Most supermarket tomatoes are bred for their uniform spherical appearance and are picked well before ripening (even so-called vine-ripened kinds) in order to be able to withstand the rigors of cross-continental shipping. The results are notoriously juiceless and flavorless. But the Santa Sweets tomato company of Plant City, Florida, claims that its UglyRipe brand of tomatoes was bred with only flavor in mind. In addition, this tomato is supposedly allowed to stay on the living vine to a much later stage, resulting in a riper, juicier product. (In fact, the fruit is so ripe when packed that it comes individually foam-wrapped for protection.)
To put these claims to the test, we performed blind taste tests of UglyRipe tomatoes against tomatoes labeled “vine-ripened” (which are picked when just 10 percent of the fruit has turned from green to red), sampling them raw and cooked into sauce. The UglyRipes were unanimously favored in both tests for their sweet tomato flavor. We also noticed that as they cooked, the UglyRipes released nearly twice as much juice as vine-ripe tomatoes—an indication that the company’s claim of a later harvest is true. We’ll still go for locally grown farmers’ market tomatoes in the summer, but the UglyRipes, even at $3.99 per pound (versus $3.49 per pound for the vine-ripe fruit), are worth every extra cent in winter.