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Unrefrigerated Tomatoes -- I Still Don't Get It

Okay, I heard it here on CH that refrigerating tomatoes was not a great idea, so recently I tried leaving my very ripe, from the shuk, tomatoes out at room temperature. Within a couple of days, at temperatures in the 30s C (90s F), all were unpleasantly soft and some were moldy.
Now I'm back to storing them in the fridge. And they taste fine. In fact, I'm just finishing a tomato/cucumber/avocado/sweet pepper/harif (hot) pepper/red onion/fresh basil/lemon juice salad that tastes more than fine.
So I'd like to hear more specific instructions than just "fridge is bad, counter is good."

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  1. Well, one should eat tomatoes when they are ready to eat; especially when they are VERY ripe; leaving them outside in a hot environment will accelerate the ripening (sp?) and they will start to rot.

    Putting tomatoes in the fridge will slow down the aging and decaying of ripe tomatoes.

    Leaving tomatoes out of the fridge, at least those that are not yet ripe enough will help them ripen and IMO give them better taste; and I hate cold tomatoes (and cold raw veggies in general)

    1. The cold temperatures of the refrigerator will ruin the texture of a tomatoe and make it mealy.

      If your tomatoes were very ripe then you should have just eaten them.

      2 Replies
      1. re: jpc8015

        I agree with jpc - if your tomatoes are very ripe, eat them.
        Make a fresh pasta sauce or bruschetta.

        I'm the the mid-Atlantic states, and the only tomatoes I buy
        in the winter are grape or cherry to throw into a salad.

        In tomato season, I don't get to the farmers' market every
        day so I try to select tomatoes at varying stages of ripeness
        to last over a few days and definitely store them on the
        counter. I find a distinct difference in taste and texture with
        refrigerated tomatoes but if you don't have AC that might
        be your only option.

        1. re: ferventfoodie

          "try to select tomatoes at varying stages of ripeness
          to last over a few days and definitely store them on the
          counter."
          Great advice. And if you find some getting too ripe, make sauce and freeze it - there's nothing like the taste of summer tomato sauce in February.

      2. LOL! You're joking, right?

        At that ripeness and at those temperatures, you got exactly what you should have expected.

        "Very ripe tomatoes" aren't to be stored.

        "Very ripe" tomatoes, being very tasty, lose just as much flavor from the cold storage as do any tomato of any ripeness. But since the "very ripe" tomato is so much more flavorful, the cold storage still leaves plenty of flavor behind.

        If you started with a less ripe tomato the cold would leave them flavorless. This may only be noticeable to some people who are not used to cold stored tomatoes. If some people are used to cold tomatoes, then room temperature tomatoes aren't pleasant.

        Having grown tomatoes in my vegetable garden for many, many years I have been able to pick vine ripened tomatoes to enjoy the same day or next without much problem. If tomato crop is overabundant, then sharing with friends and family or sauce or jarring may be in order. If I see that many will ripen at once then I pick them the *day before* and store at room temperature for a few days.

        BTW, where are you located? Curious for two reasons. First, that much *stuff* on a tomato salad is NEVER going to make a difference if you have "very ripe" tomatoes or unripe green tomatoes. Lemon juice or vinegar on tomatoes is blasphemy. I see everyone do it and I cringe. Cannot and will not ever like it. Ever. Horrible treatment of tomatoes. Horrible. Second, at this time of year, where are you getting your "very ripe" tomatoes?

        Also, *very ripe* tomatoes are an American thing. Travels through Italy and Greece show that *salad tomatoes* are under ripe tomatoes meant to hold up in a salad. *Very ripe* tomatoes fall apart and are meant to be eaten out of hand.

        42 Replies
        1. re: Gastronomos

          Lemon juice and tomato is a very common marriage in the Middle East. Salads of tomato, cucumber, olive oil, lemon and salt are quite common, along with a variety of other preparations.

