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What is an “Heirloom” Food?

heirloom foods

If you stare at the oddly shaped tomatoes in the produce section and wonder why anyone would buy those instead of the regular, round, red variety, you’re not alone.  “Heirloom” foods like these tomatoes, can look very different from the foods we’re used to, but they are actually a chance to enjoy a more delicious, more flavorful, and more exciting version of foods we already love.  Since heirloom tomatoes – and other kinds of heirloom foods – have been growing in popularity lately, I wanted to share with you a little more info on what they really are.

What is an heirloom food?

An heirloom food is a plant (vegetable, fruit) or animal (turkey, pig, chicken, etc)  that was commonly grown during earlier periods in human history, but which is not used in modern large-scale agriculture.  Believe it or not, there are hundreds of varieties of apples, carrots, lettuces, etc. – but most agriculture systems only grow a few kinds, so that’s all that’s available in our grocery stores.

What are the benefits of heirloom foods?

  • Taste – you won’t believe your tastebuds when you eat a ripe heirloom tomato, or scramble an egg from an heirloom hen!
  • Pest-resistence – The genetics of heirloom plans often mean they’re resistant to local pests, diseases, and weather extremes, which means farmers don’t need to use toxic chemicals to control farm conditions
  • Supports small farms – Large-scale farms don’t usually grow heirloom foods, so when you buy them, you’re probably supporting a smaller farmer who gets a higher percentage of the sale

What kinds of heirloom foods should you try?

Keep an eye out at your farmer’s market or grocery store for different-looking fruits and vegetables, and just give them a try.  Whether it’s tiny purple carrots, oddly-shaped apples, or enormous curly spinach leaves, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the taste and cooking possibilities for this special produce!

heirloom tomatoes

photos above taken by the talented photographer, Colin Young-Wolf