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When you bring home a bunch of tomatoes from your local farmer’s market or grocery store, where do you stash them? This question isn’t complicated, but it’s definitely divisive. Some tomato fans like their bright red fruit kept out at room temperature. But others believe the cold temps inside the refrigerator are just what this produce needs.
Do tomatoes really belong in the fridge, though? Or is this particular fruit better off on your kitchen counter? Where you store your tomatoes can affect how they ripen, how quickly they spoil and what they taste like. And we’ve got your definitive answer on the best tomato storage method right here.
Room temperature is almost always best for tomatoes
The general rule of thumb for all tomatoes is they’re best stored at room temperature.
As Cornell University notes, tomatoes do best in temperatures above 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and they thrive especially well in temperatures between 65 and 85 degrees. So, once you’ve picked out the perfect tomatoes, you’ll want to keep them in a similar climate at home. This will allow them to ripen naturally and achieve their best flavor just like they’d continue to do on the vine.
But there’s a bit of a catch – if your tomatoes have previously been refrigerated, then you need to continue to keep them cold. And typically, if you aren’t getting your tomatoes from a farmer’s market, out of your own garden or straight off a farm, your tomatoes have been refrigerated. As Serious Eats explains, most commercial grocery stores chill or refrigerate tomatoes, keeping them in colder-than-ideal temps to preserve them and stave off spoiling.
If your tomatoes have already been refrigerated, you still can store them at room temperature. They don’t have to go in the fridge. But you really only want to do this if your tomatoes are ripe and ready to use. You’ll need to use them ASAP if you’re keeping already-refrigerated tomatoes out of the cold temperatures they’re used to.
Your refrigerator can ruin perfectly good tomatoes
Why should you worry so much about cold versus warm, fridge versus counter for your tomatoes? Well, if you put your tomatoes in the fridge, you’ll actually change their flavor, texture and consistency.
Refrigerators typically sit at around 40 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit in temperature. When you store tomatoes in that extra-cold temperature, it does slow down the ripening process and make them last a bit longer. But an unexpected side effect of this is you’re also giving your tomatoes a “chilling injury.”
According to the USDA, a chilling injury harms a tomato’s natural ripening and development process. When the fruit goes into the refrigerator’s cold, it starts pitting, becomes mealy, ripens unevenly and even starts to decay. You’ll notice a loss of flavor and firmness, leaving your tomatoes feeling mushy and bland. Typically, these chilling injury side effects will hit your tomatoes after they’ve been refrigerated for four days.
So, while you can potentially get your tomatoes to keep a little longer by storing them in the fridge, they won’t taste as good as you might expect. If you were hoping to get plump, juicy fresh tomatoes, you’ll get a lesser-quality product if it’s been in cool storage.
Only use your refrigerator if you have to
If it’s too hot in your home or you simply don’t know if you’ll be able to use your tomatoes before they begin to go bad, your refrigerator is an option. While you want to leave this fruit at room temperature as long as you possibly can, you can turn to the fridge if you’re worried about spoilage (the same is actually true for avocados at peak ripeness, by the way!)
And if you can’t avoid storing your tomatoes in the fridge (or you have to do so because you went with pre-refrigerated store-bought tomatoes), there is some good news. According to the National Academy of Sciences, you may be able to bring refrigerated tomatoes back to life if you remove them from the cold and let them sit in warmer temps until they reach room temperature. While not all of the flavor will return, and you’ll likely still have a bit of mushiness and mealiness, it’s a better option than simply letting tomatoes go bad.