          I can't speak specifically to almond tree's tomatoes - but as someone who lives in Jerusalem, tomatoes are largely used by home cooks for salads/raw preparations. So ripeness is more frequently judged on their ability to work within a salad/raw. Unfortunately for me, most tomatoes I buy now end up in the fridge because the size of my kitchen does not have so much counter space.

          1. re: cresyd

            Ok. Being from Cyprus myself, I get the lemon juice and tomato thing. I also repeat that under ripe tomatoes are more traditional for these preparations that you mention. Underripe.

          2. re: Gastronomos

            Not joking, just trying to learn something new. That's exactly why I posted -- to find out exactly what the idea of not storing tomatoes in the fridge is all about.
            I can't go shopping every day, so I usually buy enough tomatoes for a week at a time.
            I put "that much *stuff*" on my salad quite simply because I like it, ***especially*** the lemon juice :). (Cresyd is right, it's a regional thing.) The tomatoes weren't the star of the show, just a very nice component.
            Where I'm getting my very ripe tomatoes -- I live in Jerusalem, so tomato season is in full swing already and will be until October or November.

            1. re: almond tree

              Ok. If you like refrigerated tomatoes, go for it. If you can't tell he difference, go for it. Being from Cyprus myself I get the lemon juice thing. It's more traditional to use underripe tomatoes. Underripe.

              1. re: Gastronomos

                Huh? I didn't say I prefer refrigerated tomatoes, just that I can't shop for them every day.

                1. re: almond tree

                  "Now I'm back to storing them in the fridge. And they taste fine. In fact, I'm just finishing a tomato/cucumber/avocado/sweet pepper/harif (hot) pepper/red onion/fresh basil/lemon juice salad that tastes more than fine."

                  I think what Gastronomos was saying is that you seem to not have any flavor or texture issues with a refrigerated tomato so why not just keep doing as you are doing? I think for many folks, myself included, refrigerating dulls the flavors and changes the texture - making the tomato mealy and even gritty. Kind of like a bad apple. But if that doesn't happen for you then that's great! Maybe Israeli tomatoes are a hybrid or variety that stands up to refrigeration. Whatever the reason, enjoy your maters and your delicious salads (that salad sounds lovely). :)

                  1. re: lynnlato

                    I haven't noticed a change in texture, although the local style is to chop all salad ingredients quite fine and to let them sit together and "marry" for a while, so differences in texture would be less noticeable than if I were eating them in thick slices.
                    In terms of flavor, the summer tomatoes in Israel (which are already on the stalls in the shuk) are intensely flavorful, so some slight loss of flavor would probably be insignificant.
                    I guess I can do a comparative taste test to find out for sure :).

                  2. re: almond tree

                    Just enjoy them room temp or cold. There is a difference but its not night and day. No sin

                2. re: almond tree

                  Most of the tomatoes that most of us buy are picked green and refrigerated before we get them. These tomatoes have had their cell walls and enzymes damaged, and can never taste good. Ripe tomatoes are another matter. Harold McGee advises to let ripe tomatoes that have been refrigerated sit on the counter for a day or two before eating them. This is supposed to help them recover.

                  1. re: bcc

                    Thank you for a clear explanation.

                    1. re: almond tree

                      Do you think that happens to tomatoes in Israel? Given the abundance of tomato in the local diet, I have always assumed that a good chunk of the tomatoes we get go through some kind of large scale agricultural meddling - but I don't really know much about the life of the average tomato sold in Israel.

                      1. re: cresyd

                        I don't think tomatoes are usually picked green in Israel. They are transported much shorter distances than is often the case in North America. Also the turnover at Machane Yehuda is very high and Israelis are pretty demanding of good quality produce.
                        So my conclusion is that we don't need to be so concerned with leaving tomatoes on the counter here, although I would like to try taking out whatever amount I plan to use that day, to let it come to room temp.

                        1. re: almond tree

                          I agree that you should do whatever works for you, but please don't get the idea that high quality or vine ripe produce survives refrigeration better somehow.

