Perfectly ripe tomatoes are one of the great joys of summer. Very little can compare to an heirloom tomato picked up at the farmer’s market in August, but even grocery store tomatoes will be at their best during this time. After you get home, before you get to crafting your BLT or perfect Caprese salad, you’ll want to store tomatoes in a way that preserves their flavor and texture.
The standard advice is to store your tomatoes outside of the refrigerator. Most home refrigerators hover around 37ºF. This is much colder than the ideal temperature for a tomato. Storing a tomato in the refrigerator can mute its flavors and degrade its texture. If you’ve ever eaten a tomato with a loose skin and overly soft flesh, a refrigerator might be to blame. Local tomatoes purchased at the farmer’s market have likely never been refrigerated, and they’ll have a robust flavor to show for it. Conventional tomatoes purchased at a supermarket were probably in cold storage before hitting the shelves, and may be slightly older than their local counterparts.
Of course, nothing in life can be simple. A perfectly ripe heirloom tomato won’t last long at room temperature. Ripe tomatoes should be eaten immediately, or they will quickly grow mold and rot. If you can’t use your ripe tomatoes immediately, storing them in the fridge will prevent rot for a few days.
Tomatoes that aren’t yet at peak ripeness should be stored on the counter. The amount of time they will last on the counter depends on environmental factors, like the heat and humidity in your apartment. To help retain moisture, store them stem-side down on a plate or tray. Over a few days, moisture can escape out of the top of a tomato if it’s stored stem-side up, causing it to turn soft and wrinkly. Storing them face down helps retain this moisture (read more about this phenomenon in this excellent article from Serious Eats). For vine-ripened or vine on tomatoes, remove the excess stem before storing.
Once they reach peak ripeness, it’s time to use them. Whip up your favorite recipe or take the simple route and make a classic summer treat: a tomato sandwich with nothing but tomato, mayonnaise, and a generous sprinkle of flaky salt.