

Meanwhile SSE staff led a hands-on workshop on saving tomato seeds.

“One thing I try to remember when saving seed at home is that I don’t need 100 fruit to get started,” said workshop facilitator and SSE Horticultural Technician Gabi Masek. “Two to five is really all you need!”

The workshop covered everything first-time seed savers would need to know to start saving their own seed, including ideas of what to do with extra seeds, like trying a home germination test.

While the adults took notes at the workshops and tasting tables, the kids displayed the fun factor of heirloom tomatoes with a tomato toss and ketchup-making activity led by SSE Display Gardener Grant Olsen.

“I already have a few ideas of how to make the tomatoes a little sloppier for next year’s toss,” said Olsen with a grin.

Whether you were tasting, tossing, or taking notes, we hope everyone walked away from this year’s Tomato Tasting and Seed Saving Workshop with a little inspiration for their own gardens.

 And if you missed the event, here are a few tomato seed saving tips to help you get get started:

In nature, ripe tomatoes fall from the plant and slowly rot exposing the seeds, allowing natural weathering to break down the slimy gelatinous coating on the seed.  This is easily replicated through the process of fermentation.  To save tomato seed, seed savers must deliberately remove the coating from the tomato seed. Here’s how:

  • Take the seeds out of your best looking tomatoes and put them into any container that can hold liquid.  Don’t worry if there is pulp in with the seeds.  Keep as much juice with the seeds as possible.
  • Some seed saving techniques suggest adding water to the mixture.  We recommend not adding water unless the mixture evaporates before it starts fermenting.  This can be done by adding about ½ cup of non-chlorinated water to 1 cup of tomato seed and pulp.
  • Fermentation should happen in 24 hours-4 days.  This depends on many variables such as air temperature or how ripe the fruit is.  A layer of white mold may grow across the top.  Once this mixture has fermented continue to the next steps so seeds do not germinate.
  • Think about where to put the tomato seed mixture because inevitably it will smell. You may want to cover your mixture with a mesh screen to keep out fruit flies.
  • After fermenting, add water and stir.  Mature seeds will sink to the bottom.  If the seed is light enough to float, it is probably not fully formed, mature, or viable.  Don’t save these seeds.
  • Pour off pulpy mixture, but not the viable seeds in the bottom of your container.
  • Pour the remaining liquid into a kitchen strainer and wash thoroughly under the faucet until clean.
  • Drain, and then spread the seeds out thinly on surface to dry.  Any substrate to help them dry as quickly as possible will work: coffee filter, paper plates, paper towel, or wax paper.  It is best to dry seeds out of direct sunlight; this could take up to 4 weeks.
  • Store the seeds in an envelope or seed packet and place in a dry, cool location.  You can assess the quality of your storage conditions by adding the room temperature in Fahrenheit plus relative humidity.  Try to keep that number under 100; the lower the number the better the conditions for seed storage.

But don’t forget to follow the most important rule:  Put a label on everything, every step of the way.  Because in the words of our collection curator, “No one wants to plant something, thinking they have one variety and end up with something else.”

Note from a seed saver: Tomatoes will, most commonly, self-pollinate, so seeds saved will remain ‘true to type’ without worrying about cross-pollination.  However, there are always exceptions.  Some tomatoes can cross pollinate, this is dependent on many factors such as flower shape, environment, and biodiversity.  To ensure seed purity you may want to plant only one variety or spread different varieties throughout your garden.