                          There's no way in the world I'd put the tomatoes I grow in the fridge. It destroys both flavor and texture. Sometimes if I by crappy grocery store tomatoes and want them to last longer, then I will refrigerate...because they suck already.

                          btw, peaches are similarly destroyed by refrigeration.

                    2. re: almond tree

                      Thanks for the "season" update! Was reading everyone else talking about "winter" tomatoes, and thinking, "okay, when's winter in the Middle east?"
                      (If i remember right, that means dry season is tomato season, and wet season is not tomato season?)

                      1. re: Chowrin

                        Winter in Israel is basically the same time as in North America -- it's just shorter and rainy rather than snowy (although we do have a snowfall every couple of years). You are right, that is not tomato season -- tomatoes are still available in the stores, but they are expensive, poor textured and tasteless.
                        The long sunny dry season starts some time in March or April, so by now this year's tomato crop is in full swing.

                    3. re: Gastronomos

                      Give Marcella Hazan's Garlic Scented Tomato Salad a try. It may just change your opinion about vinegar and ripe tomatoes.

                      http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/mem...

                      1. re: EM23

                        You had me at vinegar and ripe tomatoes. I love both! I enjoy red wine vinegar much more than balsamic vinegar so this will be a wonderful spin on bruschetta which I often just throw on top of chicken.

                        1. re: fldhkybnva

                          Such a simple recipe, but so delicious. Make sure to follow the marinating garlic and salt in vinegar step. It infuses the 'maters with great flavor. Is it July yet???

                        2. re: EM23

                          Thank you. I will note that she states, "ripe, firm, round or plum tomatoes"
                          That is not the same as very ripe tomatoes. Very ripe are usually not firm and she also goes on to say to skin the raw tomatoes. I have not had much luck skinning very ripe tomatoes. Even on occasions where I get garden tomatoes that are of the thick skin variety.
                          How ripe a tomato should be for a salad is preference.
                          Marcella Hazan also writes to a certain audience...

                          Being of Greek heritage I can say that a true Greek Salad has no lettuce in it at all. Tomatoes, cucumber, sliced raw onion, green peppers, copious amounts of olive oil and salt. A variety of personal favorites like capers and olives etc. But NEVER vinegar. It's a regional thing. On the island of Cyprus underripe tomatoes (they call them "ripe", as in "ready to eat") are diced with cucumber etc. and lemon juice is added. The acid missing from the ripe tomato is made up with lemon juice. The lemon juice also acts as an antiseptic.

                          1. re: Gastronomos

                            I've traveled all over Greece for months at a time and had Horiatiki every day and every one had red wine vinegar on it.

                            1. re: acgold7

                              Was the salad served dry? Or was the salad served dressed?

                              1. re: Gastronomos

                                Interesting. I used to make horiatiki with olive oil and lemon juice (in my younger days when I despised vinegar -- I hadn't had any good one), but it never tasted right.

                                A Greek friend of mine told me that's b/c they use red wine vinegar, not lemon. He's a mainland Greek. Maybe that's what you say about regional variations. I know a few Cretes I could ask.

                                I love a well-made horiatiki, but primo tomatoes and good feta are essential for it to taste right. And good olive oil. And 'rigani.

                                Damn, do I have a craving now....

                                1. re: linguafood

                                  I'd love to know what your friend from Crete says about vinegar in tomato salad.

                                  1. re: Gastronomos

                                    Well, not tomato salad. Horiatiki. I'll ask him right now :-)

                                        1. re: Gastronomos

                                          So funny you'd mention dakos. My buddy sent me a link in his reply about the horiatiki.

                                          I'm not much of bread salad gal, tho.

                                  2. re: Gastronomos

                                    Usually dressed, but if dry there was Red Wine Vinegar on the table.

