test

Lucky Tiger: Tomato Lovers Get Lucky

Introducing the new green-when-ripe stunner you should get to know better.

Photography by Marc McCaslin

Seed catalogs and nurseries can’t seem to show tomato lovers enough variety. Heirloom beauties, new hybrids, beefsteaks, cherries — it can be a bit overwhelming, but to a tomato lover, it’s eye candy.

One of the recent trends in tomato breeding has been the “green when ripe” varieties. They are luscious and novel, but they’ve had their problems: poor pick rates, confusion in the field and bewilderment at the market. Pity the unfortunate diner who has never enjoyed a green-when-ripe because they believe that green tomatoes are just unripe red ones, fit only for frying. And getting a poorly picked green variety just adds to their misfortune.

Their luck has just changed. Fred Hempel, a tomato breeder, has cracked the green tomato code and his stunning introduction Lucky Tiger is the latest and best of his cherry tomato breeding efforts.

At Baia Nicchia Farm in Sunol, CA, Fred holds up a flat of tomato seedlings in the warm air of his hoop house. “These are the descendants of Blush,” he beams. Blush is a beautifully elongated cherry tomato sporting a golden interior shot through with coral red stripes.

Lucky Tigers growing in Fred Hempel's hoop house.

“But why a green variety, and why a tiger?” Before he answers, Hempel calls a few of his nearby staff into the hoop house. “They should hear this — it’s a story.” Like many plant breeders, he takes pride in his creations. “All the cherry tomatoes I have been working on lately are either round or elongated” he explains “and they all have stripes. The round ones are the Bumblebee series and I call the long ones Tigers.” And, he notes “currently about a quarter of every box of green-when-ripe tomatoes are unusable because the cues about when to pick can be tricky. A little bit of sun scald, and it looks like it’s ready to go, but it’s not.” It’s not easy being green.

Hempel set out to create a green variety that not only tasted great, but looked great when ripe. A few years back, he introduced Green Tiger to California restaurants and specialty markets. It is a cherry that has a distinct darker green striping when it’s at its prime. It was a huge success. Now, another in the Tiger series is ready to make its debut — the result of a successful cross between “a beautiful, great-tasting tomato” with Blush. Hempel named this fortuitous fruit Lucky Tiger.

And, there’s no doubt when these beauties are ripe. Their dark green exterior shades to a yellowish green color, sporting dark red stripes. The interior is a beautiful light green, mottled with mottled with brick red.

Hempel describes the taste as “full-flavored, tangy-sweet and complex” with tropical notes and a nice balanced acidity. It’s extremely productive in the field or in the greenhouse, which is another factor setting it apart from other varieties. So far, only a limited audience has had the good fortune to experience this new Tiger but this year, it will be distributed nationally by Johnny’s Select Seeds. Then we can all get lucky.

Lucky Tiger: Tomato Lovers Get Lucky