Black, orange, yellow, red… they’re all luscious, juicy, sweet tomatoes. But which tomatoes are healthiest? Is tomato nutrition the same, no matter the color?

It All Started with Salsa

This year we’re growing a variety of heirloom tomatoes. Some, like the Hillbilly Flame, have grown way past their 10-foot cane pole stakes,1) requiring a 6 foot ladder to harvest. The Cherokee Purples have been coming in on a regular basis and we so love their flavor, even if they’re not the prettiest or well formed fruits. Other varieties we’re trying out: Beefsteak (an old standby heirloom), Beauty King, Pork Chop, Pineapple, and Amish Paste.

Most of our heirlooms are yellow-orange which are touted as being less acidic. They taste good on M & M sandwiches (aka: ‘mater and mayo’ or tomato and mayonnaise sandwiches), and as a side of slices on the plate. Given that we have around 40 plants, and many of their fruits are beginning to ripen, the question arises: What do we do with all these tomatoes? Granted, we went overboard, because we finally cut a few trees to allow more sunlight after years of struggling to grow a few tomatoes. And boy are the rewards coming in… daily! One solution: a salsa making fiesta! We’ve got the jalapenos, onions and cilantro… okay, so we have a fiesta and put up several gallons of homemade salsa using an old family favorite salsa recipe we’ve had forever. Que bueno!

Whatever the shape, size, or color....they're all chock full of nutrition!
Whatever the shape, size, or color….they’re all chock full of nutrition!

Lycopene Benefits

First, what is lycopene and how is it beneficial?

Lycopene is a vital anti-oxidant that has been shown to have potent anti-cancerous activity. This compound is not naturally produced in your body, so it must be supplied via your diet. Mercola.com2)

But our question has to do with making salsa. Does a yellow-orange tomato have the same levels of antioxidants, namely Lycopene, as the red? What about a purple or “black tomato”? Hmmmm? If not then, we’ll just stick with the M & M sandwiches and slices while canning only the red varieties.

Here’s what we discovered doing the research (see appended sources):

We focused on the health benefits of eating any tomatoes, regardless of the color. All the tomatoes contain the same nutrients, however, depending on the color of the tomatoes can determine how much Lycopene it absorbs. We have listed all the information below for the benefits of lycopene, and how much lycopene the red, yellow, and black tomatoes contain. 3)

Tomato Nutrients: Red, Yellow, and Black Tomatoes All Contain these Essentials

  • Flavanones
-chalcone naringenin
  • Flavonols
  • Hydroxycinnamic acids
-caffeic acid
-ferulic acid
-coumaric acid
  • Carotenoids
-esculoside A

Fatty acid derivatives
-9-oxo-octadecadienoic acid

This favorite fruit or “fruit eaten as a vegetable”, provides many health benefits as it is very high in nutrition. Tomato nutrition includes vitamin A, vitamin B3, vitamin B5, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin E and vitamin K. Tomato contains lycopene which helps the body to ward off cancer, heart disease and assist our skin to fight against aging. Lycopene gives tomato its rich red color. Even when cooked, tomatoes still provide excellent health benefits – lycopene is not destroyed through cooking processes. In fact studies have shown cooking may actually enhance availability of such antioxidants.4) Tomato juice is ideal for athletes as well as it quickly replaces lost minerals and sodium.5)

What We’ve Always Heard:

LYCOPENE. Red variety fruits tend to possess more lykopene than fruits (including tomatoes) of another color. Together with carotenoids, lycopene may help protect cells and other structures in the human body from harmful oxygen-free radicals. Studies shows that lycopene protects the skin from ultra-violet (UV) rays and thus offers some defence against skin cancer.6)

What We Were Surprised to Learn:

Lycopene is a carotenoid pigment that has long been associated with the deep red color of many tomatoes. A small preliminary study on healthy men and women has shown that the lycopene from orange- and tangerine-colored tomatoes may actually be better absorbed than the lycopene from red tomatoes. That’s because the lycopene in deep red tomatoes is mostly trans-lycopene, and the lycopene in orange/tangerine tomatoes is mostly tetra-cis-lycopene. In a recent study, this tetra-cis form of lycopene turned out to be more efficiently absorbed by the study participants. While more research is needed in this area, we’re encouraged to find that tomatoes may not have to be deep red in order for us to get great lycopene-related benefits.7)

Tomatoes do not have to be a deep red color to be an outstanding source of lycopene and other antioxidants. So we are inviting ALL manner of tomatoes to our homemade salsa fiesta, because from what we’ve discovered, it seems the same benefits found in the reds are still there in other colors!9) What’s more some varieties, like the yellow tomatoes, have additional nutrients like beta carotene and vitamin, niacin, and iron.10)

Time to get those salsa makers cranking!

Our tomato collection (plus a few extras)
Our tomato collection (plus a few cute fairy tale eggplants)


Red Versus Yellow Tomato Nutrition

Bonus Info Graphic from Prevention Magazine 11)

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 1.17.16 PM

What kind of tomatoes are you growing this year? Join the conversation on the Gardens All Facebook page.

For help on growing and caging tomatoes, you may enjoy these articles.12)http://growing tomatoes13)

We’ll be making salsa this weekend and will publish our recipe after that. We need to measure the ingredients quantities first and get photos. Meanwhile, if you don’t want to wait, you may want to try this cucumber salsa recipe, by the lovely Brenda on

So, when you’re wondering what to do with all those cucumbers and tomatoes… here ya go!15)

References   [ + ]

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Coleman Alderson is author of the Mountain Whispers series and frequent blogger on "I see myself as an outlier, a free-market entrepreneur, an eclectic reader and devout learner, a devoted family guy, a plantsman, a home designer-builder-remodeler, a conscious environmentalist, and a friend to humanity." He holds an MS from Penn State where his thesis centered on horticulture, park planning, design, and maintenance. "But nothing surpasses my 40 years of lessons from the field and garden. And the beauty of gardening is that those lessons never end!"