                                2. re: Gastronomos

                                  Yes, very ripe tomatoes are hard to skin. I make sauce with them and the skins usually peel off in the pot while it simmers and are easy to pick out.
                                  Being of Irish heritage, tomatoes, garlic and red wine vinegar were not on our table growing up. I am grateful every time I cook for the lucky day, at the age of 18, when I found a copy of Hazan's Classic Italian at a library book sale. :)

                                  1. re: EM23

                                    I am happy for you and your epiphany for sure!
                                    I am always pleased when someone embraces the mediterranean diet!
                                    Good health and happiness to you and yours!

                                    1. re: Gastronomos

                                      Cheers Gastronomos! Same back at you:)

                                3. re: EM23

                                  Yum! How have a not seen this recipe? When tomatoes come in here that is on my list.

                                4. re: Gastronomos

                                  Blasphemy? Maybe the issue is yours rather than blasphemy if you see "everybody doing it". I love a good vinaigrette on tomatoes and a lemon/oil combo too. Your preferences don't necessarily dictate mandate, mine either. You like them au naturel, fine, but please try to refrain from such judging!

                                  1. re: EWSflash

                                    No kidding -- most of the European continent serves vinegar of some sort on tomatoes.

                                  2. re: Gastronomos

                                    In Greece, oil AND vinegar/lemon juice are added to all salads- Horiatiki (village salad), Lettuce, shredded cabbage/carrot, boiled greens, egg/tuna salads etc etc Salads arrive already dressed at Tavernas and Restaurants usually with Oil AND Vinegar bottles on the table for those who want extra.As for the ripeness of the tomatoes, fully red yet firm tomatoes are preferred, but occasionally tomatoes that aren't fully ripe (red) are used.

                                        1. re: Tripeler

                                          My 3am attempt at a witty way to point out that the posts ignore a pillar of Greek cooking- the pillar of salt. Greek cooking often has far too much salt but it does go with heavy cigarette use. But the Greeks are OK in comparison with the Russians. So much salt! Revolutionary cooking- the dish revolts and my body rebels.

                                          The posts talking about Greeks and Italians using unripe tomatoes in salads do not recognize differences in variety, terroir, season and handling. Variations in tomatoes and use are almost as great as variations in grapes and wine.

                                          almond tree. There are all kinds of tomatoes in Israel. One kind is very fleshy and dense. It just sits on the shelf and nothing happens. Eventually it starts to wither but it is still OK to eat. There are compromises in every breeding programme. Consider the British Royal family.

                                          You were so lucky to get tomatoes perfect to eat the day you bought them! Or, when life gives you a ripe tomato- to make the next day matbucha (concasse, you can raise the price) or shakshuka. No waiting!) How much were they in comparison to other tomatoes at the market? Was it very humid at the time?
                                          Learn to love your tomatoes!

                                          I am an expert at garbage in the market but I certainly did need a crash course when I got to Israel.

                                          Incidentally, the modern commercial cherry tomato is the product of Israeli research and development. Small tomatoes for a small country.

                                          1. re: Vinnie Vidimangi

                                            Shalom (or should I say "salve"), Vinnie,
                                            The tomatoes I bought were just regular Machane Yehuda ones -- nice but not out of the ordinary compared with their fellows.
                                            Since I only get to the shuk once a week at most, I bought a lot and decided to try leaving some out at room temp. I then scientifically proceeded to forget about them (during a spring heat wave -- hot, not humid), and when I found them a few days later, they were not happy campers.
                                            I think the whole discussion in this thread arose because folks living in the US assumed that early May tomatoes were dismal supermarket/hothouse produce, which would be in need of ripening.
                                            This was not the case with mine.

                                  3. If they are not as ripe as you would like them to be leave them on the counter. If they are fully ripe, either eat them immediately or put in the refrigerator.

                                    Just say no to dogma.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: kengk

                                      This has worked for me. The grape tomatoes aren't always at the ripest and so they seem to last for up to 2 weeks on the counter with no noticeable change in quality. If I buy vine-ripened whole tomatoes or fresh ready-to-go ripe tomatoes we eat them immediately. I never refrigerated tomatoes as I don't like the texture.

