The Greek island’s volcanic soil produces an intensely fragrant, sweet crop.
After Russia shuttered most of its Orthodox churches in the wake of the 1917 revolution, the Greek island of Santorini was faced with a problem: Russian Orthodox monks were their largest export market for wine. Looking for a new cash crop, merchants turned to the Santorini tomato.
They may look like standard cherry tomatoes, but domati Santorini are unique products of the island’s climate and geology. Their flavor and texture come from a combination of the local soil, brimming with nutrients from millennia-old volcanic ash, and the fact that the vines thrive with minimal water. (Like many crops on the dry island, they pull all the moisture they need from the morning mist and require no irrigation.) The resulting tomatoes have slightly dry flesh, an intense aroma, and a distinctly sweet taste.
The tomatoes’ sweet, brightly acidic flavor make for especially delicious tomato paste (pelte). As tomato-processing plants spread across Santorini throughout the 1920s, pelte became an iconic island export. Even though the industry declined—partly due to a devastating earthquake that leveled much of the island—its heyday has been immortalized by the Tomato Industrial Museum, housed in a former tomato paste factory. Pelte remains a Santorini staple.
While the canned versions helped bring economic stability, Santorini residents enjoy the tomato in many other forms, including fresh, sun-dried, or fried. A particularly beloved dish is domatokeftedes: small patties of chopped tomatoes, diced onion, herbs, and flour, fried in olive oil.
Need to Know
Santorini tomatoes are harvested throughout June and July. Seeds can be bought online, although they may not produce the same flavor as island-grown ones. Canned pulp, paste, and juice from the Santorini tomato can also be bought online.