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Mar 28, 2012 11:55 PM

Tomato Sprouts Inside Tomatoes: Found any?

Since I found out about storing fresh tomatoes stems down to preserve freshness, I've been doing it and delighted with the results! So I have this large, flat clamshell of Eurofresh Compari vine tomatoes sitting on the countertop, only about half gone. They're beginning to get "prune wrinkles" on a couple of them, so when I was whipping up a risotto for lunch today, I thought, hey! Why not some diced fresh tomatoes in it? That's Italian!

When I cut them in half, three of the four had tiny bright green "tomato sprouts" inside them! How cute, I thought! Let's see, bean sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, why not tomato sprouts? So I sliced and diced and tossed them in the risotto after the onions, pine nuts, and rice had browned, but just before the Noilly Pratt. God, they smelled good! And as the risotto progressed, it was developing a nice thick sauce. But strangely, even after nearly a half hour of stirring and adding more hot stock, the rice was still a little gritty. This has NEVER happened before! And it's not a new batch of arborio rice, so I know there's no problem with it. But it got soft enough to eat. And it WAS simply delicious...!

And about ten or fifteen minutes later, serious gastric distress set in. What's going on here? So I googled "tomato sprouts" and found a LOT of conflicting information. Some sites say they're great to eat, eat on! Other's say the can cause gastric irritation and adversely effect the nervous system. Here are a couple of websites, one pro and one con, that are interesting:

It seems to be a relatively new thing. I've been eating tomatoes for a verrrrrrry loooooong time and NEVER experienced this before this past ten or twelve months. I have eaten a sprout containing tomatoe in the past, but I picked the sprouts out before putting it on a sandwich. No ill effects. But this time I used four smallish tomatoes and left the sprouts in, then cooked them. Adverse effects. I supose the gastric upset could have been from something else, but I don't really think so. And I've NEVER had arborio rice stay that gritty after cooking that long!

Strange things are happening... Tomato eaters, beware! Bottom line is I think AgriBusiness is messing with our food again, and as past experience has taught us, they often don't know what the hell they're doing. We -- the consumers -- are their guinea pigs! <squeeeeeeeaaaalll>

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  1. I'm an avid sprouter, Caroline, and have always understood nightshades are not to be eaten as sprouts. Still, doesn't sound like you ate too many of the little sprouts themselves -- but maybe that's enough to cause issues?

    Were the seeds just green or did they actually have root tails?

    6 Replies
    1. re: DuchessNukem

      That's the amazing thing! They were something like the long "sprout shape" you see in canned bean sprouts, but on a much smaller scale, and some had tiny leaves starting out at one end. And most surprising of all to me is that some of them were a rather bright and fresh spring green! Chlorophyl without sunshine? And then I realized they were getting light through the momma tomato. And yes, I knew tomatoes are members of the nightshade family. And yes, I pick any eyes off of potatoes before cooking/eating them. These were just so damned cute and pretty, I just put the old brain in neutral and dove right in! They were all nestled inside the seed sections inside the tomatoes. There's a picture of some of them on the dallasnews link in my OP.

      1. re: Caroline1

        Probably poor temperature/environment control for the little buggers during processing/shipping/storage. A shame, those Camparis are nice. But the sprouts + grittiness of the toms suggests poor overall handling before you got them. I tend to buy grape, cherry, Campari, and plum tomatoes and HORRORS, I keep them in fridge.

        Soooooo... since you're already inadvertently, effortlessly sprouting, why not consider some intentional sprouts? :)

        1. re: Caroline1

          I also found sprouts inside tomatoes a couple months ago, just like you described, and I think they may even have been the same brand. I'd left them on the counter as instructed on the clamshell package, rather than storing them in the fridge as I usually would. I'd never seen anything like it before, and found similar conflicting information on the internet when I tried to look it up. I decided not to eat the sprouts or the tomatoes in the end. It did sound from my research like the sprouting might have been caused by leaving the tomatoes out -- I'd probably had them for a month, but they still looked good on the outside. Apparently it was a good sprouting environment, given enough time.

