By Kathy Widenhouse, award-winning writer and owner of Tomato Dirt, a leading online source of for growing tomatoes in the home garden.
Oxheart tomatoes are a group of large, old-fashioned heirloom varieties. They are true to their name – they are shaped like the hearts of bulls. Plus, these beauties have a size to match. These triangular-shaped fruit typically weigh at least half a pound, but it’s not unusual for them to clock in between one and three pounds.
The first oxheart tomatoes on record hailed from Russia in the 1890’s. Today many of these luscious heirlooms reflect their European history with names like Hungarian Heart and German Red. Some have smooth exteriors. Others display deep ribs. Yet even with a few of these variables, this group of pink, red, and yellow tomato varieties share a handful of common characteristics.
Yes. They have a sprawling habit and wispy, fernlike foliage. Vines are continuously productive until frost.
Some gardeners consider oxhearts to be a subset of beefsteak tomatoes because both produce large fruit. Yet the two types of tomatoes have several differences. Here's a comparison between oxheart tomatoes vs beefsteak tomatoes.
Their larger size and meaty texture make oxheart tomatoes an excellent choice for slicing, grilling, making sauces, and canning. Plus, oxhearts slice well. They are often used in sandwiches, salads, and on burgers. Oxhearts are considered to be some of the most versatile tomato varieties.
Oxheart tomatoes require the usual tomato plant care: rich soil, mild overnight temperatures, and routine checks for diseases and pests. But these types of tomatoes require a few specifics so they can thrive.
Large, heavy fruit means oxhearts benefit from sturdy support. Stakes and cages help prevent branches from breaking under the weight of the tomatoes.d
As indeterminate plants, oxhearts continue to produce fruit throughout the season. When you prune suckers and excessive foliage, you help improve airflow between their branches and reduce the chance of diseases taking hold and spreading through your crop.
While all tomato varieties need a regular watering schedule (given that tomatoes are 95% water), oxhearts require special consistency. They produce large fruits. The added skin surface makes big tomatoes like oxhearts particularly prone to cracking or splitting – especially when watering fluctuates after a heavy shower or a dry spell. You cannot control Mother Nature’s rain schedule. But you can work to provide consistent watering when weather is hot and dry, which in turn limits the chance of cracking and allows tomato plants to produce the healthiest fruits.
Popular types of oxhearts vary by region. Check with local nurseries and your gardening extension to choose varieties that grow best according to your climate and growing conditions. Some of the most well-loved and often-grown oxheart tomatoes include …
Amish Paste. Known for its large, oxheart-shaped fruits, Amish Paste’s sweet and tangy flavor make it a favorite for sauces, canning, and fresh eating.
Cuore di Bue. Translated as “Oxheart” in English, this Italian heirloom is also known as "pear of Liguria" after the northern Italian region where it has long been celebrated. It’s a favorite to use in Caprese salad.
Reisetomate. German for “Traveler Tomato,” Reisetomate is unique. Its deeply lobed fruits resemble small bunches of cherry tomatoes fused together. "Reise" is German for travel or journey, demonstrating this tomato’s capacity to be torn apart a piece at a time with no need for a knife. Reisetomate traces its roots to Central America where the native people would carry traveler tomatoes on trips, to eat as they walked. The flavor is sweet and fruity.
Orange Russian 117. This visually striking, bicolor tomato adds a burst of color to salads and dishes. It was bred during the 1990’s by Californian Jeff Dawson who crossed Russe117 and Georgia Streak.
Anna Russian. A Russian immigrant in the 1980s brought this rich, flavorful oxheart to the U.S. in the 1980s, and it’s been growing in popularity ever since.
German Strawberry. Given their distinctive shape, you may mistake these tomatoes for giant strawberries. Both Red German Strawberry and Yellow German Strawberry are smaller for the usual oxhearts, but sweet.
Pink oxheart tomatoes are not only visually stunning with their rosy hue but also boast delicious, sweet, and slightly tangy flavors. Among them are …
Rose de Berne. This Swiss heirloom variety produces medium-sized, pink, heart-shaped tomatoes. They are known for their rich and sweet flavor, a hint of acidity, and considerable productivity.
