Buying the Best
Buying tomatoes at the height of summer is the first step toward getting juicy, flavorful fruit. Here are a few other shopping guidelines.
Try an Heirloom
Grown for decades from naturally pollinated plants and seeds that haven’t been hybridized (unlike commercial varieties), heirlooms are some of the best local tomatoes you’ll find.
Looks Aren’t Everything
Oddly shaped tomatoes are fine (only commercial tomatoes have been bred to be perfectly symmetrical). Even cracked skin is OK, but avoid tomatoes that are bruised, overly soft, or leaking juice. Choose tomatoes that smell fruity and feel heavy.
Anatomy of a Flavorful Tomato
The best-tasting tomatoes tend to have thin walls, which leaves more room for the most flavorful part of the tomato: the jelly that surrounds the seeds, which is three times richer in savory glutamates than the flesh is. Some sources recommend removing the seeds to avoid their bitter taste, but we haven’t found that they negatively affect flavor.
Go Ahead and Refrigerate Ripe Tomatoes
Standard wisdom dictates that ripe tomatoes shouldn’t be refrigerated. In theory, this is because cold kills their flavor-producing enzymes and ruins their texture by causing cells to rupture. But recently, numerous cooking blogs have challenged this thinking, so we decided to conduct our own tests.
Over two summers, we acquired heirloom and farmers’ market tomatoes that had never been refrigerated (most supermarket tomatoes are refrigerated during storage and/or transport). Once they were ripe, we halved some tomatoes and left others whole. We then refrigerated one set and left the second set at room temperature, storing them until they started to degrade. We stored the whole tomatoes loose and the cut tomatoes either in airtight containers or wrapped in plastic wrap. We then sampled the refrigerated and unrefrigerated tomatoes plain at room temperature and in batches of gazpacho and cooked tomato sauce.
Some tasters noted that the cut tomatoes in the plain tasting had picked up off-flavors in the refrigerator, but once the tomatoes had been cooked, tasters could not tell the difference between the samples. The flavor of whole tomatoes was unaffected by refrigeration. Plus, refrigerating them prolonged their shelf life by five days. Cut tomatoes didn’t last more than a day at room temperature, but they held fine for up to two days in the refrigerator.
In the future, we’ll move both cut and whole ripe tomatoes to the refrigerator to prolong their shelf life. To keep them from picking up off-flavors, we’ll put them in an airtight container, which works better than plastic wrap at keeping out odors.