One of the most exciting points of gardening is when your fruits and vegetables are ready for harvesting, and tomato plants are no exception! Once those tomatoes turn their signature shade of red, it’s time to start gathering the fruits of your labor. But once you’ve picked them, what comes next? You need to find a way to keep your harvest good for as long as possible, especially if you’ve got an abundant crop that you can’t easily use up in a timely manner.
But what is the best way to store tomatoes? I’ve put together a guide to your three tomato storage options, and by the end of it, you’ll be able to choose the best way for you to store your fruit to keep it good for as long as you need! Let’s dive into the best way to store tomatoes!
Storing Tomatoes in the Pantry
This method is the best way to store tomatoes that have yet to ripen fully. Though you should do your best to let your tomatoes ripen on the plant, sometimes outside forces can require you to pluck your fruits a little early. If you have a problem with animals (such as deer, squirrels, insects, etc) or other pests devouring your fruit before you can get to it, or if the weather forecast starts warning of incoming hailstorms or otherwise damaging weather, you’re going to want to get your fruits off the vine sooner rather than later!
Start by assessing the risk to your tomatoes: is it likely that they’ll be eaten or destroyed before they can fully ripen? Are they anywhere close to being ripe, or are they too far off from maturing to risk removing them from the plant so soon? It’s not going to do you any good to remove your fruit when it’s too far away from being ripe. Once you’re sure that picking them early is the best thing to do, go ahead and gather them up and take them inside.
To achieve the best results, the best way to store tomatoes in the pantry is to put them somewhere cool where sunlight can’t get to them, making sure their stem side is facing downward. If you put them in a sunny spot or somewhere that’s too hot, they’ll lose all their moisture and end up wrinkled and saggy.
Turning them upside down will keep them moist and encourage proper ripening. Leave them to their own devices until they’ve achieved the desired level of ripeness, then voila! You’ll have a bunch of perfectly ripe tomatoes ready for eating, cooking, or further storage. However, despite popular opinion, you may not want to continue to keep ripe tomatoes in the pantry or on the counter. This may not be the best way to store tomatoes long-term.
Storing Tomatoes in the Fridge
Most people insist that the best way to store tomatoes is to store them at room temperature rather than in the refrigerator, and there are good reasons for this, but you have to take all factors into account! Once your tomatoes are ripe, you’ll want to graduate them from the countertop to the shelves of your fridge unless you intend to use them quickly.
While the flavor and quality of your tomatoes will hold up better at room temperature, and leaving them outside the fridge is the better choice if you plan to use them immediately or very soon after ripening, the fruits will ultimately last longer in the fridge.
You’ll be sacrificing some flavor and texture quality, but you’ll buy yourself a few more days to use your tomatoes before they begin to rot. And if you’re using the tomatoes raw and are worried about poor flavor, just let your tomatoes warm back up to room temperature before slicing them up for your salad or sandwich!
While it’s recommended that the best way to store tomatoes on the counter or in the fridge is by leaving them whole, if you take a tomato out of the fridge to slice and don’t end up using the whole thing, you don’t have to throw the whole thing away. Just get some plastic wrap, make sure the cut side is completely covered, and set back inside the fridge. Between the skin of the uncut half of the tomato and the protection of the plastic wrap, it should stay good for you!
Storing Tomatoes in the Freezer
While the pantry or countertop is ideal, and the refrigerator is a good next step, the freezer is something of a last resort in terms of the best way to store tomatoes. You want to avoid freezing your tomatoes unless you’ve truly come down to the wire on their shelf life. Do your best to take advantage of your fruits before they reach the point of no return, because once you’ve retired them to the freezer, they’re only going to be good for tomato dishes that require cooking.
Even after defrosting, the texture of your tomatoes is going to be totally shot, and you don’t want soppy, squishy tomatoes topping your food instead of fresh tomatoes.
If you have an abundance of tomatoes left over and no time to use them in a hurry, that doesn’t mean you have to waste them! If you choose to freeze your tomatoes, this is the best way to store tomatoes so they keep for plenty of time while you figure out how you’d like to use them. Freezing your tomatoes is the best way to go if you’re planning to make sauce, soup, or other dishes that require cooking the tomato or cooking with tomato juice. If you’re hoping to freeze tomatoes and slice them up for a sandwich later, though, you’re out of luck.
For more advice on how to freeze tomatoes, you can check out our guide to the best methods for freezing tomatoes! This guide will tell you everything you need to know to keep your excess tomatoes preserved for as long as you need.
So Which is Best?
So which is the best way to store tomatoes? Ultimately, it depends on your own personal needs, the environment your tomatoes are growing in, how many tomatoes you can consume before they go bad, and how bountiful of a harvest you end up with. If you only end up with a small number of tomatoes to go through before they go bad, you’re probably going to be just fine to store them on your counter or in your pantry, so long as they stay out of the sun and heat.
If you have a more impressive harvest, you can also opt for this method if you’re going to use a large amount of tomatoes in a short time, as you’ll likely go through what you have before they go entirely bad. You’ll also want to make sure you store them in the pantry or on the counter if they aren’t quite ripe when you pick them, as refrigerating underripe tomatoes straight from the vine will stop them from ripening entirely, leaving you with green tomatoes you can’t really use!
If you have a heap of perfectly ripe tomatoes and you’ve already kept them on your counter for a few days, you’re going to want to move them to the fridge to extend their shelf life. While you’ll have to make some sacrifices in terms of texture and flavor, they’re issues that are somewhat easily remedied, and you’ll still be able to use these tomatoes for just about any of your favorite tomato dishes.
The only thing you’ll want to take into consideration is that you may need to set them out on the counter for a bit to warm up before use if you want them to reach full flavor potential, so be sure to work that time into your meal prepping schedule!
Lastly, freezing your tomatoes is the best way to store tomatoes that have already outlived their shelf life on your counter and the shelves of your fridge. Once they’ve been pushed to the limits of their hardiness in those areas, you’ll want to put any remaining fruit away in the freezer to keep it good until you’re ready to put them to good use.
To wrap it all up: keep unripe tomatoes or just-picked tomatoes on your counter, move ripe tomatoes to your fridge after a couple days, then move any remaining fruit to the freezer once it’s reached its maximum shelf life within the confines of your fridge.
Wrapping Up the Best Way to Store Tomatoes
So there you have it! Out of the three best ways to store tomatoes, depending on how ripe your tomatoes are and how quickly you’ll use them up, you’ll have to do a little deduction work to decide which way is best for you. But thanks to this guide, you shouldn’t have any trouble deciding where to store your tomatoes once they’re ready for harvesting from your garden (or from your favorite store’s fruit and vegetable section)!
Excited for more tomato content? Then visit our tomato page for growing tips, comprehensive guides, and tasty recipes!
- About the Author
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Cassidy Eubanks is a proud Michigander, an avid reader, a lover of colorful gardens, and a writer for Minneopa Orchards.
After earning her bachelor’s in Creative Writing (partially through virtual learning, thanks to the pandemic), gardening gave her an excuse to get outside and get away from all the screens. With a particular love for decorating with colorful flowers, using herbs grown in her own garden, and finding creative ways to build big gardens in small spaces, Cassidy enjoys helping others learn about growing their own food, flowers, and trees through Minneopa Orchards!