This Is Why Heirloom Tomatoes Are So Expensive

Heirloom tomatoes have developed an aura of rich, hipsterish fascination. It is to the extent that, when in response to a Reddit prompt asking what traditionally poor activities or things rich people have ruined, a person imitated the tone of fancier farmers' markets with "nOn-gMO hEiRlOoM tOmaToEs." One can sympathize.

The reason why heirloom tomatoes are so expensive is that they are harder to grow, according to Ron Binaghi, a fifth-generation farmer. "For every heirloom you pick," he explained to Serious Eats, "you throw out about three more." This is because heirloom tomatoes are more delicate and have a shorter shelf life than hybridized tomatoes. 

First off, this means that any heirloom tomatoes are likely to be locally produced, which adds value in marketing terms; it is also the reason why heirloom tomatoes would be more likely to be present at a farmers' market than a grocery store. More importantly, the excessive needs of heirloom tomatoes lead to a higher price to recoup losses. It is the nature of the plant to be so expensive.

A cultivated heirloom

The name heirloom tomatoes is not a wry joke about their finicky nature or their high price tag. Rather, it is an accurate description of the cultivation that has separated these tomatoes from the ones you would normally buy in the produce aisle.

Heirloom tomatoes, as Bon Appétit explains, have grown from seeds passed from one generation of tomatoes to the next, with farmers pushing for the best tomatoes without recourse to invasive modifications. However, as the piece notes, due to the fact that there is no actual regulation for what an heirloom tomato is, there is nothing stopping people from selling funky looking tomatoes that either taste poorly or have been modified. And, considering the lucrative prices tomatoes that bear the name heirloom manage to nab, it is almost a certainty that many supposedly heirloom tomatoes have been modified in some form. To that end, if you are going to spend the money for a superior tomato, you should do so from a farmer you trust.