Tomato ‘Indigo Rose’: Final Assessment

Ripe and unripe Indigo Rose tomatoes

Due to the frequent searches on Tomato ‘Indigo Rose’ that find my blog, I offered you a preliminary assessment of this new variety in an entry a few weeks ago, which you can read here.  To recap briefly, I noted that seed germination rates for this variety were significantly lower than for other varieties, and that the vines — although seemingly healthy — were not as vigorous as those of other varieties I grow.

The big remaining questions on this variety were:

  • How do I know when the fruits are ripe?
  • What does the ripe fruit taste like?

Indigo Rose fruits do not ripen to a deep tomato red. I would describe the ripe color as orange-red. Some of them reminded me of the color of ripe persimmons. In the photo above, you can see how the fruit progresses from green with bluish shoulders (top fruits) to a yellow-orange (lowest fully visible fruit) to a deeper orange-red (middle two fruits), all with bluish shoulders.

Here’s another shot of ripe fruits on one of my other plants, so you can see the minor variations:

Ripe to unripe Indigo Rose fruits

That small hole in the top biggest fruit was made by a thirsty bird. My region of the North Carolina Piedmont remains in moderate drought, so juicy fruits are becoming irresistible to thirsty wildlife. The birds don’t eat the fruits; they just poke holes — very annoying.

Before I tell you about their flavor, let me show you what they look like when you slice them open. I cut open several ripe fruits and laid them out on a bench so I could photograph them in sunlight.

Freshly sliced ripe Indigo Rose fruits

Note the white pith visible in the central rib area. It extends from the stem point into the fruit.  Also note the juice that dribbled out and is darkening the wood beneath them. Here’s another shot that shows the pith more clearly:

Sliced ripe Indigo Rose tomatoes all seem to be pithy in their middles.

In this second photo, you can see how the skin peeled back on the left side of the middle fruit. The skin is very thin. The purple pigment is confined to the skin, so if you want the antioxidant benefits of the pigment that turns them purple, eat the skins. I confess that I had expected the pigment to extend further into the fruit.

Every Indigo Rose fruit that I have cut open looks like these examples. They are pithy and very watery. Most important, they have no discernible tomato flavor. None. At all.

Those of us who grow tomatoes in our home gardens do so for that vine-ripened zing of tomato goodness that comes with a freshly harvested fruit. The five other varieties I’m growing this year are all delivering the tomato pizzazz I’ve come to expect from them.

But the Indigo Rose fruits are so watery and flavorless that we are not eating them, and I refuse to share them with any of my tomato-loving friends for fear that my reputation for providing superior veggie gifts will be forever tainted.

As an experiment, I left one piece of tomato on the bench so that I could observe how wildlife responded to it. Birds and squirrels routinely scour those benches for tidbits, so I was sure someone would try it. No takers. Finally, on the second day it was out there, a few ants were giving it a look.  They abandoned the fruit about three hours after they found it.

I’ll admit that growing conditions have not been optimal. During the 9-day stretch of rainless 100+-degree days my garden recently endured, the sun actually damaged the Sweet Treats cherry tomatoes that ripened during that time. They looked as if they’d been boiled from the inside. At first I thought it was some kind of disease, but when the heat backed off, their fruits began ripening normally again.

All of the tomato vines are exhibiting signs of heat and drought stress, and the usual fungal diseases are slowly eating their way up the stems. But this has become normal for my garden in the last decade or so.  Despite these challenging conditions, all other tomato varieties are continuing to produce delicious, perfect fruits. In fact, I’m in tomato overload mode at the moment, much to the delight of my friends who share in the bounty. All three pepper varieties are also productive and delicious. I’ll tell you about them another time.

Because all the other varieties are behaving — and tasting — as expected, I’m pretty sure the watery, pithy, tasteless fruits I’m getting off the Indigo Rose vines are intrinsic to the variety. Maybe these tomatoes were never meant to be grown in the southeastern US. If so, seed catalogs should state that clearly. Nothing in the description I read gave any indication that this variety would not perform well in my region.

Bottom line: Despite healthy, if slow-growing, vines and abundant fruit production, Indigo Rose gets an F in my garden.

I am annoyed that I let a picture of an unusual fruit con me into wasting my time on such watery, tasteless tomatoes. Garden space is precious and my well water is almost gone. I will not be gambling on another new variety unless it is backed by more than a pretty  picture and a snappy description in a seed catalog.

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  1. #1 by Jay Campbell on July 17, 2012 - 9:26 am

    I picked my first Indigo Rose tomatoes yesterday. My tomatoes look like yours on the outside, but the inside does not have a noticeable white pith. The taste was not absent, but also was not pronounced. It was tangy and acidic rather than sweet. The plant is about 5 feet tall now and has over 75 unripe tomatoes. I am hoping that the taste improves as the summer progresses. The tomatoes so far are also not abnormally watery. I am growing in Ohio where it is likely not nearly as hot. We had one week in the 90’s but it has mostly been in the mid 80’s.

