Tomatoes are the second-most eaten vegetable in the United States, following potatoes. (And are potatoes really vegetables? Are tomatoes? We digress.) People eat $60 billion worth worldwide every year, which is a lot.
But how should tomatoes be stored in your kitchen? Chefs and Italians have long left tomatoes at room temperature, while safety- and efficiency-minded types use the refrigerator. Now a new study in Frontiers in Plant Science determines once and for all what the best practices are for storage of Solanum lycopersicum L (that’s science for “tomato”).
Hyper-detail-oriented researchers at the University of Göttingen grew a variety of tomatoes and then mimicked the commercial three-day harvest-to-consumer storage practices. Once they arrived at “home,” the tomatoes were stored either in the refrigerator (44.6 degrees F) or at room temperature (68 degrees F) and then evaluated by a dozen experienced food assessors. Those assessors were trained at identifying things such as green-grassy odor, tomato-typical odor, tomato-typical flavor, sweetness, sourness, juiciness, firmness, aftertaste, and . . . you get the idea. The tomatoes also underwent a raft of analysis, including taste by an “electronic tongue” known as the e-tongue.
Their findings: It doesn’t matter. No significant differences in flavor were found between refrigerator-stored and counter-stored tomatoes.
What matters is how long the tomato is at your house, the variety of the tomato, and the temperature of your refrigerator. The cultivars (aka breeds) had a much higher impact on flavor than the storage. And you should eat them within four days. “The shorter the storage period, the better it is for the flavor and related attributes, says lead author Larissa Kanski, a doctoral candidate in agricultural sciences. Make sure to pay attention to temperature, as previous studies have shown deleterious effects of storing tomatoes at 39 degrees F.
In short: For tasty tomatoes, buy tomatoes that taste good, store ’em however you want, and eat them within four days. Enjoy.