There are thousands of varieties of tomatoes in an array of shapes, colors, and sizes. The most common shapes are round (Beefsteak and globe), pear-shaped (Roma) and the tiny cherry-sized (Cherry and Grape). Yellow varieties tend to be less acidic and thus less flavorful than their red counterparts. In the United States today, tomatoes are second in consumption only to potatoes.
Tomato Selection and Storage
When selecting tomatoes at the market, use your nose. Smell the blossom (not stem) end. The most flavorful ones will have a rich tomato aroma. Don’t expect much from those in your supermarket, even if they are labeled
Select tomatoes that are round, full, and feel heavy for their size, with no bruises or blemishes. The skin should be taut, not shriveled. Store fresh ripe tomatoes in a cool, dark place, stem-side down, and use within a few days.
Refrigeration is the enemy of the tomato as it nullifies flavor and turns the flesh mealy. The culprit is a compound called Z-3 hexenel, which accounts for the tomato’s scent and taste. The development process which turns tomato’s linolenic acid to the Z-3 that makes our mouth and nose sing is hindered by the cold. If you must refrigerate a tomato, take it out about an hour before using it to let it return to room temperature to revive any lurking Z-3.
When wintering your garden, you can salvage some of those tomatoes that haven’t yet ripened by wrapping them in newspaper and storing in a cool area between 55 and 70 F for two to four weeks.
Store them no more than two deep and check them often to use the ones that have begun to ripen. Don’t expect them to be as good as ones you’ve ripened on the vine, but they will probably still be better than store-bought.
Canned tomatoes come in many styles, including whole, chopped, crushed, paste (a concentrate), puree (strained), sauce (slightly thinner than puree and usually more seasoned), and juice (most of the pulp removed).
Unopened canned tomatoes should be used within six months. Once opened, store canned tomatoes in a covered glass container in the refrigerator up to one week. Leftover tomato paste and sauce can be frozen for up to two months. Freeze one tablespoon of tomato paste in each section of an ice tray, pop out when frozen, and seal in an airtight baggie for quick, pre-measured additions to soups and sauces. They need not be thawed prior to adding to your recipes in most cases.
If you have freezer space, you should consider freezing your excess tomatoes rather than home canning. It’s just so much easier, and the flavor and texture are better, although they will no longer be good for fresh usage.
To freeze, rinse and dry thoroughly. Place in zip-top plastic bags and suck out the air with a straw. No peeling or blanching is necessary. Once thawed, the skins will easily slip off. They will be perfect for cooked dishes and will retain more of that fresh flavor, rather than the cooked, canned flavor.