It is tomato season. Especially if you are in the southern hemisphere, otherwise you have absolutely no business buying beefsteak tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, or really any tomato other than the little bitty ones. I know you can acquire Vine Ripe and Roma tomatoes with ease during the winter months, but let’s be real: They suck.
But the little guys — your cherry, grape, etc. — those taste ok. Those are the tomatoes I grate on my winter tomato toast and toss into my January salads. (Everyone eats salads in January to exert control over their life. Some are more successful than others.) The cherry tomato’s size gives it a more concentrated, tomato-y flavour; at least that’s what I tell myself while I eat my toast and my salads.
If, like me, you can’t make it to the summer without some sort of love apple fix, then buy the small ones, and don’t put them in the goddamn refrigerator.
Why you shouldn’t chill tomatoes
When you put a tomato in the fridge, you stress it out and reduce the activity in its little tomato genes. According to newscientist.com, some of these genes “produce enzymes responsible for synthesizing the volatile chemicals that make tomatoes taste sweeter and give them a more complex, appealing aroma,” and a lot of those genes never recover, even after the tomato is returned to room temperature. Tomatoes also contain an enzyme that react poorly to the cold and causes their cellular membranes to deteriorate, rendering the fruit mealy and mushy. Simply put, a chilled tomato doesn’t taste, smell, or feel like a tomato.
I know there has been a lot of back and forth on whether it is “ok” to put tomatoes in the fridge or not, with a couple of food publications saying it’s fine in certain circumstances. Serious Eats did a comparison and found that storing really ripe tomatoes in the fridge is better than letting them rot on the counter. (OK.) Someone at this very site wrote about it. It’s technically true, but I have two major issues with the sentiment.
First of all, this does not apply to cherry (or similarly sized) tomatoes. Those little guys don’t over-ripen and rot like the big boys, even in a warm kitchen; instead they shrink and shrivel, nearly turning into little tomato raisins. Which are actually still quite good — the loss of moisture concentrates their flavour and, as long as they don’t develop any moldy spots, you can use shriveled cherry tomatoes just like you would any other small tomato.
With slicing tomatoes, I consider the fridge a desperate, absolutely last resort. Putting a slicer in the fridge means I have either failed to eat a whole tomato (couldn’t be me) or overestimated the amount of tomatoes I could eat before they started to lose flavour and texture at room temperature. (This is not a problem in January, but it has been known to happen in August.)
I will put a sliced, diced, or chopped tomato in the fridge because there is no other option, but I will mourn it because I know it will come out mealier and blander than when it went in, and I’ll usually end up cooking it.
What to do with over-ripe tomatoes
It is sheer folly to think you are going to wrangle a tomato onto your timeline. Much like an avocado, a tomato will ripen when it’s good and ready, and you better be ready when the moment comes. If you miss that window and your tomato teeters on the edge of rotten (too soft, with mushy spots), you have two options: You can halt any further ripening by putting it in the fridge, then try and eat it on a sandwich like you would a perfectly ripe, unrefrigerated tomato. (This will end in dissatisfaction.) Or you can admit to yourself that you missed the tomato sandwich window and use it to make something else.
I will always choose the latter. A too-ripe tomato isn’t worthy of eating out of hand, and while refrigerating it will keep it from rotting, it will also further degrade the flavour and texture. When confronted with a tomato that’s too ripe, I’ll either peel it and toss it in a sauce or stew, cook it down into a jam-like spread, or chop them up and strain out their juices to make tomato water. Then I’ll put that tomato water in a martini and drink away my tomato sorrows. (Nothing turns my frown upside down like a tomato martini.)