Tomatoes: picking, selecting, storing
20 Oct 2013 05.25 am by Renny Wijeyamohan
Tomatoes are the undercover agents of the fresh produce world. A fruit masquerading as a vegetable that has managed to worm its way into being a staple element of salads, pastas, sandwiches and other fresh dishes. Nutritionally, tomatoes are high in Vitamin A and Vitamin C and can be a good source of minerals that the body needs.
You can start picking tomatoes between 65 and 85 days after planting. You can tell a tomato is ripe when it has achieved its final colour. Depending on the tomato variety you have planted this can be red, yellow or pink. The University of California recommends that when a tomato reaches about 20% of its full-ripe colour it has reached its “full balance of sweetness and acidity potential.” After this point – peak flavour can develop on or off the vine with proper handling. However, if possible leave a tomato on the vine until 80% of its ripe colour has developed. To pluck a tomato off the vine gently twist and pull or cut the stem as close as possible to the fruit with a sharp tool.
Choose unblemished tomatoes with a full colour to eat. If they have been picked at the correct time, they should have a sweet and tasty flavour regardless of whether they have fully ripened on or off the vine. Before selecting a tomato give it a gentle squeeze – depending on your preference, it shouldn’t be too firm or too soft, but somewhere in the middle. While squeezing apply a slight pressure and run your thumb across the skin. If the tomato is good to eat the skin should not wrinkle.
Try to avoid storing fresh tomatoes in the refrigerator. According to Harold McGee the author of On Food and Cooking, refrigeration can damage the sensitive cell membranes in tomatoes and can cause the flesh to lose flavour and become swollen and mealy. It’s best then to store ripe tomatoes at room temperature where they will last for 2-3 days. Keep them away from direct sunlight, in a paper bag somewhere that they can achieve the coolest room temperature possible. If you have purchased green tomatoes or those that haven’t fully ripened they can last for around 5 days at room temperature. If you are dead set on refrigeration – try not to leave your tomatoes in the fridge for more than 3 days, this will keep the flavour loss to a minimum.
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