    • #2 by piedmontgardener on July 17, 2012 - 10:46 am

      Greetings, Jay from Ohio!

      You seem to be confirming my suspicions that Indigo Rose tomatoes were never intended for my southeastern US climate. Oh well, that’s half the fun of gardening — the trial-and-error learning process, right?

      I’m happy to hear that your Indigo Roses actually have decent flavor and texture. I hope you’ll stop by later in the season and let me know whether the flavor improved as your harvest progressed.

      Thanks for stopping by today.

  2. #3 by Marilyn on August 3, 2012 - 4:40 pm

    I am growing Indigo Rose, and it looks nothing like the plant you photographed. Ours are a deep purple, green on the bottom which I understand from reading will ripen to a red. When I slice them open, there is no white pith as you show in your photo either. Ours aren’t ripe yet (we live in central Canada) so I can’t comment on flavour, but it’s interesting that they appear so different. Did you have a reliable seed source such that you’re sure they’re Indigo Rose?

    • #4 by piedmontgardener on August 3, 2012 - 7:14 pm

      Hi, Marilyn, and welcome.

      I got my Indigo Rose seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. I have been buying most of my vegetable seeds from this Maine company for many years, and I trust them completely. This year, for example, they sent me a second package of the bush beans I had ordered, because when they ran their germination tests on the first batch from which they had filled my order, it didn’t pass their standards. So at their own expense, they acquired more seeds with satisfactory germination rates and sent me a new package.

      You mention you live in Canada. Since I tried this tomato, I learned it was developed by scientists in Oregon. And Johnny’s is, as I mentioned above, in Maine. I’m thinking that Indigo Rose is a Yankee tomato. I live and garden in the hot, humid southeastern Piedmont region of the US — NC to be exact. And our July temperatures broke records for the number of 100+-degree days, and the number of 90+-degree days. My guess is that Indigo Rose was never intended for such challenging growing conditions.

      It was my veggie experiment for the year, and it failed. But that’s gardening, isn’t it? We try new varieties to see if they’re a good fit, and sometimes we guess wrong. No harm, no foul — just gardening. 🙂

      Enjoy your Yankee-weather-loving Indigo Roses, Marilyn. Lucky for me, I planted five other tomato varieties this year. I’ve been enjoying their bountiful deliciousness since mid-June, and they’re still cranking out more red globes of delight.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  3. #5 by Michelle on August 28, 2012 - 9:56 pm

    Hi, I am in Albuquerque NM and am growing Indigo Rose for the first time also. Hot, Hot Hot here! Most of the summer and we are always in a drought. I do have them in large containers as I have all of my various 50 or so tomato plants. My experience is similar to yours I am afraid. These beautiful, colorful attractive fruits are watery and tasteless. I had a friend harvest from my garden while I was on vacation and she said the same. I will not use them again. Any suggestions–can’t make sauce or salsa-too watery!

    • #6 by piedmontgardener on August 29, 2012 - 4:50 am

      Hi, Michelle.

      I can’t even imagine how challenging your gardening conditions must be out there in New Mexico, and you’re growing 50 tomato plants! That’s impressive.

      Thanks for offering your experience with Indigo Rose. I take this as confirmation of my theory that this tomato was developed for growers in more northern climes, where prolonged heat is a rarity.

      I agree they are quite pretty, and I don’t regret the experiment. We tried, we tasted, we move on.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  4. #7 by Windi on September 10, 2012 - 2:52 am

    Hi,

    I just want to say that I have tasted about 5 of my Indigo Rose tomatoes and have never been so disappointed. Very similar experience to yours—bland, mealy and very much like a grocery store tomato in Dec. They are just beautiful to look at though, especially in the green/purple phase. But that’s not what they’re in the garden for. I’m growing an assortment of 40 old/new tomatoes here in WI and even though we’ve had an abnormally hot summer, none have been affected tastewise. i think these things are just a dud. I’m also not giving them to friends—they are going straight into the chicken pen! Johnny’s suckered me in with a pretty description, which won’t happen again….probably. 😉

    • #8 by piedmontgardener on September 10, 2012 - 4:38 am

      Welcome, Windi!

      Thank you for providing another data point regarding Indigo Rose — and from the northlands no less! So much for my theory that this tomato was designed for growers in the northernmost areas of the US. It is a shame, because as you point out, they are so very pretty. But taste is all to a home gardener, as you rightly suggest.

      Let’s both hereby resolve to try harder to resist those seductive catalog descriptions as we peruse them on cold winter nights. 😉

      Thanks again for stopping by.

  5. #9 by Diana on September 22, 2012 - 11:03 am

    Bland, watery taste
    Indigo Rose tomato
    Won’t grow you again.

    • #10 by piedmontgardener on September 23, 2012 - 2:25 pm

      Thanks for the haiku, Diana. It’s nice to see that something poetic can arise from such a disappointing tomato. 🙂

  6. #11 by laurence on October 15, 2012 - 11:58 am

    Totally agree–not to be grown again.

