Science Explains Why Refrigerated Tomatoes Lack Flavor

Image courtesy of (Kristina_Hernandez)

From the dawn of time, food enthusiasts, chefs, and people who eat have been arguing on exactly where their produce should be kept. While experts have previously told Consumerist that keeping tomatoes in the refrigerator isn’t a good idea, that recommendation has been confirmed through the power of science.

The Washington Post points to a new study in the Proceedings of a National Academy of Sciences that found that tossing the red fruits into the fridge does indeed hurt their flavor.

The study’s authors — horticulturalists from Cornell University, the University of Florida, and Zhejiang University in China — say that cold storage of tomatoes might extend their shelf-life, but results in a lackluster flavor.


“Commercial tomatoes are widely perceived by consumers as lacking flavor,” the study states.

To determine why this is, the researchers collected several varieties of tomatoes and chilled them for three to seven days. After that time, the tomato entered a “recovery period” of one to three days.

The deterioration in flavor apparently begins, according to the researchers, once temperatures reach below 12 degrees Celsius (53.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

This temperature hampers “enzymes that help synthesize flavor-imparting volatile compounds, resulting in relatively fresh but insipid fruits.”

In the end, the researchers found that the tomatoes that spend less time in the refrigerator had less depleted compounds, meaning they retained some flavor. The recovery period did not seem to have an effect on the flavor.

The researchers found it isn’t necessarily consumers’ fault that the tomatoes lack in flavor. The damage is usually done before they even reach our refrigerators.

“A major part of that problem is a post-harvest handling system that chills fruit. Low-temperature storage is widely used to slow ripening and reduce decay,” the study states. “However, chilling results in loss of flavor.”

While the researchers get into the nitty-gritty of molecules, genes, and metabolism of the tomatoes, the bottom line was that you might be better off keeping your tomatoes on the counter.

Refrigeration really does ruin tomatoes, according to science [The Washington Post]

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