What Are the Differences Between Cherry, Pear, and Currant Tomatoes?
And what are the best ways to use each type in your cooking?
To bite into a cherry, pear, or currant tomato is to be transported to a summer day, and that's true no matter what the weather is outside. With their burst of flavor, these smaller tomatoes add brightness and texture to dishes. That is, if you make it home from the farmers' market without eating them straight from their containers. But what, exactly, are the differences between these types of tomatoes, and can you use them interchangeably? Here's what you need to know about the defining characteristics of cherry, pear, and currant tomatoes, as well as our favorite ways to cook with each.
Small, round and often crisp, there are hundreds of varieties of cherry tomatoes available, ranging in size and color from red and yellow to green and even black. The ones you've probably had are sungolds, the quintessential super sweet cherry tomatoes. "Everyone loves sungolds, they have this beautiful orange color, a really, really sweet flavor. And because of their delicate skin they pop and explode in your mouth, it's a sugar rush," said Larry Tse, farm manager for Dig, a fast-casual restaurant brand. In any given season, the farm grows 10 to 12 different varieties of cherry tomatoes.
If you're feeling adventurous, though, get a mixed bag of all the cherry tomatoes available at the farmers' market. You'll find cherry tomatoes come in a range of flavors, with some more acidic than sweet. Many dark cherry tomatoes, for instance, have a rich, smokey flavor. You'll also find the time of year changes how sweet cherry tomatoes are. According to Tse, while heat doesn't increase the sugar content in tomatoes, it does make them less sour, so if you're buying greenhouse-grown cherry tomatoes in colder months, they won't be as sweet.
Because of their larger size Dig's executive chef Matthew Weingarten says larger cherry tomatoes tend to break down more when cooked, resulting in a mellow, cohesive flavor. That size makes cherry tomatoes work well when stuck on skewers, tossed in pastas, and more. "Because they're a little bigger you can hollow them out for canapés," says David Standridge, executive chef of The Shipwright's Daughter in Mystic, Connecticut.
Pear tomatoes are basically cherry tomatoes except pear-shaped. These heirloom tomato varieties can be traced back to the 18th century, and while they can come in reds or oranges, they're most commonly yellow. They have delicate skin and a sweet, mild flavor. "Pear tomatoes tend to split in the field easily, so they tend to be picked earlier," said Tse. That means, he says, that when you buy pear tomatoes they're likely going to be on the more acidic side, not as sweet."
Similar to cherry and pear tomatoes yet smaller, currants are almost fingernail size. "Currants are little flavor bursts," says Standridge, "The ratio between skin and flesh is higher so get a more intense flavor." Their diminutive size makes them ideal for dishes where you want a whole bite of tomatoes, such as pasta or salad. Weingarten advises not using much heat with currant tomatoes, instead folding them into a pasta or adding them as a topping at the last minute before serving and thinking about the texture you're trying to create with the dish when using them.
"You could serve currants with lots of other tiny vegetables for a confetti effect, or spread them on the top of a dish at the last minute for a pop of contrast," he suggests. And because of that texture, Standridge says they also work well for making tomato jams.