Storage wars

Mini caprese skewers

Nothing says summer like fresh tomatoes. And apparently nothing stirs up debate like how to store them. Alton Brown is adamant: never, ever store your fresh tomatoes in the refrigerator. Over at Serious Eats, Daniel Gritzer says unequivocally that you should refrigerate tomatoes and ignore anyone who says otherwise. Why is there such a difference in opinion from two respected sources?

Brown's reasoning has to do with a key flavor compound in tomatoes known as (Z)-3-hexenal. If this compound drops below 50 degrees F, it "is just going to flip itself off like a chemical switch ... permanently." Conversely, Gritzer claims that tomatoes left on the counter can get "too ripe, losing flavor and texture in the process."

Earlier this summer Gritzer performed a short experiment on the effects of storing supermarket tomatoes in the refrigerator vs. on the counter. The results of that testing led to another, more involved test on fresh heirloom tomatoes from the farmers' market. The result? If they had a preference (approximately half didn't), testers favored the refrigerated tomatoes. To explain this apparent discrepancy, Gritzer opines that while optimal storage temperature for tomatoes is between 55 and 70 degrees F, not many home kitchens remain that cool during the summer. Therefore fully-ripened tomatoes that sit out at temperatures above 70 degrees lose both flavor and texture. The refrigerator protects them from excess heat.

His advice is to only buy as many tomatoes as you will eat in one or two days. If your tomatoes are not fully ripe, let them ripen before moving them to colder storage. Once ripe, store tomatoes for up to a day at room temperature, but then move them to the fridge. Another tip: if you have a wine fridge, store your ripe tomatoes there, because it isn't as cold as your regular refrigerator.

Where do you weigh in on the storage debate - do you ever refrigerate tomatoes?

Photo of Mini Caprese skewers from indexed blog Skinnytaste

7 Comments

  • wodtke  on  9/9/2014 at 3:34 PM

    This really surprising. It certainly seems to me that everything I've seen in the last ten years or so says not to refrigerate them.

  • Jnachow1  on  9/9/2014 at 6:32 PM

    I find they become mealy and mushy if you refrigerate. Have always read that they should never be put in the frig.

  • Rinshin  on  9/11/2014 at 7:03 AM

    I hate refrigerated tomatoes. The texture changes. I always regret saving tomatoes when I must because they are already sliced in the refrigerator. Seems waterly, less taste, and texture is more mealy. So, here is one tester who disagrees with their taste testing.

  • Queezle_Sister  on  9/11/2014 at 11:53 AM

    I am firmly in the "no refrigeration" camp. My understanding of the biochemistry is that its the enzymes that produce the flavor compound that fall apart upon refrigerating. I tend to cook any tomatoes that are starting to look on the over-ripened side of things, and can living with some tomato waste as long as my tomatoes stay on the shelf. I wonder how long before someone markets a 50˚F tomato refrigerator?

  • rhelune  on  9/13/2014 at 4:35 AM

    Never. I use them up quickly.

  • ellabee  on  9/13/2014 at 10:58 AM

    Like other commenters, I've been persuaded by experience not to refrigerate tomatoes. The best move is just to eat immediately any cut ripe tomatoes, or cook them. They're going to decline quickly in the fridge or out. This is posing quite a challenge in our household right now, as the s.o.'s whopping beefsteak tomatoes are coming in at a startling rate -- six or seven a day from just one plant!

  • stitchan  on  9/14/2014 at 4:50 AM

    Living in a humid sub-tropical climate, I have noticed that if not refrigerated tomatoes hardly lasts for two days.

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