How to Ripen Tomatoes: What Works and What Doesn’t

Ed Wike
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What Is Ripening, Anyways?

The process of ripening involves the transformation of an immature tomato or another fruit or vegetable from its firm, green, or yellow state into one that is soft. Depending on which fruit or vegetable you’re talking about, this process generally consists of the conversion of starches into sugar and, in some cases, the conversion of sugar into acid.

Tomatoes are made up of several different chemicals, some of which are responsible for different attributes and functions. For example, the chemicals that make tomatoes red are lycopene and beta-carotene. These chemicals are what give tomatoes their yellow tone when they are ripening. In order to make tomatoes ripen red, conditions need to be present that will encourage the production of lycopene, which are then converted to the red pigment anthocyanin.

In order to make tomatoes ripen red, you need to create three types of conditions:

Red light – Red light stimulates anthocyanin production, or tomato ripening. To maximize production of this molecule, tomatoes need to be exposed to red light continuously for a period of approximately 20 hours. Lower light levels do not provide tomatoes with sufficient exposure to red light, and therefore, do not encourage red tomato ripening.

What Color is Your Tomato?

The most common method for ripening tomatoes is by leaving them on a countertop, open to air circulation. They become red from their original green color when exposed to oxygen.

Another commonly used method is to place them in a paper bag and leave them in a warm place to ripen.

The Oxygen in the Air

This method works by exposing the fruit to oxygen. The process of ripening is basically like a kind of oxidation. Once the tomato becomes red, it is also at its sweetest.

Water

Some people believe that having a tomato in a moist environment will hasten ripening.

Honey

This is basically the same as wetting the tomato with water. Exposure to the moisture will cause it to soften and ripen. However, since the sweet taste can also come from the sugar in the honey, this might be a bad idea when preparing tomatoes for cooking.

The Combination

Some people say that combining these methods will accelerate the ripening process. However, recently it has been discovered that these methods are not feasible.

Sometimes, tomatoes that are left on the counter ripen even though they are not exposed to the above methods. The cause is the difference in the ripening process between tomatoes and other fruits.

How to Ripen Green Tomatoes Indoors

Tomatoes are one of the most popular vegetables in U.S. homes. They are easy to grow, and nourishing, and don’t require a lot attention to grow. A simple tomato plant can provide you with more tomato than you could ever eat, but often times, tomatoes aren’t quite ripe when they first appear on the vine.

When a tomato is completely green, it isn’t just unripe … it’s actually unripe. The best way to ripen a tomato is usually to just let it ripen. It is more than possible, however, to force a tomato to ripen if you prefer (red tomatoes as opposed to green ones). Here are a few ways to do just that.

Step 1: Pick Your Tomatoes

Since tomatoes are vine-ripened, the ones that are picked earliest have a lower acidity level and are sweeter. To pick ripe ones, look for a tomato that gives when slightly pressed, but not mushy or wrinkled. Also, make sure to opt for fruit that appear on the vine without holes or blemishes.

Badda bing, badda boom, and you’ve got the freshest, sweetest tomatoes.

Step 2: Wash

Rinse each tomato under running water to remove any dirt. Fill the sink with warm water and add some salt. Place your tomatoes in the water. Let the tomatoes soak for about 4 hours. Once the tomatoes are done soaking, remove them from the warm salt water.

Soak the tomatoes in warm water

Take a large bowl and fill it with warm water. Bring your tomatoes to the sink. Using your hands, dip each tomato into the warm water. This will help soften the skin of the tomato. Leave the tomato in the warm water for about 30 seconds. After 30 seconds, pull the tomato out of the warm water and allow it to drain well. Fill the large bowl with warm water half-way. Place the tomatoes into the warm water. Cover the bowl with a plastic bag. Make sure the bag doesn’t touch the tomatoes. Leave the tomatoes in the warm water for about 2 hours.

Step 3: Sort

Use your eyes to sort tomatoes. If they are green in color, the tomatoes need a few days to ripen. If they are turning yellow, they are probably almost on their way to being ripe. If they are turning red or pinkish, they are ripe.

Then use your nose to determine ripeness. Ripeness is indicated by the tomato’s smell. If its odor is very strong, the tomato needs a few more days to ripen and if the odor is mild, the tomato is almost there.

Finally, check the texture of the tomato by squeezing it slightly. If the tomato is firm, it needs more time to ripen. If it is soft, it is ripe. You can ripen tomatoes in one day using the following methods.

Step 4: Create the Ripening Area

One of the first steps to take is to create the ripening area. The good thing about ripening tomatoes at home is that you have a lot of flexibility when it comes to their placement.

You don’t need a lot of space to ripen your tomatoes, and you can easily move them from one place to another.

That’s particularly beneficial if you have different ripening tomatoes in different stages at the same time. You can easily separate them and don’t have to keep checking your progress constantly as they might be in different spots.

