Ripe, juicy tomatoes filled with flavour are a backbone of thousands recipes from all over the world. The quality and ripeness of the tomatoes you use always matters, as the flavour won't be right otherwise. That's especially true when you are making a salad. If you grow your own tomatoes or find that the ones you’ve bought are unripe, here are a few tips for helping them develop more flavour.
Once you've got the technique down, try your hand at our best ever tomato recipes, from quiches to curries. Discover more about the health benefits of tomatoes and the nutritional benefits they bring to your plate.
How tomatoes ripen
The first thing you need to know is that sunlight isn’t always helpful; in fact, too much light can toughen skins, so don’t put your tomatoes on the windowsill. If you grow tomatoes, don’t be tempted to pull the leaves off the plants to help them get more sunshine.
Tomatoes need warmth to ripen. The warmer a tomato is, the quicker it will ripen – putting your tomatoes in the fridge is therefore no help to them at all, and can even degrade their texture to ‘mealy’. However, if tomatoes get too hot, the ripening will stop – another reason to keep them off the windowsill.
Tomatoes, like bananas and avocados, give off ethene (or ethylene) gas, a natural plant hormone that regulates a plant’s growth and makes it ripen by converting the starch it stores into sugar. All fruits do this, and tomatoes are technically a fruit, which is why they will ripen other climacteric fruits (fruit that will ripen off the plant that it grows on).
As long as you are start the process with tomatoes that have naturally started to ripen (even if they have only just started to tinge yellow or orange in patches) these will be ready to ripen, and will have a better flavour when they turn red. Tomatoes that are completely green may not develop as good a flavour or ripen as well, so perhaps think about using them in recipes such as fried green tomatoes with ripe tomato salsa or green tomato chutney.
How to ripen tomatoes
In a breathable bag or box
- In order to speed up the ripening process, all you need to do is trap the ethene gas in with the tomatoes by putting them in a paper bag, cardboard box or empty kitchen drawer.
- Add a ripening banana or apple, which will also give off ethene to help things along.
- Fruit gives off moisture, so use a bag or box that won’t trap it and keep the tomatoes spaced apart so they don't go mouldy.
- Ripening from very unripe usually takes a week or two at higher temperatures (18C-25C is optimum) – just keep checking as the tomatoes will ripen at different speeds.
- If it’s cold in your kitchen, ripening will take much longer. Also, check for tomatoes that start to rot, as these will affect all the others.
There is some advice available that tell you to put tomatoes in a jar, but this is more likely to trap moisture and hasten spoiling.
In the fruit bowl
If your tomatoes are almost ripe but just need a little more time, keep them in your fruit bowl. The fruit around them will give off ethene and help them to ripen, and you will be able to keep an eye on them.
More like this
5 ways to use ripe tomatoes
1. Roasted tomato, basil & parmesan quiche
Use cherry tomatoes that will burst with sweetness in this golden, cheesy tart. Our roasted tomato, basil & parmesan quiche is perfect for an al fresco summer get-together with friends. Serve in slices with a fresh green salad.
2. Roast tomatoes
Roasting tomatoes concentrates their flavour even more and makes a good side dish or breakfast. Add our easy roast tomatoes to a brunch extravaganza for a touch of sweetness and sharpness from the balsamic drizzle.
3. Tomato bruschetta
Our easy tomato bruschetta are a tried-and-tested party favourite. This classic Italian starter takes just 20 minutes to make and can be thrown together really easily. If you're having a summer gathering with friends, this fresh and tasty dish will make a great addition to your menu.
4. Tomato kachumber
A hit of chilli and some fresh herbs marry well with sweet tomatoes. Our speedy Indian tomato kachumber makes a refreshing salad and a flavourful addition to a buffet spread. This colourful side dish is vegan as well, so everyone can tuck in.
5. Tomato passata
If you’ve a glut of tomatoes from the garden or they're going cheap in the shop, make your own tomato passata and freeze it for later in the year. Batch cooking this healthy sauce will save you time in future when you fancy making soups and stews.
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