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updated August 2023: Vine-ripened tomatoes always have the best flavor, but letting the fruits mature on the vine isn’t always possible. When cooler temperatures come on in the fall, and the end of the growing season is near, you must learn how to store green tomatoes to ripen, or lose out on part of your harvest.
Nothing compares to the taste of fresh tomatoes straight off of your tomato plants. I’m addicted to them in the summer, and I hate to waste any of my homegrown tomatoes. We make so much homemade tomato sauce; I need each and every tomato grown, to preserve cans of sauce for the year.
You might be wondering, what do I do if my tomatoes won't ripen on the vine? Will I lose a lot of tomatoes because they are green?
Because I live in a short growing season, we often have lots of green tomatoes at the end of the season. I have learned different methods over time, to get them to ripen.
As they do, I tend to add a lot of them to the freezer, and then pull out a bunch in the winter to can them up.
See my article: How and Why You Should Freeze Your Tomato Harvest
Below I will share all the tips you need in order to learn how to ripen green tomatoes indoors. I will also share a few green tomato recipes that you will love.
When to Harvest Tomatoes
Tomatoes produce ethylene gas that helps to mature green tomatoes. Ethylene causes the cells of the fruit to lose their green color, turning a shade of red. This gas increases the carotenoids - red and yellow colors - while decreasing the chlorophyll.
Since tomatoes produce ethylene, if you wonder when to pick tomatoes, the best time is whenever you want, so long as the tomato is mature and the correct size. It’s safe to harvest when the fruit is green and allow the tomatoes to ripen off the vine as long as it shows signs that it’s maturing.
It feels strange to harvest tomatoes before they’re fully red, but doing so prevents splitting and bruising that often happens when a tomato ripens quickly. A few tips on harvesting ripe tomatoes: I prefer to pick my ripe tomatoes before watering or a big rain is coming for two reasons.
After being watered, the tomato flavor can be diluted. The ripe tomatoes can also crack if they are really dry and then get a huge amount of water all at once.
So if you are expecting a big rain, pick any fruit that has begun to blush with color, and simply rest them upside down on your kitchen counter at room temperature.
See my article How to Prevent Tomatoes from Splitting and Cracking.
How do you get Green Tomatoes to Turn Red?
If you want to figure out how to ripen green tomatoes, you have to understand why tomatoes ripen in the first place. Creating the best environment for ripening will lead to red tomatoes.
Direct sunlight doesn’t encourage ripening. That’s why they didn’t ripen outside! If all tomatoes needed was sunlight, they’d ripen quickly outside, but it’s more than that.
Temperature is the most critical factor for ripening. The warmer temperatures in summertime quickly ripen the fruit. That’s why you might walk outside the day after a scorching day and find a new red tomato that was green yesterday.
The temperature did that. Knowing this means you also can slow down the ripening of a tomato by keeping them in a cool area.
The difference that temperature makes is enormous. If the temperature is 50-60℉, it takes three to four weeks to ripen a tomato. When you increase the temperature to 70℉, it only takes a couple of weeks for them to mature.
Another essential part of the ripening process is a gas called ethylene. Commercial farms use this gas with tomatoes and other fruits that rely on ethylene to ripe; they often pick produce that’s green before shipping and ripen before selling.
Ethylene isn’t just some gas created in a laboratory somewhere. It’s a natural gas released by ripening fruits and vegetables, such as a ripe banana, apples, and tomatoes. When you put ethylene-producing fruits and veggies near each other, it quickens the ripening process.
How to Store Green Tomatoes to Ripen
Will tomatoes ripen if picked green? Yes! Picking green tomatoes doesn’t mean your tomatoes are doomed to stay green forever. How to you ripen home grown green tomatoes?
The ripening process of green tomatoes typically works best when the tomatoes show a bit of color change, such as a yellow-orange tint somewhere on the fruit. It’s possible to ripen entirely green tomatoes, but it takes longer, and the flavor might not be as good.
- Ripen Tomatoes In a Paper Bag
The easiest way to ripen green tomatoes is to put five to ten tomatoes into a brown paper bag along with a ripening apple or banana. Then, leave the bag in a warm dark place, often checking for signs of mold or rotting. As soon as they ripen, take out the tomatoes and use them up.
- Ripen Tomatoes Using the Cardboard Box Method
Take a cardboard box and line it with newspaper or fruit cardboard that comes from the grocery store. Put the green tomatoes on top of the newspaper in a single layer; there should be space between each tomato with none touching.
Place another layer of newspaper on top of the tomatoes and leave them somewhere in your house in a warm place. Make sure you regularly check because the tomatoes ripen quickly.
An easy alternative is to put them in an empty wooden drawer if you have any in your house. Line it with a newspaper as well.
- Use Glass Jars or Plastic Bags to Ripen Your Tomatoes
Keeping your tomatoes in a glass jar or a plastic bag keeps the ethylene in one place, making the fruits ripen faster. Don’t stuff the tomatoes into the glass jar; two to four tomatoes is sufficient. Make sure you add a ripening banana in with them.
Make sure you keep the bag or jar sealed to keep the ethylene inside. However, these methods are less breathable, so they increase the risk of molding. Poke a few holes in the plastic bag and open the jar periodically. Keep a close eye on it!
- Setting Green Tomatoes on a Window Sill to Ripen
Using a sunny windowsill has mixed results. It’s best to use this method if your tomatoes already show signs of ripening. All you need to do is put the tomatoes on a windowsill that receives sunlight and warmth. Watch daily for progress and remove them once they are red and ready to eat.
- Hanging Tomato Plant Upside Down to Ripen the Tomatoes
If the end of the season is coming close and you have tomatoes not ripening, one solution is to pull the entire plant out of the ground and hang the whole tomato plant upside down in your garage or basement. The temperatures need to stay above freezing for this method to work.
I have yet to try this method, but my friends have said that it creates delicious tomatoes, more so than the other methods.
4 Things to Remember When You Ripen Green Tomatoes
Ripening tomatoes is straightforward and easy, but there are some things that you should know.
- Try Leaving the Stem On
Tomatoes ripen best when you leave part of the stem attached. If possible, remember this when you harvest tomatoes.
- Wash and Dry Your Tomatoes First
Before you use any of these methods to ripen your tomatoes, you need to thoroughly wash and dry your tomatoes. It helps to remove any dirt and diseases.
- Watch for Diseases or Damaged Fruit
If you have diseased or damaged fruits, they’ll cause problems with the rest of them. Diseases spread fast. If you put several tomatoes together, make sure they don’t get smushed together; they bruise and crack open easily.
- Air Circulation is Crucial
No matter what method you pick to ripen your green tomatoes, they need to have air circulation between the tomatoes. This prevents mold from forming.
- Check Regularly
Checking the tomatoes regularly to find out if they’re ripening is essential. Once the tomatoes ripen, they need to be removed and used to avoid mold and rotting. This happens quickly in some environments, so I suggest checking daily.
What to Do with Green Tomatoes
It’s easy to get frustrated when you have tomatoes not turning red, but don’t let those unripe tomatoes frustrate you! There are so many ways to use green tomatoes. Trust me, green tomatoes are delicious.
Here are a few suggestions.
- Kosher Dill Pickled Green Tomatoes
- Green Tomato Salsa Verde
- Fried Green Tomatoes
- Green Tomato Pie
- Roasted Green Tomato Soup
- Green Tomato Relish
- Canning Sliced Green Tomatoes for Frying
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