Should You Refrigerate Tomatoes?
Sweet and juicy tomatoes have the ability to transform a meal. Whether the fruit is sliced and layered on bread, puréed into a gazpacho, or stars in a refreshing summer salad, tomatoes are a delight. While there's no denying their allure, there is confusion about how to properly preserve their taste and texture. Should you refrigerate tomatoes or leave them out on the counter? Does the storage method change depending on their level of ripeness? To help you answer these questions we consulted the experts.
Basically, it all comes down to science. Tomatoes contain an enzyme that reacts to cold temperatures and causes its cell membrane to break down, leaving you with a piece of fruit that's mushy and mealy. "You're essentially zapping flavor and texture from a tomato when you refrigerate it," says Gregory Lofts, deputy food editor at Martha Stewart Living. Additionally, Lofts notes that tomatoes very quickly take on odors from other foods in the refrigerator which can further degrade their quality and taste. "My general rule is to never refrigerate a fresh tomato," he says.
Whether you purchase a ripe or unripe tomato, you should store it at room temperature. "Tomatoes are most flavorful at peak ripeness and when stored at room temperature," says Maddy Rotman, head of sustainability at Imperfect Foods. "Try eating a cold tomato and a room temperature tomato, you'll see that all the flavor of the tomato is hidden when it's cold and you can taste all of the sweetness when it's ambient." How long they'll last at room temperature depends on their ripeness—a tomato at peak ripeness should be eaten right away, while less ripe tomatoes will benefit from the warmer atmosphere. Rotman says to store them stem side down until they're ready to be consumed.
If your tomatoes are on the edge of becoming overripe and you don't want to lose them, Lofts says you can keep them in the refrigerator for a few days to halt the ripening process. At that point, however, you should only use the tomatoes to cook with rather than eating them raw as they will have already lost too much flavor and texture. Rotman says she loves to put wrinkled tomatoes in red sauce, add them to a pizza before baking it, or throw them onto a sheet-pan with a protein or other vegetables. "Cooking tomatoes that may be soft is a great way to keep flavorful tomatoes from being wasted," she says.
If you're only planning to eat half of a tomato, Anina von Haeften, co-founder of Farm to the People says to store the other half in the fridge. When left on the counter it will dry out. "If you plan on using the other half in the next day or so, the flavor and texture shouldn't be affected," she explains. "If you do store it in the fridge, it's best to let it come to room temperature before using." To save half a tomato, Rotman recommends storing it cut side down in a container and keeping it in the fridge.