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Tomato Color

Ever wonder what causes tomato varieties to be the color that they are? Yes, it is genetic and encoded in the varieties ancestry. But usage of the words change over time. These definitions should help to clear things up a bit.

Red (synonym Scarlet) tomatoes have crimson (pink) or red interiors with yellow skin.

Pink (synonym Crimson) tomatoes have crimson (pink) or red interiors and clear skin.  It should be noted that historically, "purple" was used as a synonym for pink when describing tomato color in old seed catalogs.

Green tomatoes, not to be confused with unripe fruit, exhibit at least two variants - yellow-green colored (i.e. 'Cherokee Green') and bright-green with a slight yellowish tinge (i.e. 'Aunt Ruby's German Green').

The yellow-green color is created from yellow skin over green interior and the bright-green color is from fruit with nearly clear skin over green interior.

Black and Purple tomatoes refer to varieties that produce pink fruit but that retain varying degrees of chlorophyll at maturity to darken the shoulders and interiors. That is, they have clear skin like pink tomatoes but over a dark interior.

In some varieties, the exterior hue of the fruit may not exhibit dark shoulders at maturity and instead will appear dark pink in color, but inside, the chlorophyll will be more obvious.

Examples of Black and Purple varieties are, 'Black from Tula', 'Cherokee Purple' and 'Dwarf Crimson Sockeye'.

Brown tomatoes, like Black, retain some chlorophyll (green pigment) during ripening. This green color combined with a crimson ripe interior produces a darker red coloration. 'Cherokee Chocolate' and 'Paul Robeson' (brown tomatoes) have yellow skin over a dark red interior.

Orange, Yellow, and White tomatoes come is many different shades - from pale lemon to deep golden to bright orange. These are created by variations in flesh pigments with clear or yellow skins. White or Ivory tomatoes are not truly white but very pale yellow with clear or very pale yellow skin.

As of the 2000s, true "Purple" tomatoes, also sometimes referred to as Blue, now exist. This further confuses the name game. So now we have the 19th to early 20th century use of the word (as a synonym for pink), the chlorophyll retaining fruits like 'Cherokee Purple', and now, fruits rich in the pigment called anthocyanin.

Color Relates Questions and Answers

Q. I have large translucent or yellowish areas on my tomato fruit. What's the problem?

A. This is not a problem caused by pests or disease but by the sun.  Specifically, too much of it.  It is called sun scald and is caused when heat from from direct sunlight is so intense that it destroys the color pigments of the tomato. The tomato, although unattractive, is still edible.  This is often a result of tomato varieties with poor leaf coverage.

Q. Will tomatoes properly ripen and be flavorful is picked green (immature) and allowed to ripen off of the vine?

A. Yes.  If handled properly, tomatoes will ripen and be quite edible.  They will not taste as great as a summer tomato ripened on the vine but they will be a welcome treat in the late fall.  First, never refrigerate immature tomatoes. Store them in a cool, dry place in a single layer (not touching each other). To ripen, bring them into your kitchen and allow them to develop full color. When they are ready to eat, refrigerate for a few hours before eating. Some varieties, like 'Long Keeper' are actually bred for this purpose.


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