                                    2. No produce ever tastes as good once it's been refrigerated as it does before.

                                      19 Replies
                                      1. re: MGZ

                                        Except for, you know, all of them.

                                        Apples and pears need to be held in cold storage to ripen. No pear varieties and very few apple varieties can ripen on the tree. If you try to let them do so, they rot.

                                        And every other fruit tastes better icy cold from the fridge.

                                        There is nothing more disgusting than body temperature watermelon.

                                        1. re: acgold7

                                          Oh my body temperature watermelon.......I just got a little ill.....

                                          1. re: acgold7

                                            Refrigerated peaches, pears, plums or bananas? No thank you. I also do not refrigerate apples, grapes, cherries or any citrus except grapefruit. Melon and berries do go in but
                                            I have absolutely no problem with room temp watermelon. At bbq's we always have it that way. Cut and consumed immediately. Deelish.

                                            Oh, also I refrigerate leftover sliced tomato. It would never last another day otherwise. And when I make a tomato and onion salad I store it in the fridge but will always let it come to room temp before eating. Cold tomatoes are ick.

                                            1. re: acgold7

                                              I completely disagree. Refrigeration dulls flavors.

                                              1. re: acgold7

                                                Some the best apples I have ever had have been right off the tree. I dream of local macouns…

                                                1. re: acgold7

                                                  I grew up with both apple and pear trees, and they always ripened beautifully on the trees with no rotting.

                                                  Grapefruit is actually much better at room temperature, as are apples, peaches, pears, and other fruits that I can't think of right now.

                                                  1. re: sandylc

                                                    There are a few varieties that ripen well on the tree. Most don't.

                                                    All the rest is all about personal taste. I cannot imagine anything more vile than warm citrus. But hey, if you like it....

                                                      1. re: sandylc

                                                        I have lovely memories of pink grapefruit picked off the tree on a hot day and eaten right then and there.

                                                        1. re: EWSflash

                                                          I have the same memory but with oranges. When we would go to Fla I would get one of those plastic tubes things that you stick in the orange and drink the juice. Nothing better than fresh off tree in the, warm from the Florida sun!

                                                      2. re: acgold7

                                                        A tangerine picked off the tree certainly isn't vile to me. Hey but different strokes

                                                        1. re: scubadoo97

                                                          we had our own tree for many years -- many tangerines never even made it into the house - snarfed right there under the tree, and there's definitely no refrigeration built into a citrus tree.

                                                          1. re: sunshine842

                                                            Refreshing to hear Indiana lingo! Snarfed! Where I live now it's scarfed! I miss snarfed.....;-(

                                                    1. re: acgold7

                                                      I eat apples off the tree every autumn and they taste delicious. Maybe they aren't ripe (how do you define that in an apple, anyway), but they taste better just picked (crisp, juicy, slightly sour) than they ever will sitting on a shelf or in the fridge a day or two later. Ditto for Asian pears. If I don't pick 'em, I don't want 'em.

                                                      1. re: acgold7

                                                        Sorry, I must disagree on the pears. At the end of pear season Auntie used to let us climb the tree in her backyard and pick and eat the pears right there. Still the best pears I ever had.

                                                        1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                          there was a pear tree in a windrow in one of the fields in the area where I grew up.

                                                          In the fall, we'd anxiously await the weekend when we would climb the tree, sit in the branches (4 of us!) and munch pears right off the tree.

                                                        2. re: acgold7

                                                          acgold7: I heartily disagree with almost everything that you write,

                                                          1. re: acgold7

                                                            acgold:
                                                            for sure i know that your information about pears is incorrect.
                                                            my neighbor has a pear tree.
                                                            dunno where you heard this stuff. . . . .

                                                            1. re: westsidegal

                                                              it's true that apples and pear TREES have to have a certain period of cold weather in order to set blossoms and fruit -- perhaps that's gotten melded into the theory somewhere.

                                                              But no -- the fruit will ripen right there on the tree...the human race has been eating apples and pears since several centuries before there was refrigeration.