    • #12 by piedmontgardener on October 15, 2012 - 12:18 pm

      Most folks I’ve heard from seem to agree with us, Laurence. I wrote the company I bought the seeds from and told them of my disappointment. They thanked me for my honesty, and then suggested that perhaps I hadn’t grown them in enough sun. My tomatoes received a minimum of eight hours of sun a day, so I’m thinking that was not the issue, but I thanked them for their input.

      Speaking of thanks, thanks for stopping by, Laurence!

      • #13 by michelle on October 15, 2012 - 12:34 pm

        Wow! I grow them in hot and always SUNNY New Mexico and still tasted blah!

      • #14 by piedmontgardener on October 15, 2012 - 1:26 pm

        Hi, Michelle.

        I confess Indigo Rose is a mystery to me. Certainly, most of the folks who have chimed in here have had experiences like yours and mine. I agree with you that sufficient sun was not a factor for you or me. This variety failed us for reasons we can only guess at.

        But that’s gardening, right? Our failures teach us as much, if not more, as our successes.

        Thanks for stopping by again!

  7. #15 by Joe on September 12, 2013 - 12:25 pm

    September 2013–southwest Virginia (4 miles to NC border)
    I don’t understand. A friend gave me a plant and told me how great the tomato was. I planted it and was very impressed. Our weather this year was a real challenge…very hot, very cool, and very-very wet. My little plant grew and prospered even when some of my favorite heirlooms drooped and diseased. The tomato had a good taste and everyone I let sample them absolutely loved them. Even with all the rain they were not excessively watery. Although there was a pith it was not excessive and was not hard or stringy. I have no idea what the difference is between the one I grew and those I’m reading about here. I believe my friend got hers from Territorial Seed. I have noticed a similar tomato being mentioned from another “developer”; in CA I believe. I wonder if we have two different but highly similar looking varieties?

    • #16 by piedmontgardener on September 12, 2013 - 1:11 pm

      I can’t explain it either, Joe. Perhaps your theory is correct, since I got my seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. I’m glad you had such success with them. Perhaps you have a purple-green thumb. 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by.

  8. #17 by suzanne motte on July 18, 2014 - 11:36 am

    i order from Johnny’s also and I love them. This is the second year I am growing Indigo Rose. We loved the taste, but is doesn’t develop until the fruit is completely ripe. Yours look like they were picked too soon.

    I cut some open at all different stages out of curiosity, and the ones I picked too early looked and tasted as you describe. They were very prolific and produced until frost.

    There is a garden center in Wisconsin that hosts a tomato tasting every year with over 200 varieties. That is how we have chosen what to grow. Leave your Indigo Roses on the vine a little longer until they are brick red and softer.

    • #18 by piedmontgardener on July 18, 2014 - 5:05 pm

      Hi, Suzanne.

      I see you mention Wisconsin, so I’m guessing that’s where you grow your tomatoes. I still believe that my much hotter and variable climate is not a good fit for Indigo Rose. I did not pick them until they were very soft and as red as they ever got. It made no difference.

      Fortunately, I have many other, better-adapted tomato varieties to choose from.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  9. #19 by Greg Phillips on July 4, 2015 - 10:37 am

    I am in the Pee Dee region of South Carolina. You don’t get much more Southern than that. I am a second-year gardener after a 20-year hiatus and moving from Colorado. Small raised beds, 4×4. Our spring was unusually cool and wet this year and then got “scorchingly” hot. All of my tomatoes are taking their time to produce.

    My Indigo Rose plants came from Bonnie. The tomatoes have the same appearance as yours, not the total purple as other sites are reporting. The taste is wonderful, different with an herbal twang, low acid, and not pithy. Everyone who has tried them love them! I am definitely planting more next year.

    Why buy from Yankee Maine? Park Seed is in the upstate of SC in Greenwood. Great family company.
    Thank you for your blog.

    • #20 by piedmontgardener on July 5, 2015 - 1:17 pm

      Hi, Greg.

      I’m glad your Indigo Rose tomatoes are working so well for you. I tried them the first year they were available, and the only source I found was the one I used. I think you’ll find that most, if not all, seed companies don’t produce most of their own seeds. And I strongly suspect that the source I used and Park Seed probably bought their Indigo Rose seeds from the same producer. There’s no way to tell; I think those are considered to be trade secrets. In any event, different seed years can produce different results. Perhaps in the years since I tried this variety, it has improved. Or maybe Indigo Rose tomatoes just hate my garden. That’s a bit of a stretch for me, since I generally produce wonderful tomatoes.

      If I were still growing 8 or 10 varieties a year, I might be inclined to try again with this one. But I’m down to 4 varieties now, and I’m just not willing to gamble on a variety that disappointed me so deeply before.

      But they work for you, and that’s what matters, right? 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by!

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