Refrigerating Tomatoes to Retain Quality

Tomato season is rapidly approaching, and I thought I’d share this article that dispels some myths. They do a great job testing tomato quality under different storage conditions. Long story short, you should keep tomatoes at room temperature until fully ripe, at which point they should be used immediately or refrigerated. Sitting out in a 80 or 90 degree room does more damage to a perfectly ripe tomato than a refrigerator ever will.

And for everyone who wants to jump to “but studies say…” here’s a nice tidbit from the end of the article:

As I’ve written above, all of the academic studies I found on tomato storage were based on a narrow set of conditions: namely, tomatoes picked when underripe, and stored in temperatures below 70°F. Those studies concluded—and I’m willing to believe that they’re correct—that those tomatoes are harmed by refrigeration and are better stored at slightly higher temperatures, in the 50s and 60s. The studies I found didn’t examine tomatoes that were picked when fully ripe, and they didn’t consider warmer storage temperatures, certainly not above 80°F.

I have to admit that I find it hard to break the habit after so many years of drilling “never refrigerate” into my head, so I’m not always following “optimum” protocols.


Good article. Thanks.

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Sorry, no toms in the fridge ever for me. Article schmarticle. Bring out the dehydrator, canner or freezer bags first. Don’t sleep on fermented tomatoes either (especially cherries).

The guy did not test several important things properly. His results are only partially correct. He should have limited himself to slicing tomatoes and to cherry tomatoes.

Never purchase a Roma type tomato to slice. Roma tomatoes are bred to be dense and meaty with a flavor that develops properly only when cooked or otherwise processed. This is why they are referred to in the industry as “processing” tomatoes. I could elaborate on this, but you get the idea.

Purchasing vine ripe slicing tomatoes in the store is not actually purchasing vine ripe tomatoes. They were actually picked at breaker stage 1 (white star on bottom) or 2 (some pink) or 3 (mostly pink) or 4 (almost ripe but still firm). No matter what you do with an unripe tomato, it will never develop the flavor of a fully vine ripened tomato. Another problem with these tomatoes is the genetics. They are bred to be firm, slow to ripen, and mostly with the uniform ripening gene which clobbers the sugar content of the fruit. Look up “nor”, “rin”, and “alc” which are ripening mutants. I’ll give a plug for “alc” as it can improve storage ability without impacting flavor.

Home grown tomatoes almost entirely depend on the genetics to determine flavor. How they are grown is the rest of the story. If you plant commercial hybrid tomatoes, you will wind up with commercial tomato flavor. Pick them fully ripe and they are fairly good. Plant really good heirloom varieties and give them excellent growing conditions and they can be outstanding.

Here are my rules - and I think these are better than his.

  1. Pick fully ripe tomatoes of varieties chosen for flavor and use them within 24 hours.
  2. If you can’t use them within 24 hours, it is better to store them in a cool humid area such as a basement.
  3. Never refrigerate a tomato.
  4. Top quality home grown canned tomatoes are summertime in a jar.

The only tomatoes I’ve purchased at a store that tasted decent are Campari which are sometimes available from Costco. Somebody got the genetics and growing conditions right with these. For commercial hybrids, Big Beef and Ramapo are worth growing. For heirlooms, Lynnwood, Druzba, Kelloggs Breakfast, and Cherokee Purple are good flavored slicers. There are a few dozen other heirloom varieties that are as good or better.

How tomatoes are used:
Slicing - like it says, sliced and eaten on a sandwich or plain.
Processing - best if cooked in some way before eating.
Saladette - larger than a cherry, usually elongated, not dense like processing, juicy and usually good flavored for intended use
Cherry - Usually consumed whole or with minimal slicing, in salads, etc.
Drying - Dense meaty tomatoes grown specifically to be sliced and dried. (Costoluto Genovese type)
Hanging - Pantry tomatoes are picked ripe and stored in a cool humid area for up to 9 months (Piennolo)
Canning - varieties selected and grown to be canned whole (Picardy, Heinz 1350)


All good points, and I definitely agree that there’s always an “it depends” when it comes to interpreting any study, formal or informal. I’d like to point out that the author is limiting the scope of his results to the choice between a warm to hot room and a refrigerator. He does say that if you have a cool (but not cold) spot to store them (his example is a wine fridge), that should be your first choice. If you don’t, then that’s where full-on refrigeration comes in. He also does say that there’s nothing you can do storage wise to make a poor quality tomato any better.

My personal take is that the tomatoes that are truly best fresh (big juicy slicers, cherries) are pretty disappointing in any use other than fresh (exception: roasted). They don’t dry well and they make a watery sauce (unless you cook all the flavor out or add in a lot of low-moisture tomato paste). So for big slicers where I can’t eat them all within 24 hours, and I don’t want to “waste” them on processing, I happily refrigerate them and am pleased with the results.

