Fact: Few things are as satisfying as biting into a ripe tomato. Or at least a ripe, fresh-off-the-farm (or homegrown!) tomato with that tart, juicy flavor that can turn almost any dish into a delight. But those tomatoes are harder to come by, so many of us end up with the perfectly round, perfectly red, yet flavorless fruits from our local grocery stores instead.
It's easy to blame this tasteless tomato tragedy on mass production, but it turns out the modern growing process might not carry all the burden for our tomatoes' lack of flavor, according to an October 2016 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. In fact, the problem might have a lot to do with how tomatoes are stored (both during the postharvest process and in our own homes): The fruits appear to lose flavor when they're chilled for certain lengths of time.
Researchers stored heirloom and other modern red ripe tomatoes at 41 degrees for one, three, and seven days. Then they looked at the molecular makeup of the chilled tomatoes to see if the compounds that give tomatoes their flavor — sugars, acids, and volatiles (aka organic chemical compounds) — had changed at all.
There was no significant change in the tomatoes that had been chilled for one and three days, but up to 65 percent of the tomatoes' volatiles were lost when they were chilled for seven days. This theoretically meant that the seven-day chilled tomatoes' flavor would be all but lost, and the researchers were able to confirm this with a panel of 76 taste testers: Sure enough, the panel found that the tomatoes that had been chilled for seven days didn't taste as good.
What does this mean for your tomatoes? Well, that depends on what you're looking to get out of them: Storing tomatoes in the fridge will extend their freshness, but they'll also lose their flavor faster. Of course you don't have any control over how long tomatoes sit in cold storage between being picked and hitting grocery store shelves, but you can control how long they're chilled once you get them home. So you might want to be a little more strategic from now on — leave tomatoes out on the counter at room temperature, but be sure to use them as soon as you can so you get the best of both tomatoey worlds: fresh and flavorful.