TIRANA, February 23
In the Mediterranean region, olive oil, tomatoes, and a pinch of oregano make the perfect marriage of flavors. Albania, like all the other countries on the Mediterranean coast, has a long tradition of tomato cultivation. Experts believe that the tomato plant was introduced in Albania around the same period it arrived in the other neighboring countries from Central America. People from Shkodra still use golden apples (molla t’arta) for tomatoes. This term has been borrowed by the Italians, who used it for golden-yellow tomatoes that came from the Americas.
In terms of greenhouse tomato cultivation and export, Albania knows no competition from the other Balkan countries. According to worldexports.com Albania ranked 22nd in the global market of tomato exporters during 2018-2019.
However, Albania has traditional tomato varieties also known as heirloom tomatoes that have the potential for agricultural diversification and economic empowerment for rural communities.
The Community Research and Development Information Service of the European Commission (CORDIS) made a publication on traditional tomatoes in the European Union (EU) that highlighted the following: “Consumers complaints about the loss of flavor in modern tomatoes, provide an opportunity for the valorization of traditional tomato varieties, to protect them from genetic erosion and the replacement by higher-yielding, pest-resistant modern cultivars.”
Given that tomatoes are among the top-most consumed fresh product in the EU and the world, heirloom tomato varieties in Albania can help enhance the competitive advantage of rural communities and promote conservation of agrobiodiversity and sustainable use of local products.
What are heirloom tomatoes?
The heirloom tomato it’s not about the fruit itself but its seeds. The seeds are passed down from season to season. They are selected by farmers based on traits such as their shape, size, color, taste, juiciness, etc. Those varieties have not gone through genetic modifications. They are seasonal, cultivated in open fields, and naturally pollinated.
Those are tomatoes that one rarely finds in big city markets or supermarket chains. They come in different colors and sizes, and weird shapes. Most important, they are better tasting compared to regular tomatoes. There are many varieties of traditional tomatoes in Albania that have been cultivated all over the country. Some are still farmed by individual farmers while others risk disappearing.
Pink Oxheart tomato (Domate Zemer Kau)
Botanical name: Lycopersicon esculentum pink oxheart
If the pink color would have a flavor, in Albania it would taste like an Oxheart tomato. This is a popular heirloom tomato variety known for its heart shape, color, big size, and flavor. It has been cultivated in central Albania for about 100 years, but it can be found throughout the country. Currently, accounts for about 10-15 percent of cultivated tomatoes in Central Albania. Due to their aromatic and meaty flesh, they are good for slicing, salads, and sauce. This makes them great for household or restaurant use. They produce fruit throughout the growing season from July to October. The Oxheart tomato yield is up to 35-40 quintal per 1,000 square meters. This variety is resistant to late blight and low temperatures. On the other hand, they can’t resist long-distance transport and require special packaging.
Currently, Oxheart tomatoes are mostly cultivated by individual farmers or in home-gardens.
Tirana Tomato (Domate Shengjergji)
Botanical name: Solanum Lycopersicum L
Shengjergji village could be one of the few places in Albania that organizes an annual festival to celebrate tomatoes and they have all the reasons for doing it. Shengjergji area is well-known among weekend day-trippers and outdoor enthusiasts, who enjoy both culinary and nature explorations. Yet, the most famous product in the Shengjergji area is the native Tirana Tomato. It has been cultivated for over 100 years, first in Shen Meri village on the side of Mali me Gropa at about 1,000 meters above the sea-level. Experts have registered two types of Tirana tomato variety in the register of the Genetic Bank of Plants. Tirana-92 is larger and Tirana-100, which is smaller.
The local climate, altitude, and other factors make Tirana Tomato variety a unique product of Shengjergji and the nearby villages. The heirloom has been passed down through generations, while the Genetic Bank occasionally helps to restore the seed to preserve it.
Tirana tomato produces from August to late October and it is resistant to long-distance transportation and low temperatures.
The Cerre Tomato of Tirana
The Cerre variety is found in the low and hilly areas of Priska and Petrela, Tirana area. It has been cultivated for over 100 years and currently, it accounts for five percent of tomato production in the area. The Cerre variety produces from June to July. It has a low yield of 25-30 quintals per 1,000 square meters. On the other hand, with the introduction of imported and modified seeds, the Cerre variety risk disappearing. Nowadays, it is cultivated in home gardens.