Any place with consistent temperatures is suitable for ripening tomatoes. One of the go-to options is a sunny windowsill. If you don’t have access to a windowsill, you can use a room that doesn’t get a lot of traffic. Some people even report success with ripening their tomatoes in their bathrooms.

Just make sure that the room they are in stays around 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit.

You will also need to regulate the humidity. Humid environments are beneficial because it will promote condensation which will help the tomatoes get lemon-shaped when they are ready to sell.

You can use a humidifier and set it to 70 degrees. You can also do the following to increase humidity:

Place a small plant or a bowl in the room.

Step 5: Place the Tomatoes to Ripen

There are many ways to ripen tomatoes, and below you will find a few answers to all those questions that Tomatoes To Ripen? Certainly! is the main question that all the impatient gardeners out there constantly ask.

Use a paper bag. Tomatoes will ripen in a closed paper bag. This is especially great for the gardener on the run, as you can place them in the bag and carry them to the patio. You can also place them in a dark place such as a closet, and they will stay just as fresh. When you use the paper bag method, be sure that you remove any old, rotting tips. You will create an ideal environment that will allow for natural ripening, which will take two to three days.

To speed up the process.

If brown paper bagging is not your forte, there are other ways to speed up the ripening process such as putting them in a bowl with an apple or a banana, or a potato that will release its ethylene gas and bring about the ripening of your tomatoes in a very natural way.

Step 6: Store the Container

One option is to place on the counter or near a heat source in the kitchen. Try a countertop near a space heater or near the oven, but ensure the space is very well ventilated. Heat speeds the ripening process but with too much heat, the tomatoes will be cooked. Keep them out of direct sunlight.

The other option is to place a halogen floor lamp near the oranges or tomatoes. The light works like the sun, emitting heat and speeds the ripening process. The halogen light is sometimes used in greenhouses to heat plants and is the best method for doing your business as the heat it emits is very light meaning it does not cook the fruit.

Step 7: Monitor the Tomatoes

As the tomatoes ripen (and the ethylene production increases) your cutting board needs to be monitored daily. Some varieties produce more ethylene than others, so the rate of ripening will vary by variety.

If your tomatoes are not ripening, too much light is probably the culprit. Ethylene sensitivity varies by variety as well, so it’s hard to say exactly how many hours of sunlight is safe. If you’re feeling like you’ve tried every possible way to get your tomatoes ripened, it could be that the variety of tomato you’re growing is not very ethylene sensitive.

If you notice that your tomatoes are turning yellow, that means that they are beginning to wither.

Step 8: Enjoy Your Ripe Tomatoes!

Now that you have your tomatoes all picked out and ready to go, it’s time to get down to business! Here are a few suggestions on cooking with ripe tomatoes.

First and foremost, DO NOT peel tomatoes before cooking them! The skin contains almost all of the tomato’s good nutrients. If you do choose to leave the skin on, make sure to cut out the stem scar. The skin where the tomato was attached to the vine is more susceptible to rotting.

Roasted tomatoes are a delicious alternative to ketchup or barbecue sauce. Simply slice tomatoes in half, season with a little salt, pepper and olive oil, then place them in the oven at a high temperature, until the tomatoes start to brown or blister. This will also help to speed up the softening process.

You can also puree the fresh tomatoes and use them as a sauce over pasta or as the base to a variety of delicious recipes.

Fresh tomatoes are so versatile, just one ripe tomato can make a tasty and refreshingly sweet, cold juice. Simply chop it in half, add a dash of sugar (or a sugary fruit like mango) and a little ice, and blend.

Frequently Asked Questions about Tomato Ripening

  • You can ripen tomatoes right on the vine.
  • Unlike some fruits, you do not need to harvest ripe tomatoes in order to ripen them. Cut them from the vine and eat them sliced and in salads, sauteed, in chutneys, or on sandwiches.
  • TIP: If you are growing tomatoes, don’t collect tomatoes from the vine until they are at least as big as tennis balls. Larger fruit has had time to develop more sugars, and that allows more complex and mellower flavors that are perfectly ripe.
  • If you are buying a single tomato, choose a softer one with a more yielding skin. The skins of ripe tomatoes will give more when you press them.
  • You will want to store those tomatoes in a cool spot. A paper bag is helpful so as not to loose gas from ripe tomatoes that are stored in plastic. They can be kept where they are ripening at room temperature or on the counter but they will lose a bit of flavor as they continue to ripen. After ripening, tomatoes should be eaten or stored in the fridge.
  • Ripening tomatoes is best done at room temperature and away from direct sunlight. You can speed up the tomatoes ripening process by putting them in a paper bag with a banana, a constantly ripening fruit that gives off ethylene gas. You can put other fruits or vegetables in the bag with the tomatoes.