By now you've probably been told a million times that you should never put tomatoes in the refrigerator. But aside from knowing they'll get soggy and taste a little worse for the wear, do you really know why? We're about to get to the bottom of why you should really store tomatoes on the counter.
Tomatoes originate from warm, desert-like climates, so they prefer to be hot. Tomatoes stored in the fridge aren't just unhappy, they undergo a chemical change that weakens their flavor and alters their texture. The beloved tomato taste -- that deep, grassy flavor -- is the result of aroma volatile compounds. Refrigeration not only stops the production of new aroma volatiles, but it also deteriorates already existing ones, a study from French National Institute for Agricultural Research proved.
And then there's the texture. The cold breaks down cell walls in tomatoes, causing them to turn mealy. Actually, that can occur when temperatures dip below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and most refrigerators are set below that at 40 degrees. In sum, a refrigerated tomato will taste like nothing, and consist of a mealy texture (especially if that refrigerated tomato wasn't perfectly ripe to begin with).
But -- because there's always an exception to the rule -- there are times when the fridge can help you from having to toss your overripe tomatoes. Daniel Gritzer at Serious Eats did a comprehensive taste test to find out how, when and if ever tomatoes should undergo a stint in the fridge. And, with the help of blind testers, he found out that the refrigerator can be a tomato's friend -- especially if it's a perfectly ripe one that is not going to be eaten right away. The fridge will conserve the tomato's ripeness, with minimal loss in flavor, if you bring it back to room temperature before eating. Whereas, if stored on the counter, a perfectly ripe tomato would have been taken over by rot in a couple of days.
So, it's a choice. But the best choice will always be to eat ripe tomatoes right when you buy them, even if it means you're eating them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The season's short, so take advantage.