from the employee owners at Gardener's Supply Co.

New, True Purple Tomatoes Turn Heads in the Garden

Indigo Rose tomato

A ripe Indigo Rose tomato. Photo: Tiffany Woods, Oregon State University

What’s the garden’s most fashionable color this growing season? It’s purple, at least as far as tomatoes are concerned. A new variety of tomato, called Indigo Rose for its deep purple, nearly black skin, is gaining popularity with gardeners for its unusual color and its potential health benefits.

“Last year, I planted Indigo Rose in my front border, and everyone was fascinated with it,” says Rosalind Creasy, an edible landscaping pioneer, author, lecturer and photographer. “The big thing people got excited about was this deep black, eggplant-colored tomato.”

The Indigo Rose variety of true purple tomatoes was created at Oregon State University (OSU) using conventional crossing and selection techniques, and released in 2012 in limited numbers. In their quest to develop non-genetically engineered tomatoes with high levels of antioxidants, OSU’s researchers bred the Indigo Rose to have an abundance of anthocyanins — the same pigments that give blueberries their deep blue hue — and shades of blackish purple in the tomato’s outer flesh and skin. Anthocyanins are also flavonoids, compounds believed to be powerful antioxidants with benefits for human health.

Other dark-skinned tomatoes, such as the rose-to-purple Cherokee Purple and the brown-to-purple Black from Tula, also ripen to unusual hues, but they lack this new tomato variety’s intense purple coloring and anthocyanin punch.

Jim Myers, an OSU horticulture professor who helped create the Indigo Rose, says that up until now, anthocyanins were found only in the stems and leaves of homegrown tomatoes, and in the fruit of some wild species. His research team is continuing to develop additional new tomato varieties. Myers explains, “We are working to improve earliness, disease-resistance and flavor, and incorporating the high-anthocyanin into different tomato types — cherries, slicers and plum, to name a few.”

Indigo Rose tomato interior

The interior of the Indigo Rose tomato

The indeterminate Indigo Rose grows vigorously to about three feet tall and produces abundantly. The deep purple pigment develops in parts of tomatoes exposed to sunlight, while the interior flesh remains red. Gardeners can expect fully ripened, medium-sized tomatoes about 91 days after planting. “Its size is what I would call a ‘saladette’ type — about 2 ounces average fruit weight,” Myers says “From the cross that produced Indigo Rose, we had fruit ranging from large cherry size to small slicers.” Seeds from this open-pollinated variety can be saved and planted in future seasons.

As for taste, tomato lovers all have their preferences, and various factors — such as location, weather and temperature — can have an impact. Anthocyanins don’t have a noticeable flavor of their own, and the purple color doesn’t affect this tomato’s taste. Creasy mixed her first harvest with paste tomatoes in her recipes to boost flavors and take advantage of Indigo Rose’s smoky purple color. She will experiment with Indigo Rose again in 2013. “I plan to grow it in a wine barrel this year, to give it some extra heat,” Creasy says.

Antioxidant-rich Indigo Rose tomatoes are available from seed companies including Territorial Seed Company, Nichols Garden Nursery, High Mowing Organic Seeds and Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

Tips for Growing Indigo Rose

Vegetable breeder Jim Myers, who helped develop the Indigo Rose tomato at Oregon State University, offers these tips for gardeners interested in trying this anthocyanin-packed tomato:

  • Because Indigo Rose is a long-season variety, gardeners who live in a cool or short-season environment should choose a sheltered spot for planting. Consider using additional protection, especially early in the growing season.
  • To determine when Indigo Rose tomatoes are ripe, look for softened fruit with dull purple-brown skins and red — not green — bottoms. A shiny, blue-purple tomato isn’t quite ready to be picked.
  • “Indigo Rose does not have resistance to fusarium and verticilium. Because of this, we recommend that you grow grafted plants where these
    diseases can be a problem,” says Myers. “In a trial we did last year, we saw yields triple on grafted plants compared to normal plants.”

Aimee Diehl

Aimee Diehl writes from her home in rural Cornwall, VT, where she lives with her husband, two daughters, and a dog.

8 Comments

  1. BERNICE
    June 12, 2013    

    never heard of these tomatoes-would love to try–its june-would they ripe-this year??
    where can i get -plants?–thank you

    • Gardener's Supply
      June 12, 2013    

      Sources for seeds are in the post — last paragraph. You might find plants at local garden centers, but I suspect they might be sold out because it’s such a new variety. From seed, it takes about 75 days from seed to maturity/bloom. -David Grist, Gardener’s Supply

  2. Loretta
    July 3, 2013    

    Pretty! My favorite color. How can you tell when they are ripe?

    • Gardener's Supply
      July 3, 2013    

      It ripens about 90 days after planting seed. According to OSU: “The tomatoes will be purple where exposed to light … and they tend to have a purple crown. They are ripe when their color changes from a shiny blue-purple to a dull purple-brown. The fruit also softens similarly to regular tomatoes, and the bottom of the tomatoes will turn from green to red when ripe.” More details at the OSU site: http://extension.oregonstate.edu/gardening/purple-tomato-debuts-%E2%80%98indigo-rose%E2%80%99
      -David Grist, Gardener’s Supply

  3. Windi
    July 3, 2013    

    I grew these last year and they were the worst-tasting variety I have EVER grown (out of approx 35 heirloom/OP varieties each year). We had a hot dry year, so it wasn’t a matter of too much water diluting the taste. They had optimum conditions. I will give ++ points for ornamental value though. Everyone stopped to ask what they were. Oh, and that gorgeous purple color? only on the side facing the sun….other side is green, red when ripe. Did not plant it this year…recommend Juane Flamme, Green Zebra, Black Cherry, Sweet Carneros Pink…or any number of the wonderful (better tasting) small tomatoes out there.

    • Patti Day
      July 3, 2013    

      I would consider growing the tomato strictly for the high level of anthocyanins and the color, and cut them up with red and green tomatoes bred for taste. Maybe over time, OSU will breed improvements that taste better.

  4. Tam
    July 3, 2013    

    It is my second year to grow Indigo Rose. This year I got a transplant in the ground by March 15 and so far have had only one 100 degree day in North Texas. As of July 2 the plant has an estimated 70 fruits with about 30 more that have matured and been harvested. It is a good novelty; bringing about questions and curiosity from neighbors and the fruits are pretty. I do have to agree that the taste is not very remarkable and that there are other more vibrant tasting varieties to grow. I may try making semi-dried tomatoes from them by low and slow roasting in the oven to see if it will concentrate and intensify the flavor. I’ll be moving on to other varieties next Spring.

  5. July 3, 2013    

    I grew them last year and wasn’t overly impressed with the taste, but because they were so meaty and abundant, we dehydrated lots for winter use. Oh my… the flavor concentrated and they were delish! We’re growing lots again this year (I saved seeds last year) and friends have asked for my extra plants. Worth growing just to dehydrate!

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