It happens to us all: you bought a whole bunch of fresh vegetables and completely forgot all about them. When you reach into your refrigerator, the beautiful tomatoes have become wrinkled and shriveled up.
So what do you do: throw them in your dish, or in the trash? Can you eat wrinkled tomatoes?
Wrinkled tomatoes are safe to eat as long as there isn’t any mold, breaks in the skin, or soft spots. Older tomatoes, also known as overripe tomatoes, are sweeter and juicier than a firm tomato. Overripe tomatoes are better for cooked dishes such as sauces, salsas, stews, and sautes.
Cooking the tomato removes any texture imperfections so a wrinkled tomato will taste better than a firm tomato in a cooked dish.
Knowing that overripe tomatoes are a desired trait for cooked tomato dishes – how do we know when a tomato is overripe versus rotten?
The Difference Between Overripe And Rotten Tomatoes
Tomatoes have a high water and sugar content, so they spoil much faster than other produce. They become softer, and their skin may become bruised or wrinkled.
Overripe tomatoes are easy to spot since their skin is soft and wrinkled. Cosmetics aside, tomatoes get better when they get older. Tomatoes taste sweeter and get juicier when they’re very ripe.
These overripe tomatoes are great for sauces, salsas, stews, and sautes.
It doesn’t matter if they’re a bit wrinkled and soft, because that’s how any tomato will look like once you cook them. And if you sear them on very high heat, their rich flavour will actually become deeper and more concentrated.
When Does A Tomato Actually Start To Rot?
We need to be careful when using overripe tomatoes since we don’t want to include any rotten or spoiled tomatoes to our dishes.
Some signs that the tomato started to rot are:
- The skin has burst, and its juices have begun to leak
- Part of the tomato is squishy or mushy
- There are white or grayish clumps of mold
- Part of the tomato has sunk in
So as a rule of thumb: a wrinkled tomato is still safe to eat, but a tomato with skin that has split open is not.
When a tomato’s soft inside or pulp is exposed, microorganisms such as mold can spread quickly on its natural sugars. In fact, the USDA recommends throwing away any soft fruits and vegetables, such as tomatoes, when you spot any mold.
Unlike firm fruits and vegetables where you might be able to remove the moldy parts and use the rest of the produce. Tomatoes are soft so the mold can spread quickly through it’s root threads which means the whole tomato is spoiled.
So when in doubt, slice the tomato open. Make sure that the inner parts of the tomato look good before including it in your next dish.
What’s The Best Way To Use Wrinkled Tomatoes?
Once your tomatoes have become soft and wrinkled, you can use them for any dish where they will be thoroughly cooked. Some recipe ideas are:
- Homemade marinara sauce. You can use this for pastas, pizzas, or tomato-based dishes like chicken cacciatore
- Tomato soup. Tastes great with a dollop of cream and a side of crusty bread. You can also try tomato-based soups like lentil soup, minestrone, or cabbage soup.
- Stews. Many dishes, like curry and tomato beef stew, will benefit from the sweet-tangy taste of overripe tomatoes
- Tomato omelet. Cook tomato in garlic and onion until wilted, then crack in a few eggs. It tastes fine on its own, but you can also add cooked shrimp, chicken, or ham for a full meal.
- Tomato topping. Saute tomato in olive oil with capers and plenty of garlic. Use this as a side dish for any grilled dish, or even on crostini.
If you have a huge batch of very ripe, wrinkled tomatoes but aren’t ready to cook with them then try turning them into marinara sauce or salsa.
You can then store your excess sauce in a jar and store it in your refrigerator. Now you’ll have ready to use homemade sauce for the next 7 to 10 days.
How To Store Tomatoes So They Don’t Go Bad
Here are the best ways to store tomatoes for the short term so they’ll be ready to use in your next dish.
- Place unripe green tomatoes in a paper bag or cardboard box in a single layer. Place these in a cool dark area until they turn red in color. Check on your tomatoes every few days to ensure no mold is growing.
- Ripe tomatoes should be kept at room temperature away from direct sunlight. Either use the tomatoes or adjust their storage location when they turn overripe.
- Overripe tomatoes are best kept in the refrigerator. Make sure to place your overripe tomatoes and any other soft fruits and vegetables in a low humidity drawer. High humidity will encourage bacteria and mold growth. The overripe tomatoes should last about 3 days in the refrigerator.
Check out this article if you’re interested in storing your tomatoes long-term which can range from 6 months to a year.
Tomatoes are versatile ingredients, but since they deteriorate quickly you should only buy what you need.
Use firm tomatoes for salads and sandwiches, and use soft and wrinkled tomatoes for cooking.
If you aren’t planning to use tomatoes right away, pick the ones that are slightly underripe. They will continue to ripen in your refrigerator.