I hope I’m not dating myself by saying I remember a time when tomatoes tasted like tomatoes: sweet with a slight tang, juicy but crisp –¬ the star of the sandwich or salad. But somewhere along the way that changed. In the quest for longevity, aesthetics and shelf life, tomatoes became cheerless and bland, with an almost mealy texture.
One breed of tomato, though, is turning back the clock on the popular staple: the Kumato.
Unlike its fire-engine-red siblings, Kumato tomatoes – a hybrid tomato developed by crossbreeding domestic and wild tomatoes (Kumato is the brand name) –¬ are deep brown in colour, tinged with red and golden green. They’re also significantly sweeter.
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“They are my favourite tomato,” says Sydney chef Mitch Orr, formerly of ACME and Cicciabella. “[They’re] healthy –¬ loaded with vitamin C, calcium and iron. I’ve used them in a lot of restaurants over the years.”
Kumato tomatoes originated in the Mediterranean and are the result of a young farmer experimenting with cross-breeding a wild tomato with a domestic tomato in the 1970s. They’re now patented and only cultivated and certified under strict protocols by licensed growers. (These aren’t backyard tomatoes.)
It’s their wild genes, Orr says, that are responsible for their distinctive flavour and sweetness, which changes as the fruit ripens.
The tomatoes also ripen from the inside out, making them juicy inside and firm on the outside. Their increased sweetness means they can also be eaten underripe without being too tart. That’s actually how Orr prefers them.
“I love using them when they’re green,” he says. “The taste is tarter, but it’s also a textural thing – they’re crisper and have a nice bite to them, almost a crunch.”
Orr is a big fan of deep-fried green tomatoes, a dish popular in the southern states of America. He recommends slicing the underripe tomatoes thick – “almost like a tomato steak”– then crumbing them with flour, egg and breadcrumbs, before deep-frying them. “Because the tomato is green it holds its shape really well,” he says. He also adds a splash of lemon and a sprinkle of salt.
For a quick lunch, Orr suggests trying thin slices (their firmness means they slice easily) with smoked ham in a sandwich, or with mozzarella and fresh herbs in a caprese salad. “That little bit of tartness with cheese is really nice,” he says. “The green tomato brings something different.”
At the next stage of ripening, Kumato tomatoes will turn a deep greenish brown. This is the ideal eating stage, when the famous sweetness comes to the fore. “You really want that flavour to be the highlight,” says Orr. “I would serve [them] with anchovies, olive oil and salt – keep it simple to allow that robust flavour to shine.”
Another option? Thick slices tossed with kalamata olives, crumbled feta and a handful of herbs – with a generous drizzle of olive oil and lemon juice – for a colourful salad.
Post-ripe, Kumato tomatoes turn a deep red and begin to soften. This is the time to bust out your favourite tomato-sauce recipe, Orr says. Again, simplicity is the key. “Throw whole garlic cloves into olive oil and cook them until the cloves are golden brown,” he says. “Let the garlic roast and infuse its flavour into the oil. Then give the garlic a mash up [and] chop up your tomatoes and throw them in. Give it a quick cook until they start to break up on themselves. [Add] plenty of sea salt, a good crack of pepper – that’s it.”
If you really want to make the most of the sweetness, though, give a tomato jam a go. At ACME, Orr served his as part of a dessert with vanilla ice-cream. Whatever you do with your Kumato tomatoes, though, the golden rule is to serve them at room temperature (the cold will kill the flavour). That goes for all tomatoes, actually.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Kumato Tomatoes.