Hold the Phone! Is It Actually OK to Refrigerate Tomatoes?

published Aug 6, 2015
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Conventional wisdom admonishes you should never put fresh tomatoes in the refrigerator because they’ll get a mealy and unpleasant texture, but is this actually true? We’ve heard rumors to the contrary, and since this is serious business in food-lover land, we had to investigate.

Serious Eats has done extensive taste comparisons to analyze the effect of refrigeration on a variety of tomatoes, from cherry to unripe supermarket to juicy farmers market tomatoes. Their conclusion? In certain situations, refrigeration is actually preferred!

More About Refrigerating Tomatoes

This is an earth-shaking conclusion in the world of food. On the surface, it seems to contradict people like Harold McGee, who wrote in On Food and Cooking about chilling tomatoes below 55°F: “Tomatoes at the mature-green stage … suffer damage to their membranes that results in minimal flavor development, blotchy coloration, and a soft, mealy texture when they’re brought back to room temperature. Fully ripe tomatoes are less sensitive, but lose flavor due to the loss of flavor-producing enzyme activity.”

But if we look carefully at both Serious Eats and McGee’s conclusions, they actually somewhat align. It all has to do with temperature.

Harold McGee tells us to store tomatoes at a nice, cool 55°F, but that’s not easy to achieve at home. Your refrigerator should be set between 35°F and 38°F, but room temperature is generally defined as a cool 70°F. Unless you have a wine cellar or wine refrigerator, it’s probably impossible to store tomatoes at 55°F.

So does this mean you should put your tomatoes on the counter or in the refrigerator?

(Image credit: Christine Gallary)

When You Should Refrigerate Tomatoes (and When You Shouldn’t)

If you buy unripe tomatoes, putting them straight in the refrigerator will halt any further ripening, so basically they’ll never get any better and the cold temperatures in the refrigerator will do a fair amount of damage. You’re better off letting them sit at room temperature so some more ripening can occur.

However, if you purchase ripe tomatoes, especially in the summer when they’re picked at their peak, higher room temperatures actually speed along ripening, and eventually rotting. You’re better off putting them in the refrigerator if you won’t eat them in a day or two to keep them from overripening. It’s better if the tomatoes change a tiny bit because of the cold, rather than go bad and become inedible.

If you do end up refrigerating tomatoes, the caveat here is that you should let them come back to room temperature before eating them. According to Serious Eats, ripe tomatoes will still be tasty and close to their original state.

So what do you think? Does this change where you store your tomatoes? Or is any mention of refrigerator in the same sentence as tomatoes utter heresy?