by Kevin Farrell for USA TODAY 10Best

What to know about heirloom tomatoes

What exactly makes an heirloom tomato, well, heirloom?

Heirloom tomatoes are open-pollinated, non-hybrid cultivars of the nightshade genus.

To truly be considered an heirloom tomato, the original plant must be traceable back to at least 1951.

However, there are many heirloom varieties that are more than 100 years old.

Heirlooms are also pollinated only by insects, the wind and weather, and nature itself.

Colorful variations

Heirloom tomatoes are some of the world’s most colorful produce, ranging from bright reds and yellows to deep greens, purples and even chocolatey browns.

Robust flavor profiles

They also produce dramatically higher amounts of sugars, giving heirlooms a sweet taste.

Limitations

The sad truth about heirloom farming is that not every one of these precious babies makes it to market, with plenty of fruit succumbing to disease or insects along the way.

Storage

Heirlooms don’t have a long shelf life, so they should be eaten as close to the moment they are plucked from the vine as possible.

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