Those exotic-looking, dark brown tomatoes showing up in more supermarket produce departments are ripe for being tagged as this summer's tastiest trend, but Kumatos have actually been around since the late 1990s. Until fairly recently, they were available exclusively in European markets. Consumers can thank Trader Joe's for introducing the super-sweet variety to the U.S. in 2013.

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Photo by Leslie Kelly

Roots in Spain

A young farmer on the Almerian coast of Spain noticed that tomatoes that were stressed by lack of water turned greenish brown, meaning they wouldn't make it to market. Yet, they were intensely sweet when harvested. Starting in the 1970s, Luis Ortega made it his mission to create a hybrid like those ugly tomatoes, one that could be grown on a commercial scale. There were many experiments crossing varieties of tomatoes found only on the shores of the Mediterranean. By the 1990s, the Kumato had hit the market to rave reviews. The biggest difference between these and other commercial varieties is that the Kumato ripens from the outside, eventually turning a shade of deep greenish brown when harvested, an appearance that might make shoppers wonder if these are an heirloom variety. They're not. Unlike many delicate heirloom varieties, Kumatos have a firm texture. That makes them shelf-stable, and are prime for storing at room temp for up to a week after purchase.

Changing Tastes

Consumers long used to bland commercially grown tomatoes started getting more demanding in the past decade. Some attribute changing tastes to the explosion in the number of farmers markets across the country, reminding people the pleasure of vine-ripened tomatoes raised by small growers, who pour their passion into growing the best tasting fruits and veggies. Large-scale agricultural enterprises responded by developing products like grape tomatoes. While the Kumato is a trademarked seed sold exclusively by a Swiss company called Syngenta only to commercial growers, there are imitators popping up. For instance, a California company sells a similar tomato called Rosso Bruno, and "black" tomatoes are showing up more often at farmers markets. As popular as Kumato has become in its short time on the market, it's likely even more knockoffs will soon follow.

Making Those Tomatoes Shine

Fans of this juicy fruit might be tempted to take the purist route and do nothing except slice and enjoy this amazing tomato, but there here are a few ideas on how to best show off the full flavor of a Kumato:

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Kumato caprese salad. Photo by Leslie Kelly