How to Store Tomatoes, According to a Tomato Expert

published Aug 25, 2022
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When you’re shopping at your local farmers market or grocery store, you’ll likely come across a wide variety of interesting-looking tomatoes, each with their own characteristics, sizes, and flavors. Whether you prefer smaller cherry or grape tomatoes in an easy grain salad, large and colorful heirloom tomatoes for a tomato pie, or tomatoes on the vine for a tasty rice dish like arroz con gambas, there’s always a flavorful recipe you can use them in. To make sure your dishes are fresh and tasty, though, you’ll need to know how to store tomatoes to keep them in tip-top shape. The first hint: Refrigerating your tomatoes is typically not necessary!

To get the best tips on how to store tomatoes at home, both whole and sliced, we consulted the tomato expert of all tomato experts: Craig LeHoullier. A gardener, educator, and the author of Epic Tomatoes: How to Select & Grow the Best Varieties of All Time, LeHoullier has decades of experience growing and harvesting vegetables, particularly tomatoes.

How to Pick the Best Tomatoes

When it comes to choosing tomatoes to bring home and enjoy, timing is super important. Unless you plan to use the tomatoes immediately, rather than selecting fully ripe tomatoes, LeHoullier suggests choosing tomatoes at the “breaker stage,” when they are half-ripe.

“Letting tomatoes ripen fully on the vine reduces shelf life significantly,” says LeHoullier. “This leads to a much greater risk of cracking and critter damage.” Half-ripe tomatoes allowed to fully ripen off the vine taste practically the same as tomatoes ripened fully on the vine.

You don’t want tomatoes that are rock-hard, but rather slightly firmer to the touch than how you’d like to eat them. This is especially important if you buy tomatoes in bulk.

Additionally, for the freshest and most flavorful tomatoes, LeHoullier recommends getting them from a farmer or local farmers market. Better yet, you can grow tomatoes at home for an uber-fresh taste.

How to Store Whole Tomatoes

To store whole tomatoes at home, you don’t need any special tools or containers. LeHoullier says it’s best to keep fresh whole tomatoes out on a countertop or kitchen table — they should not be refrigerated. You can put them in a bowl or simply leave them loose. In fact, LeHoullier says he even sometimes keeps his freshly picked tomatoes on a table in his garage. LeHoullier suggests keeping the tomatoes out of direct sunlight so they don’t ripen too quickly. LeHoullier also added that it doesn’t usually matter how you store the actual tomato, whether stem-side up or down.

How to Store Cherry Tomatoes

According to LeHoullier, this storage rule of thumb applies to cherry tomatoes and other small tomatoes, too. You can keep cherry tomatoes (and other smaller types of tomatoes) in the container they came in and store them on a counter or even a shelf, just like large tomatoes. However, LeHoullier says to keep a close eye on them, since cherry tomatoes tend to over-ripen and crack faster than larger varieties of tomatoes.

Why Whole Tomatoes Should Not Be Stored in the Refrigerator

Putting fresh whole tomatoes in the fridge will likely compromise their flavor and texture. “The texture [of refrigerated tomatoes] changes to something a bit more mushy, which I don’t find at all pleasant,” says LeHoullier. “The chilling leads to subtle chemical changes in the fruit, which alters the flavors.  I like to taste exactly what the genes in the tomato were coded for!” Thus, avoid refrigerating your tomatoes to maintain their authentic natural flavor.

How to Store Sliced Tomatoes

One exception to the “no-refrigeration” rule is sliced tomatoes. If you happen to only use half of a tomato, you shouldn’t leave the rest of it on the counter. LeHoullier recommends storing cut tomatoes wrapped tightly in plastic wrap or in an airtight storage container. For more advice, see our guide to the best way to store cut tomatoes.