Ingredient Intelligence

How to Tell If a Tomato Is Bad — Plus How to Pick a Good Tomato

published Jul 26, 2022
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tomatoes on a cutting board
Credit: Photo: Chris Simpson; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

Biting into a plump, ripe tomato is one of the most enjoyable parts of summer. It’s something I look forward to every year. Starting in June, I load up my kitchen counter with a rainbow of homegrown and market-bought tomatoes that I use for salads and pan con tomate, and for snacking all the way through August. But nothing can ruin the vibe like chomping down on a tomato that’s rotten inside, so here are a few easy ways to know if your tomatoes have gone bad before you take a bite.

3 Ways to Tell If a Tomato Is Good or Bad

1. Take a look.

Tomatoes should have taught, blemish-free skin. If there’s a bruised spot or two, it’s OK to cut around them and enjoy the rest of the tomato (maybe turn it into a nice tomato sauce), but if the entire fruit is pocked with spots, it’s best to move on. A rotten tomato will also leak a bit of fluid, so look for a puddle under the fruit as a telltale sign that it’s past its prime.

2. Give it a sniff.

If your tomato has an unpleasant odor, it’s going to have an unpleasant taste too. Use your nose to know when your tomatoes are ready for composting. A fresh tomato will have a pleasant, aromatic tomato-y smell, especially near the stem end.

3. Hold it.

You can tell a lot about a tomato just by touching it. Fresh, ripe tomatoes will feel smooth, supple, and heavy for their size. Wrinkled or mushy tomatoes are already on the wrong side of ripe. 

And, like my dad always said, the only thing worse than finding a worm in your tomato is finding half a worm in your tomato. Wiggly little critters might make a snack/home out of garden-fresh tomatoes, so keep your eyes open for stowaways.

Tomato Recipes to Try

Now that you know how to choose good tomatoes, use those beauties in some of these recipes.