I would love to hear more about the pantry types. I’ve only heard a little bit about them here and there, and that’s an area of tomato varieties that deserves more attention.

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Pantry type tomatoes are common in Spain and Italy. Almost all of them use the “alc” gene combined with a thick skin to extend storage time. Thick skin reduces moisture loss. There is not much else to say other than that most of them produce small fruits a bit larger than a cherry in the range of a golf ball in size. Search for “de colgar” and “piennolo” to find some web info. Also, a few of these are available as seed. Glenn Drowns at Sandhill Preservation has Piennolo del Vesuvio and King Humbert. Others I’ve grown are Principe Bhorghese and Grappoli de Invierno.


Thanks! I grow Principe Bhorghese for drying, but I didn’t know you could store it like that. I’ll have to give it a try.

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Principe Bhorghese can be stored for a few months at most. Piennolo Del Vesuvio can go 9 months under optimum conditions.

There are several larger slicing tomatoes that can be stored. Winterkeeper and Yellow Out Red In come to mind.


I’m not even willing to concede that tomatoes are harmed much by storing green. At the end of the season we always refrigerate some of our not quite ripe tomatoes to eat through fall. We also wrap a lot of green ones in newspaper and leave in the cool basement until we need to ripen them for use. Either method leads to better than we can buy.

IMO, the reason refrigerated ripe tomatoes don’t taste as good is because they are cold. Fruit always tastes better at room temp, or even warmer off the tree according to my palate. I always have some ripe fruit on the counter for near immediate consumption.


They do also say to make sure your tomatoes come up to room temperature before you eat them. I definitely agree about most things tasting better at room temp or warmer. I forget who said it first, but I like to say that with beer, the only ones you want to serve ice cold are the ones you don’t really want to taste.


Maybe in England or Germany, but I’m like most Americans and like my beer ice cold, and but also hand crafted and hoppy. It does not make it taste like Bud.

How do you drink your champagne?

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Most handcrafted, hoppy beers are good at 45-50 degrees, so still pretty cold. Some of the Belgians are best up closer to 70! However, even if it’s not at the “best” temp, it’s still gonna pretty good if it’s good at all.

Champagne I seldom drink, but I agree that one usually is best cool to cold. I will counter that many white wines are quite good served at cellar temp. It brings out a different character than serving it chilled. Before I get us too derailed, I’ll bring us back to the tomatoes by saying that this is another area where “it depends”!

Most of my foodie focus is on vegetables and fruit. The difference to me between a decent bottle of wine and one that retails for 100 bucks is far less than the fruit I grow and what I usually can get in a store. Same for my tomatoes.

The simple pleasures are the deepest ones, IMO.

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Alan, Have you tried growing a tomato variety known for really good flavor?

Of course. Now I mostly grow Brandy Boy as my top in flavor, although I grow a lot of unusual tomatoes that each have their own special quality.


What are your suggestions for great tasting tomatoes? These are mine… I love Sungold for sweetness. Cuore de Bue for cooking and flavor; Green zebra for being green, and having a nice acidic taste snd my new find Marmande for slicing and eating as us. Great flavor (only my opinions).

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Hard to beat brandywine for flavor… but here in my location you are lucky if you can get 10 tomatoes per plant. They just dont produce… suffer something awful with leaf blight, go down hill fast.

Sungold is my fav cherry — but it is not at all in the same ballpark as brandywine… when it comes to what I call great tomato flavor.

One Big Beef tomato will easily give me 50, 60 or more tomatoes… every year, time and time again. The flavor is not brandywine level… but it sure is good enough.



Tomatoes are my favorite fruit. When the kids were home, we used to build the whole meal around a large bowl of fresh peeled tomatoes. I’m pretty finicky about flavor and texture. My wife and I still eat a large bowl of tomatoes for supper. Sometimes I’ll be at the orchard and peel a large bowl for myself for lunch. For this reason, I keep salt in my pickup (I don’t don’t like unpeeled or unsalted tomatoes.) Again, I’m finicky about texture, and the skin ruins the texture for me.

I’ve grown lots of different heirloom types. While many of them have superior flavor, as TNhunter mentioned, they don’t offer much production. So we have settled on more quasi commercial varieties. Burpee’s big boy, Supersonic, etc. Last year we started growing Pink Girl, which has a nice sweet flavor. All ours are field grown, which I think maximizes flavor of a given variety. Many tomatoes are grown in a hoop house (with the obvious advantage of consistent problem free production) but I don’t like the flavor and texture of hoop house tomatoes. They are a step above grocery store tomatoes, but still not very good, imo.