German Pink. Although not a perfectly heart-shaped tomato, German Pink is a large, beefsteak-type variety with a pinkish-red hue. It has a sweet, rich flavor and meaty texture, making it a favorite among many tomato enthusiasts.
Radiator Charlie's Mortgage Lifter. Developed in the 1930s by West Virginian Marshall Cletis Byles during The Great Depression as a means to pay off his house loan, Mortgage Lifter has become a gardener’s favorite for its large size, sweet taste, and productivity.
Cœur de Boeuf. This French variety, known in English as “Heart of Beef,” has a deep pink color and a distinctive heart shape.
Yellow and orange oxhearts stand out in the garden and on the table thanks to their vibrant color and offer a sweet, flavorful taste. The most popular, of course, is Orange Russian 117. But others include ….
Homer Fike’s Yellow Oxheart. An American favorite for more than a century, Homer Fike yellow-gold, heart-shaped tomatoes typically weigh 1-3 pounds.
Orange Oxheart. These medium-sized fruits, developed in Virginia, have the reputation for being quite aromatic.
Orange Icicle. Originally from Ukraine, Orange Icicles are elongated paste tomatoes, and have a beautiful orange color. They have a sweet, citrusy flavor and are great for slicing or making sauces.
Orange Strawberry. Marjorie Morris of Indiana discovered this variety as a stray seed in a pack of commercial Pineapple seeds and named it “Orange Strawberry” based on the fruit's shape and color. Small to medium-sized, strawberry-shaped tomatoes with a beautiful orange hue and a sweet and fruity flavor make Orange Strawberry Tomatoes a delightful addition to salads and snacks.
Persimmon. Unlike the tangy, acidic fruit of the same name, these oxhearts are orange-red and have a sweet, fruity taste. They got peachy-orange colors on the body of the fruit which deepen from its softly dented, light green shoulders
Along with Anna Russian, Cuor di Bue, and Riesetomate oxhearts, some of the most popular red oxheart varieties are …
Bull's Heart. A Russian heirloom, Bull's Heart is known for its enormous, meaty, and fruits – up to 2 pounds or more – that are exceptionally sweet and juicy. It’s one of the first tomatoes to ripen on the vine, making it a good choice for short season growers.
Red Brandywine. A classic heirloom, the original Brandywine Tomato dates to 1885 and was named after Brandywine Creek in Chester County, PA This oxheart variety produces large, deep-red fruits with a superb flavor.
Japanese Trifele Black. More mahogany-colored than red, Japanese Trifele Black has a complex, smoky flavor. It’s been described as “a work of art when sliced onto a plate,” showing an inner rainbow of color ranging from yellowish green at the stem to deep reddish brown at the fruit base. Fruits are shaped like a Bartlett pear.
Costoluto Genovese. A prized plum variety dating back generations in Italy, the Costoluto Genovese was also chosen by Thomas Jefferson as part of his kitchen garden at Monticello. Its flat, ribbed shape. It has a rich, tangy flavor.
Cuor di Pellegrino. Another Italian oxheart variety, Cuor di Pellegrino, produces medium-sized, heart-shaped tomatoes with a rich, sweet flavor. It's a favorite for salads and canning.
Cuore di Bue varieties. Cuore di Bue Giallo (yellow), Cuore di Bue Rosa (pinkish-red), Cuore di Bue Striped (bi-color), and Cuore di Bue Verde (green) offer sweet, juicy, and colorful versions of the Italian original.
You can find oxheart tomato seeds from various sources, both online and offline. Seed availability can vary seasonally, so if a specific variety is temporarily out of stock, you may find it available again at a later date. Here are some options to consider when looking for oxheart tomato seeds.
When purchasing tomato seeds, make sure to check the description and reviews to ensure that you are getting the specific oxheart variety you want. And be sure to factor in your growing region, climate, and gardening preferences to select the most suitable oxheart tomato variety for your garden. Have fun!
More about different tomato varieties
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