For many consumers who are not aware, there seems to be little or no difference between plants of the same kind. One tomato seed is no different than another tomato seed. However, this could not be farther from the truth, especially when you look at the difference between heirloom and hybrid seeds. Even when a plant produces the same fruit, there will be massive differences if one is heirloom and one is hybrid.
A hybrid seed is the product of a human manipulating a plant’s pollination. Generally, a hybrid seed results from the selective breeding of plants with good traits to create another generation of plants with those traits. Experts use this process to create better and more consistent yields. However, this consistency does cost a lot of variety in plants. The whole point of a hybrid seed is to generate the exact same plant—just slightly better—each generation. This targeted breeding creates standardized produce that is roughly the same across the board. Every tomato should be as red as the next and taste the same.
Unlike hybrid seeds, heirloom seeds have no selective breeding and are little more than good seeds passed down to us from history. Generally, whenever a farmer had a particularly good harvest, primarily in flavor, they would keep that crop’s seed in an heirloom seed kit for the future. Farmers would then pass on the seeds to younger generations, keeping the delicious crop alive throughout the years. That is what defines an heirloom seed—an old seed (usually 50–100 years old, at least) surviving throughout history because of its quality.
The most significant difference between heirloom and hybrid seeds is the flavor that the heirloom seeds offer. Although scientists breed hybrid seeds to taste good, they have no variety and have a much shorter history than heirloom seeds.