Thu. Feb 29th, 2024

Real heirloom tomatoes are not for sale in supermarkets, even though the labeling indicates otherwise.

&In search of (real) heirloom tomatoes

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The vast majority of tomatoes marketed as “ancestral” should rather be marketed as “ancestral-type” tomatoes.

  • Chantal Srivastava (View profile)Chantal Srivastava

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With their unique shapes and colors, heirloom tomatoes are popular. Whether they are wrinkled, elongated, plump, red, yellow or purple, they are always renowned for their flavor and texture.

In Saint-Damase, in Montérégie, Judith Lussier grows tomatoes in greenhouses that are reminiscent in every way of those of yesteryear.

In supermarkets, her tomatoes are, however, not always correctly presented.

And Ms. Lussier insists on being transparent about the true nature of her tomatoes.

We do not grow heirloom tomatoes but “ancestral type” tomatoes. We have no control over how people market it.

A quote from Judith Lussier, farmer

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Judith Lussier inspects ancestral type tomato plants in the Tomaté greenhouses!

Like all heritage vegetables, to be considered ancestral, a tomato variety must have been cultivated for more than 50 years.

Another key characteristic is that it must be adapted to a particular climate and location.

Heirloom varieties are also open-pollinated, meaning their flowers are pollinated by insects, birds or wind.

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The Mémé de Beauce tomato is a true ancestral tomato, whose seeds were found by chance during the renovation of a house .

If his company – called “Tomaté! » – does not produce real heirloom tomatoes, it is not for lack of trying, insists Ms. Lussier.

After testing the yield of ancestral varieties, Judith Lussier's observation is clear: It is a very uneven plant. And the big tomato he was able to make, 90% of the time it was unsalable.

Uneven ripening, split tomatoes, too much fragile for transport and storage, not to mention lower yields, the list of disadvantages is long for those aiming for commercial production.

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The Tomaté company! produces heirloom type tomatoes.

The Tomaté company! has therefore turned to more recent hybrid varieties, which combine both the prized qualities of heirloom tomatoes and the characteristics required to ensure optimal marketing.

But in the end, these are not real heirloom tomatoes.

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Lyne Bellemare, founder of Terre Promise, which sells seeds, notes that heirloom tomatoes are difficult to grow.

Authentic heirloom tomatoes don't last as long as conventional tomatoes, notes artisanal seedmaker Lyne Bellemare, founder of Terre Promise, a company that sells heritage seeds.

They are therefore more suited to short distances, and they are difficult to find on merchants' stalls. So, the tomatoes that are presented as ancestral are probably not really that, she warns.

The word "type" has disappeared and hybrids are sold like ancestral ones.

A quote from Lyne Bellemare, founder of Terre Promise

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In the fruit and vegetable section, a poster advertises heirloom tomatoes from Quebec.

The ideal is to ask your dealer. Ask where the tomatoes come from, where the seeds come from, advises Lyne Bellemare.

There are heirloom tomatoes sold by family farmers in small markets in Quebec, but they are rather rare, she adds.

L The other option is to grow them yourself. A way to contribute to food sovereignty and the preservation of local plant heritage.

Chantal Srivastava's report on heirloom tomatoes will be presented on the show La week verte, on ICI TV, Saturday at 5 p.m. and Sunday at 12 p.m. 30, as well as on HERE RDI Sunday at 8 p.m.

  • Chantal Srivastava (View profile)Chantal SrivastavaFollow

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