          I guess now I know for sure not to eat them, but I still wonder if the tomatoes themselves would be ok.

          1. re: hbg1

            From the concensus of available opinions on the web yesterday, it's okay to eat the tomatoes if you remove the sprouts. A friend was here this morning who had never heard of suc a thing, so I cut one of the tomatoes open and showed her the sprouts. She's an excellent gardner -- I have TWO brown thumbs! -- so she took it home with her in a zip lock bag to see if they will grow. Time will tell!

            I've bbeen keeping all vine tomatoes (the only kind I will buy) on the counter, stems down, for way over a year now, but the Compari tomatoes (great "heirloom flavor) are the only tomatoes I've had this happen with to date. Some "expert" opinions are that it's caused by over-fertilization and growth hormone (I have no idea if that's true) while other "authorities" say the problem is long term storage. Who knows? But the tomatoes are purportedly safe to eat if you remove the sprouts.

            1. re: Caroline1

              Thanks for the info. I am pretty sure that Compari was the brand that I had, so maybe it's more likely to happen with those. I'd also never seen sprouts in tomatoes before, but I usually keep them in the refrigerator (although I do leave them on the counter to get fully red first, if they weren't already).

              Maybe I'll try the stem-down-on-the-counter method, since, from what you say, it seems like I'm not likely to get sprouts from doing this in general.

        2. re: DuchessNukem

          When mine sprout, they most definitely get tails, sometimes as long as a centimetre.

        3. I've had quite a few "pregnant" tomatoes over the years -- I find the sprouts horribly acrid and unpleasant, though, so I don't eat them...sounds like my instinct was correct. Sounds like the little bit you got was enough to upset your system.

          I have, however, been known to plant them, with mixed success.

          As far as the grittiness of your risotto -- I know that adding tomatoes to beans can, because of the acid in the tomatoes, delay or even prevent the beans ever becoming soft -- does anyone know if this extends to rice, as well?

          1 Reply
          1. re: sunshine842

            Well, parcooking in wine is SOP for risotto, so I don't think that is as much of a problem for risotto rices or any polished grain without a hull or skin.

          2. You've now explained something to me. I've relied on standard spoilage markers to determine whether a soft Campari was still good to eat, but have experienced mild negative results at times. I generally do slice them open, but I've not investigated the sprouting.

            This is a good warning that it's good practice to be sure to slice Campari's and similar tomatoes open and review for sprouting before eating.

            1. I also know from experience that while I've never felt unwell after eating tomatoes from which I'd removed all the sprouts -- it also usually means that the tomato is old enough to be a little funky -- grainy and the flavor has started to dissipate.

              And never, ever store tomatoes in the fridge -- the cold destroys the flavor compounds -- see this from the Florida Tomato Committee and Harold McGee says so, too:

              3 Replies
              1. re: sunshine842

                Well, that was the problem -- I finally decided to try storing the tomatoes on the counter, rather than the fridge as we've always done, and when I did, I got sprouts.

                I guess I should just eat more tomatoes so they don't stay there so long :-)

                1. re: sunshine842

                  Despite all that expert advice I do keep them in fridge, sunshine (that's why I said HORRORS above, lol). When Harold McGee stops by regularly to unfuzz them I'll start keeping on the counter.
                  Everyone to their own preferences. :)

                  (Please, no one tell the Tomato Committee.)

                  1. re: DuchessNukem

                    My mom still steadfastly refuses to take them out of the fridge, too.

                    I did a side-by-side with some smallish tomatoes -- we found that there's no comparison.

                    Your money, your tomatoes.

                2. Saw this for the first time recently. Kinda freaked me out at first cause I thought they were worms. Couldn't figure out how they got inside since no exterior holes. They were old tomatoes so I just pitched them. Couldn’t get past the “wormy” appearance.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Spice_zing

                    Yes! When the sprouts are still whitish, they look like little worms. Even though I know they aren't, every time I see them, they just freak me out. Not enough to throw them out though. I remove the pulp and sprouts and either eat them, or if the tomato seems beyond help, put it in the stock bag in the freezer.