Can you ripen tomatoes from the grocery store?

Ripe, juicy tomatoes bursting with flavor are the foundation of countless of dishes from across the globe. The quality and ripeness of the tomatoes you use always matters, as the flavour won’t be right otherwise. This is particularly true while preparing 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. Learn more about the health advantages of tomatoes and the nutritional value they provide to your diet.

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 produce tomatoes, resist the urge to remove the leaves off the plants to give them more sunlight.

Tomatoes need heat 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’. But, if tomatoes get too hot, they will cease ripening, which is another reason to keep them off the ledge.

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 since tomatoes are technically fruits, 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 fully green may not acquire a pleasant flavor or mature as quickly, so consider using them in dishes like fried green tomatoes with ripe tomato salsa or green tomato chutney.

How to ripen tomatoes

Tomato selection on board

In a breathable bag or box

  • Just trap the ethene gas in with the tomatoes by placing them in a paper bag, cardboard box, or empty kitchen drawer to speed up the ripening process.
  • To speed things up, add a ripe banana or apple, which will also emit ethene.
  • Fruit emits moisture, so use a bag or box that won’t hold it and keep the tomatoes apart to prevent mould growth.
  • Ripening from extremely unripe to ripe normally takes a week or two at warmer temps (18C-25C is ideal) – simply keep an eye on them as they mature at varied rates.
  • Ripening can take considerably longer if your kitchen is cool. Also, check for tomatoes that start to rot, as these will affect all the others.

Some advice suggests putting tomatoes in a jar, but this is more likely to retain moisture and speed spoilage.

In the fruit bowl

Tomatoes in bowl

Keep your tomatoes in your fruit bowl if they are nearly ripe but need a little more time. The fruit around them will give off ethene and help them to ripen, and you will be able to keep an eye on them.

5 ways to use ripe tomatoes

1. Roasted tomato, basil & parmesan quiche

Quiche with tomatoes and basil leaves on rack

In this golden, cheesy tart, use cherry tomatoes that will explode with sweetness. Our roasted tomato, basil & parmesan quiche is perfect for an al fresco summer get-together with friends. Slice and serve with a fresh green salad.

2. Roast tomatoes

Quiche with tomatoes and basil leaves on rack

Roasting tomatoes intensifies their flavor and makes an excellent side dish or brunch. Add our easy roast tomatoes to a brunch extravaganza for a touch of sweetness and sharpness from the balsamic drizzle.

3. Tomato bruschetta

Tomatoes with garlic and herbs on tray

This simple tomato bruschetta is a tried-and-true party favorite. This traditional Italian appetizer takes about 20 minutes to prepare and comes together quickly. If you’re planning a summer get-together with friends, this fresh and flavorful meal will be a welcome addition to the menu.

4. Tomato kachumber

Tomato bruschetta on board

Sweet tomatoes go wonderfully with a kick of chilli and fresh herbs. This quick Indian tomato kachumber makes a tasty salad and a tasty complement to a buffet dish. This vibrant side dish is also vegan, so everyone can enjoy it.

5. Tomato passata

Kachumber in bowl with chillies

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 nutritious sauce will save you time when creating soups and stews in the future.

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