Southeastern and Southern Albania
The Yellow Tomato of Korca
The area of Korca and Pogradec has been cultivating a yellow variety of tomatoes for up to 100 years. This variety is said to have arrived from the Americas. The seed of this heirloom has been preserved by local farmers and currently, it accounts for up to five percent of tomato production in the area. The production lasts from late July to late autumn. This is a relatively large size tomato up to 200 grams. This variety is resistant to late blight and cold temperatures. Production is stable but it has a low yield. This and the introduction of imported seeds have reduced the cultivation of the yellow Korca tomato variety.
Korca Pistilke Tomato Heirloom
The name of this tomato implies that it is small. It has been cultivated in Korca and Pogradec area for up to 80-100 years. The weight of the fruit reaches35-40 grams. This tomato variety has an intense red color and peculiar taste. The production lasts from mid-July until lake autumn. It has a yield of 35-40 quintals per 1,000 square meters. Korca’s Pistilke tomato heirloom risks disappearing.
Sanjollas Tomato variety
Sanjollas is a small village located in Kolonja Municipality. The locals are known as hard-working people and good farmers. When it comes to local products Sanjollas is famous for cherries and tomatoes. The traditional tomato variety of Sanjollas has been cultivated for more than 150 years. It is believed that it arrived from Istanbul and currently accounts for 10 percent of tomato production in the said area. This tomato variety is large, up to 250 grams, sweet and it has a particular flavor. It is cultivated in open filed and production lasts from July to late October. Sanjollasi tomato has a yield of 35-40 quintals per 1,000 square meters. This variety is great for salad or sauce purposes, or dried and pickled for winter. Like the other above-mentioned heirlooms, it risks disappearing.
Serreke Variety from Permeti
The Serreke tomato variety has been cultivated in Southern Albania for over a century. Currently, it accounts for 10-15 percent of tomato cultivation. This tomato has a solid red color when ripe, a medium-size up to 220 grams, and a good flavor. Production begins in July until October. This variety is great for sauce and pickles. It has a low yield of 35-40 quintals per 1,000 square meters and risks disappearing.
Dhoksati Tomato variety
Dhoksati village in Southern Albania is getting attention as an off-beat destination on the side of Lunxheria Mount. The village and the surrounding area are known for agriculture production, vineyards, and fruit cultivation. Dhoksat has also its tomato heirloom that has been cultivated for over 100 years. This variety accounts for 10-15 percent of the cultivated tomatoes. This tomato has a large size of 250 to 300 grams. It is planted in late-April while production lasts from late July till October. It has a low yield and cannot resist long-distance transport. Dhoksati tomato variety risks disappearing.
Shala Grape Tomato Variety (Domate Kokerr Vogel)
The Shalla area in the Dukagjini region is home to a grape tomato variety (30-35 grams) that has been cultivated for 70-80 years. It has been preserved by local families that passed down this heirloom through generations. It accounts for 10-15 percent of the tomato cultivated area. Due to the small size, it has a low yield of 15-25 quintals per 1,000 square meters. Production begins in mid-July and lasts until late autumn. This variety provides good and stable production. It is resistant to late blight and frost. Like the other varieties risks disappearing.
Shala Large Tomato Variety
The large tomato variety of Shala is a rare native heirloom that has been cultivated in Gimaj village and the surrounding area for about 60-70 years. Now, it accounts for 5-10 percent of the tomato cultivation in the area. Production begins in mid-July and lasts until late autumn. The average weight of this variety is 150-170 grams.
The Cherry Tomato of Qafe-Gradi, Shkreli
The cherry tomato of Qafe-Gradi is a rare native heirloom that has been cultivated in Shkreli, Malesi e Madhe, for about 70-80 years. Now, it accounts for 5-10 percent of the tomato cultivation in the area. Production begins in late June and lasts until late autumn.
Read also: Albanian Products: Konispoli Mandarins
Albanian Products: Chestnuts
Albanian Products: The Vorba of Gojan
Albanian Products: The Mishavine Cheese of Kelmendi
Top Regional Albanian Products: Traditional Products by Region
Albanian Products – Overview
Things You Can Only Buy in Albania
Invest in Albania