Why You Shouldn't Store Your Tomatoes In The Fridge, According To Science

Certain kinds of foods need to be stored in a specific manner. Potatoes, for instance, belong in a cool, dark place. Tomatoes are another example, although the recommended storage has long been debated — but now, we may have a scientific answer to why you shouldn't store your tomatoes in the fridge. In the great countertop-vs.-fridge battle, I've traditionally belonged to the fridge party; however, it looks like I'm on the wrong side. It turns out that storing your tomatoes in the fridge could permanently take away the tropical plant's flavor. (Maybe this explains why salad bar tomatoes always taste like mush.)

A team out of the University of Florida in Gainesville explored this topic further by studying the expression of over 25,000 genes in two different kinds of tomatoes. They examined them before chilling them, during chilling, and after the tomatoes had returned to room temperature. They found that chilling stresses out the plants and reduces the activity of hundreds of those genes. And here's where we find the main problem: A lot of these genes produce an enzyme that's responsible for the chemicals in tomatoes that make them sweet and smell nice.

You can see where this is going, right?

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But that's not all; they found a second problem, as well: Chilling the tomatoes actually changed their DNA methylation, which also affects genes. Methylation helps to turn genes off and on for extended periods of time. This could explain why chilling a tomato has a permanent (or at least long-lasting) effect on the flavor of the plant.

Letting the tomatoes return to room temperature doesn't undo the damage, either. Sure enough, after chilling, the researchers found that the tomatoes were less flavorful. That makes for one sad tomato.

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So if I can't keep my 'matoes in the fridge, where do they go? According to The Kitchn, you can store tomatoes in cool temperatures (but not cold!), since it will stop the ripening and therefore the developing flavor. Too-cold temps can make the skin dry and mealy, and your tomato won't be nearly as juicy. To avoid this, keep them somewhere room temperature or just a tad cooler, and — this is important! — in a single layer in order to prevent bruising. So, don't stack 'em on top of each other, or again: Sad tomatoes.

They do say there are two exceptions to the fridge rule: First, if you live in a hot climate; and second, if you have ripe tomatoes that you don't plan on eating within the next few days. In these cases, your refrigerator could be the proper home.

Images: Giphy