As Steve Goto stood in front of the long table covered with 65 varieties of plated, chopped tomatoes, the aptly nick-named “Tomato King” told the expectant crowd of mostly home gardeners, “This was the best year in tomatoes. I hope you all are seeing the same.”

The crowd of two to three hundred all waiting patiently to line up to taste the diced samples of heirloom and hybrid tomatoes, heartily agreed. But a lot of their success they attributed to Goto, who is one of the top tomato-growing experts in the country. “We followed what he said to do and we had a great year,” said Ken, an amateur gardener from Laguna Niguel as he sat in the outdoor amphitheater.

Every March, Goto conducts free seminars at Roger’s Gardens on how to raise tomatoes, including tips on how to select the best varieties, prepare the soil and fend off critters and disease. Many in the audience during the tasting Saturday were like Ken, who had attended the spring seminars and was told then about the late August summer tasting. “I gotta come back for that!” Ken recalled telling himself.

Goto, who joked about having a background in banking instead of horticulture, said the first sessions in March were all about “growing,” and this second part was all about “tasting.” After receiving a ballot with all 65 varieties listed, the audience was invited to line up, start sampling the tomatoes and vote for their favorites. The tomatoes ranged from deep red to bright orange and yellow, including various hues of purplish and brownish green, and many shades of green. One of the most brightly colored and varied was aptly called “Berkeley Tie Dye.”  In general, the reds were the most acidic; the yellows, such as the popular cherry Sungold, were mild and sweet; and the black and purples boasted a complex, smoky flavor. The one all white variety, called Great White, was among the mildest. Several tomato tasters literally swooned over the variety called Paul Robeson.

An avid gardener from San Bernardino named Steve said that he tasted at least three new types of tomatoes that he couldn’t wait to plant next summer: Mango, Pork Chop and Apple.  “They were all amazing and sweet,” said Steve, who grew 21 varieties this year, and reported that Kellogg’s Breakfast, Cherokee Purple and Cherokee Chocolate were his top performers.

During the tasting, attendees also got to sample Goto’s wife’s famous salsa. The recipe is simple:  65 different types of tomatoes finely chopped, the juice of a navel orange and garlic salt—all mixed to taste. The secret, of course, is using a variety of the most delicious homegrown tomatoes!

Based on the ballot results, the top three tasting tomatoes were Brandy Boy, Chocolate and Momotaro. Interestingly, this year Roger’s Gardens decided to secretly include a couple tomatoes from the local grocery store, as a type of “test.” Included under the made-up name of “Ralph’s Wonder,” this store-bought tomato was purchased on special for 99-cents a pound at Ralph’s. As expected, it did not place well. Below are all the results:


Score Name

4.43   Brandy Boy
4.40   Chocolate
4.38   Momotaro
4.22   Japanese Pink Cherry
4.16   Snow White Cherry
4.07   Kellogg’s Breakfast
4.05   Sungold Cherry
4.00   Yellow Pear
4.00   Mr. Green
4.00   Black Krim
4.00   Black From Tula
3.92   Torbay
3.90   Marveled Stripe
3.89   Mango
3.88   Cherokee Chocolate
3.80   Manitoba
3.73   Sunburst
3.71   Nebraska Wedding
3.67   Sweet Baby Girl
3.67   Anana
3.63   Rutgers
3.60   Cuban Yellow Grape
3.59   Indigo BlueRose
3.58   Lemon
3.56   Andrew Rahart Jumbo Red
3.53   Berkeley Tie Dye
3.50   Santa Fe Cherry
3.50   Pineapple
3.44   Copia
3.42   Giant Belgium
3.40   Yellow Zebra
3.40   Dixie Golden Giant
3.38   Jetsetter
3.38   Black Cherry
3.33   Persimmon
3.33   Green Zebra
3.30   Glacier
3.27   Brandywine
3.27   Arkansas Traveler
3.23   Paul Robeson
3.20   Black
3.13   Hawaiian Pineapple
3.08   Porkchop
3.00   White Wonder
3.00   Red Pear
3.00   Legend
3.00   Cherokee
3.00   Black Prince
3.00   Better Boy
2.92   Nyogas
2.92   Big Zebra
2.92   Apple
2.91   Aunt Ruby’s German Green
2.89   Mr. Stripey
2.81   Japanese Black Trifele
2.78   Siletz
2.75   German Stripe
2.67   Unknown
2.60   Lucky Cross
2.60   Cherokee Purple
2.43   Solanum pimpinellifolium
2.38   Carbon
2.33   Siberia
2.20   Great White
2.11   Ralph’s Wonder
2.00   Valencia
2.00   Super Sioux
2.00   Big Beef
2.00   Abraham Lincoln