Ever wonder about the effect that storage temperature has on the foods we eat? In general, for food safety and preservation measures, foods should be stored at a cool temperature. But where should tomatoes be stored – in the refrigerator or on the counter top?
Tomatoes sold in grocery stores are usually picked a few days before they are actually ripe, but there are also vine-ripened tomatoes, tomatoes from the local farmers market and homegrown tomatoes. Typically we store all varieties of tomatoes in the refrigerator, but actually they should stay at room temperature because refrigerating tomatoes stops the natural ripening process.
The cool temperature of the refrigerator changes the chemical structure of the tomato, and the result is a tomato with an altered taste and texture. Think about it – cold tomatoes are not as flavorful, and perhaps even a bit mushy.
Our sense of taste is uniquely related to our sense of smell. Volatiles are the compounds in tomatoes that help to predict the taste of a tomato. When chilled, volatiles in a tomato decrease.
To encourage the natural ripening process, it is best to store tomatoes at 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. At room temperature the volatile production in tomatoes will increase, and lead to a fuller flavored and firmer textured tomato.
Tomatoes that may have been refrigerated can still recover from the chemical change. Simply place them on your counter for a full day before eating. Or if you don’t have a full day, you can use those refrigerated tomatoes in recipes like spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, chili and stews where the spices will predominant.
Tomatoes are packed with wonderful vitamins, minerals and plant compounds to help reduce your risk of heart disease and some cancers. So pick some up on your next shopping trip.
Check out the related How to Keep Produce Fresh Longer infographic for more information.
Nancy Farrell, MS, RDN is founder and owner of Farrell Dietitian Services in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Visit farrelldietitian.com to learn more.