Tasting Tomatoes, Pt 1: Behind the Scenes at SSE

A recent tomato evaluation in the Preservation department at Seed Savers Exchange

A recent tomato evaluation in the Preservation department at Seed Savers Exchange

“How do you evaluate a tomato?” *pointing at tomatoes* “Yum . . . yum . . . and yum!” This was the response I got from Alex, Seed Savers Exchange Germination Technician and tomato enthusiast, during a recent tomato evaluation at SSE. How would you describe a “good tomato”? On a scale of 1-5 how do you quantify the perfect balance of sweetness and acidity found in a tasty tomato? 

The SSE Preservation Team conducts taste evaluations of the varieties they grow. When filling out evaluation sheets for tomato evaluations, each variety is assessed on acidity, sweetness, appearance, and given an overall rating. Steffen Mirsky, head of the SSE evaluation in the Preservation department informs that although acidity is a ranking on the evaluation sheet, in reality, the acidity of a tomato does not vary much from one variety to the next.

What does vary a lot is the sugar content. At SSE, part of the evaluation process is to test the sugar content, or brix rating, of a tomato. These rating often range from three all the way up eight. The amount of sugar, or lack of sugar, in a tomato is what makes it seem more acidic. Within the collection, the tomato with highest rating is currently the Igleheart Yellow Cherry, with an 8.2. (The Igleheart was also the winner of the 2015 Tomato Tasting event at SSE.)

When faced with the abundance and diversity of tomatoes on the table during an evaluation, one feels overwhelmed by the colors alone. You'll quickly find that tomatoes aren't just red. Ranging from purples and greens, all the way to white, once you start tasting, you quickly realizes the word "tomato" and preconceived associations you might have with the word under represents what is featured on the table in front of you.

Which is exactly what you'll experience at our Tomato Tasting on Labor Day weekend. Come test your palate on Saturday, September 2 from 1-4pm, where you can sample dozens of tomato varieties and vote for your favorite. Visitors also have the opportunity to sample salsas in a salsa tasting competition. The competition is now accepting registrants: bring your signature salsa recipe and compete for the grand prize. (Preregistration for competing is required. Register here.) Other happenings include hayride tours of the farm and workshops on saving seeds and growing and preserving tomatoes.