It drives me crazy it when my store-bought tomatoes go straight from unripe to mush. After talking with local farmers in my area, I discovered a few things that might help you enjoy this fruit without sacrificing taste and time.
Grocery store owners know that their products are very perishable. If the tomatoes arrive ripe, they might start to rot before they can get on the shelf for the customer. Ripe tomatoes are near impossible to transport, which means that farmers often pick unripe (green and therefore very firm) tomatoes to put on the truck. Grocery stores prefer hard, unripe tomatoes so their customers can get them home safely.
The problem is, how do you enjoy a tomato if it’s not ready?
Scientists and food experts ripen tomatoes quickly with ethylene while they are in storage. As the gas surrounds the green tomato, it chemical reacts to speed up the ripening process, causing the tomato to soften and change color to red or orange.
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The color change in this video is subtle – can you tell the difference between the beginning and end?
Another hormone involved in plants is ethylene. Ethylene is an unusual hormone because it is a gas. What does this mean? Find out using a fruit with plenty of ethylene, a ripe banana.
- green banana
- very ripe banana
- paper bag
- Place one green banana in a paper bag.
- Place another green banana in a paper bag, along with a very ripe banana.
- Make daily observations about each banana.
- What’s causing the differences you see? (Hint: Think about ethylene and how it can travel.)
What’s Happening: In the bag with two bananas, the gas travels from one to the other, ripening it.
Ethylene, a hydrocarbon gas like propane and butane, is generated by other fruits like bananas. When you store a banana next to a tomato, the banana’s gas triggers the ripening process in the tomato. Scientists have found that tomatoes ripened this way keep longer, but farmers and customers have found that these tomatoes have less flavor and mushier texture.
If you’ve noticed the recent vine-ripened tomato trend at the grocery store, it’s because those tomatoes tend to have more flavor than the green ones picked from the vine and stored in a room of ethylene gas.
When you’re at home, keep fully ripe tomatoes out of the refrigerator, as they are best kept at room temperature on your counters. If you stick a tomato in the fridge, you’ll find it less flavorful and starting to have a starchier texture.
- Place a green tomato in a bag with a banana.
- Make daily observations about the tomato and banana.
- How did the banana take to ripen?
The bottom line? Use the banana-gas trick for tomatoes you cook or bake with, and enjoy your fresh tomatoes straight from the vine and stored on your countertop.