As to refrigeration, I’ve tried it several times through the years. We’ll peel too many for supper, we get full and can’t finish the bowl. Invariably I don’t like those tomatoes the next day, even letting them warm up to room temperature. The texture is off, and the flavor isn’t as good. It’s bad enough that I won’t eat them, so I’m 99% sure I could pick them out in a blind taste test.

The article was interesting, but I disagree with the idea that one has only a few hours from when tomatoes peak, to when there is a noticeable decline. I’ll bring home a crate of tomatoes and we can get quite a few days out of them. Some will go bad within a day, but these are generally damaged in some way, or cracked.

I’ve noticed tomatoes closer to fall, don’t taste as good as hot summer tomatoes. I suspect that’s because temps naturally fall in the “refrigeration” zone outside, as fall approaches, along with shorter day lengths.

I’ve found 90 plus temps are not that harmful to tomatoes, as long as one can keep the sun off them. We pick tomatoes in the morning and sell them during the day in the heat of summer. They are still delicious by the end of the day, if cooled to room temperature before eaten. If they are in the sun at 90 degrees or more, they will essentially cook in the sunlight, destroying the texture and some flavor, so it’s important to keep them shaded. Peaches are even more tolerant of heat after picked, although it does cause them to ripen faster, and they too need some shade especially if they are a double red variety. Cucumbers won’t take heat at all. 90 degrees will turn them limp pretty quick.

While the article was interesting (thanks for posting the read and starting this interesting discussion) I’m going to have to stick with my own experience of eating and growing tomatoes. For my part, tomatoes don’t get refrigerated. If they go bad, we throw them out.

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I could easily name many others, but here are some suggestions based on use, not just size or slicing:

For slicers,Burgundy Traveler, Druzba, Lynnwood, Nepal, Red Brandywine, Wisconsin 55, Cherokee Purple, Black From Tula PL, Black Krim, Kelloggs Breakfast (or KBX), Aunt Ruby’s German Green, Eva Purple Ball, Brandywine (Sudduth), Crnkovic Yugoslavian, Omar’s Lebanese, and Yoder’s German Yellow

For processing, Heidi, Martino’s Roma, Picardy, Cuor de Bue, Kosovo, and San Marzano

For Saladette, Blush and Maglia Rosa (a plug for Fred Hempel who bred them, they are really good too)

For Cherry, Black Cherry, Dr. Carolyn Pink, Dr. Carolyn, Galina’s Yellow, Lorelei, Green Grape, Sungold, and Hibor

For drying, I have about a dozen varieties, but Costoluto Genovese and Principe Bhorghese are the only ones commonly available. Borgo Cellano is also very good, but hard to find.

For hanging (pantry) tomatoes, Piennolo del Vesuvio is commonly available. In the general category of tomatoes that can be stored, Yellow Out Red In and Winterkeeper are decent.

For canning, I often use Heinz 1350, Eva Purple Ball, Picardy, Red Brandywine, and BBXEPB ( a stabilized cross of Big Beef X Eva Purple Ball)

If you want to grow a good dwarf variety, give New Big Dwarf or Perth Pride a try.

I have made other recommendations in the past. This is just a good general list of varieties that can be grown in a wide range of climates with good performance. Many of these are available from Sandhill Preservation and others from Tomatogrowers Supply

Sungold is in a category by itself for a unique tropical fruit flavor derived from S. Habrochaites, a wild tomato species. I rank Hibor to have similar sweetness with a more normal tomato flavor. Cuor di Bue is widely grown for processing, but I prefer Heidi if I am making sauce. Green Zebra is a unique tomato and one of the best from Tom Wagner’s breeding work. For people who want really tart tomatoes, the three I recommend are Green Zebra, Goose Creek, and Jaune Flammee’ (often listed as “Flamme”). I grow Marmande, but for me it is just a middle of pack decent tomato. I prefer Lynnwood for better production and better flavor.

The only hybrid slicer I recommend unconditionally is Big Beef. It consistently sets production records and the flavor is usually excellent. Ramapo is another very good hybrid but not as widely available. I recommend Bella Rosa for high heat high humidity climates such as the southeastern U.S. and Amelia if Tomato Spotted Wilt is likely to be a problem.

Randy Gardner has some unreleased hybrids that are hands down better than most others but seed are not generally available. He made a hybrid several years ago between one of his disease resistant lines and my BBXEPB. It wound up being the most productive tomato I’ve ever grown producing 80+ pounds per plant. That is two 5 gallon buckets of tomatoes piled as high as they can be piled from a single plant. Care for the plants was the same as the rest of the plants in my garden which just underlines how important genetics is for tomato production.


Great report! And thanks so much. I see the Costoluto in the markets, I see why you dry them, they are not a juicy tomato. Thank you for all of your suggestions!