Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Buying tomatoes can be one of the toughest things to get right when your shopping at your local market garden or supermarket. I've spent many years touring and inspecting tomatoes fields and I am familiar with the standard practices of growers and their picking and packing methods.

The major sources of tomatoes in my part of the world are Florida, California and Mexico for field grown tomatoes; and local greenhouses for hot house varieties. At one time I used to import tomatoes from Europe during the winter months into North American markets but with Mexico becoming a major player and much cheaper source in the last decade, that practice has ended.

Tomatoes from Florida and California are normally picked completely green which enables this fruit to be handled roughly and stored for longer periods of time without spoiling. Tomatoes are then gassed to produce the desirable color for the retailer. Because the tomatoes did not ripen naturally, the fruit will look ripe but still be hard which allows it to have a sustainable shelf life for the retailer; that's why they have little taste or flavor.

You can normally find vine ripened Mexican tomatoes available as a field grown alternative. Usually these tomatoes will have more flavor and be very juicy and watery. I love a nice vine ripened beefsteak field tomato or hot house grown tomatoes on the vine. Orange tomatoes are my favorite, they are so sweet and have such a low acidity.

When you're shopping for any type of field tomatoes make sure there is no green, white or yellow spots or spotting on any part of the fruit. This is a sign of "blight" and the tomatoes will never ripen and taste awful in it's present state. The tomato should be firm but they can have a little give and a beautifully ripe tomato may have a little bit of wrinkling on its shoulders which is okay too. Always check the stem for wetness or black mold, tomatoes can rot within one day if either is present.

This fruit damages easily and so should always be handled gently when you're checking their ripeness by squeezing the fruit in the palm of your hand and closing your fingers around it. If you need to ripen the tomatoes the best method is to place the fruit into two plastic bags (one inside the other) and tie the end of the bag and leave the tomatoes on your counter at room temperature. Remember to check them daily. You're trapping the natural ethylene gas tomatoes produce in the bag and speeding up the ripening process without damaging the tomatoes. Once the fruit is ripe remove them from the bags and store them at room temperature. Never refrigerate tomatoes this ruins their flavor.

I have handled many different types of tomatoes including heirlooms, orange, yellow, romas, etc. so if you would like information regarding a specific variety please ask. The differences of using dry romas for canning as an example or what type of tomato should I use for pasta sauce.




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