Thanks to a great deal of tomato cultivation over the last century, there are now over six hundred different types of tomato plants. As the creation of hybrid tomato varieties, several groupings within the tomato family have emerged. Over time, more hybrid combinations are added to many of these groups.
The largest class or group is known as the indeterminate tomato plants. This group includes most of the varieties that are ideal for the home vegetable garden. Tomatoes in this class produce throughout the summer and continue to produce until the onset of morning frosts and cold weather kill the vines. Most of these tomato vines require the use of stakes and tomato cages to support the vines while the tomatoes ripen.
In contrast, determinate tomato plants tend to ripen early in the season and then cease production. In terms of size and yield, plants in this category are very similar to those found in the indeterminate group. The main difference is the shorter period of production.
Dwarf tomato plants are also very popular. These include the vines that produce small but highly flavorful tomatoes that are often used in salads and similar applications. Because the vines are relatively small in most cases, they can be grown in flowerpots or hanging baskets as easily as in an outside garden. However, there are dwarf tomatoes produced on vines that can grow to a height of the average male and a little beyond. The life cycle of the plants is short in comparison to larger varieties, but the yield during that short period of production is usually ample. Some examples include cherry tomatoes and grape tomatoes.
One of the best known varieties of tomato plants is the beefsteak tomato plant. Tomatoes of this type tend to be hardy, although using stakes and cages is usually the best way to keep the large and heavy fruit from breaking the vines. Beefsteak tomato slices are usually large enough to cover an average sized piece of loaf bread.
While ripened beefsteak tomatoes are a favorite in sandwiches and as one of the topping for hamburgers, they can also be consumed while still green. The green tomato is sliced, coated with a mixture of flour, salt, and pepper, then deep-fried to produce a dish enjoyed extensively in the American South known as fried green tomatoes.
Because of the huge number of tomato varieties today, many of them are assigned to more than a single class or group. Some are ideal for use in cold dishes, while others are better suited for making tomato paste, or in the creation of sauces or salsas. Other tomato plants do well in hothouses, and some varieties do not produce well unless they are planted in rich fertile soil and receive a great deal of natural sunlight. This great variety in types of tomato plants has helped to ensure that people can enjoy fresh tomatoes any time of the year, as well as have access to all sorts of processed tomato products at relatively low prices.