A Guide to Picking the Best Tomato at the Grocery Store

A Guide to Picking the Best Tomato at the Grocery Store

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Meghan Splawn
Aug 18, 2016
(Image credit: Christine Han)

Few fruits are romanticized more than the tomato. During peak tomato season, tomato-lovers flock to farmers markets and roadside stands to purchase tomatoes of every shape, size, and color. Pounds of tomatoes are snatched up without hesitation because nothing promises quality quite like farmers-market tomatoes in the summer. At the supermarket, lovely red orbs of tomatoes are left abandoned in the produce aisle because they're auspicious surroundings make no guarantee of flavor.

But not all supermarket tomatoes are bad. In fact, in the depth of summer, supermarket tomatoes are just as tasty as their heavily marketed, farmer-branded brethren — you just have to know how to pick them.

Selecting Large Tomatoes

Look for tomatoes that have a deep, consistent coloring. Yellow or green patches on red tomatoes are an indicator that the tomatoes were ripened off the vine — a practice of tomato growers who pick green tomatoes, which are easier to pack and ship but may compromise flavor. Pick up the tomato, but resist squeezing it, and rest it in the palm of your hand. Tomatoes should feel heavy for their size. Give the tomato a smell — it should have a sweet, earthy smell. The stronger a tomato smells, the more flavor it will have.

Selecting Small Tomatoes

Plastic clamshells are quite convenient for getting tiny tomatoes to the supermarket and home, but they make selecting their contents a bit of a pain. Try to select grape and cherry tomatoes that are also deep in color. They should be smooth, unwrinkled, and plump for their size. Again, giving the package a whiff will let you know how flavorful the tomato may or may not be and alert you to any spoilage inside the container.

Location, Location, Location

Where the tomatoes were grown is a better indicator of quality than a brand name. Florida and Mexico are major tomato growers and shippers, meaning that unless you live close to these states — their tomatoes were picked green and shipped across states in their un-ripened state. Locally grown tomatoes are more likely ripened on the vine and will probably taste better and be less expensive.

What are your tricks for picking the best tomatoes at the grocery store?

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