TMI on tomatoes

To start with, I will say that I am floored that tomatoes are not on the list of the dirty (produce) dozen.  These are the items that some author feels you should be buying organic.  So here’s the dirty skinny on tomatoes:  What’s the first thing you do with tomatoes you purchase?  You take them home and wash them under cold water…right?  When you do this and the water is 10 degrees cooler than the body of the tomato, an inversion occurs on the skin of the tomato so that anything on the outside goes through the skin to the inside.  If it is a conventionally grown tomato, all the pesticides do the inversion.  Washing a second time won’t undo the first washing.  You may say, “simple enough, I’ll wash tomatoes under warm water.”  That is fine for the pesticides currently on the surface, but you can’t undo what happened two weeks ago when the thunderstorm came through and dropped all the cold rain on the tomatoes, doing the same inversion a week before they were picked.  Now do you see why I believe in eating only organic tomatoes?  Cantaloupe do the same thing.  That is why some stores won’t carry cantaloupe anymore….too much risk.

Lots of folks ask me why tomatoes in the stores taste like cardboard.  The short answer is that they are picked green.  As a tomato grows, it builds the size of the fruit first.  After it gets to its destined size, it will start to change color, from light green to dark green, then a little pink starting at the bottom.  When the first pink appears, we call it a breaker.  When a tomato goes into the breaker stage, it will never get bigger as the plant is maturing the seed and pumping plant sugars into the fruit.  This is where the flavor comes from.  It keeps pumping the plant sugars until it is fully ripe.  Most stores don’t like to carry these tasty, flavorful, nutritious tomatoes.  Why not?!  That’s what we want! might say.  There are several reasons:  Vine ripe tomatoes that are full of plant sugars are very perishable and have a very short shelf life.  With a batch of tomatoes acting like a bin of grenades with the pin pulled, the grocer risks losing a delivery of tomatoes.  Secondly, it is easy for the grocer to pass off green-picked tomatoes as vine-ripe…all they have to do it change the color, which can be done overnight.  Tomatoes along with lots of produce, make ethelyne gas.  It is part of the ripening process.  Ethelyne gas turns the tomato skin from green to red.  So they can either keep the gas contained around the tomatoes as in the back of a truck or they can open a canister of ethelyne gas.  When this happens it is still a green-picked  tomato with red skin and no flavor.  Green picked tomatoes can be kept in the cooler in the back of the store for 2 to 3 weeks.  Vine-ripe tomatoes cannot be chilled.  The skin wrinkles when they come out of the cooler.  Vine-ripe tomatoes have a shelf-life of 1 to 7 days…depending on the variety.  Are you begining to see why stores don’t like to carry vine-ripe tomatoes?  Oh and those tomatoes labeled as vine-ripe from Mexico or California that are still on the vine, are green-picked as well.  Leaving them attached to a dead vine does not allow the plant to fill the tomato with the plant sugars and flavor.  It would be more accurate to label them as vine-attached, not vine ripe.  Vine-ripe tomatoes cannot make the trip on long distances.  The route by truck takes at least 3 days to get to the warehouse.  Produce going through a warehouse often adds about 5 days because of first-in, first-out inventory to turn it over before it goes bad.  That makes the long-distance tomatoes 8 days old getting to the store.  There’s no way you could do that with a vine-ripe tomato.