Join THE #gardenchat!
BWS tips button
Home Kitchen Garden

Follow me on Twitter: @cityslipper

My Book!

I wrote a book about preserving food. The same step-by-step instruction and full-color photos you find in my blog. Buy it at Yes, You Can 

Links to planters at selected vendors:



Sprouts is a terrific source for certified organic seeds intended for home sprouting. Dress up salads, stir-fry, sandwiches, spreads, and other dishes with homegrown sprouts of all kinds. Follow this link to order your sampler or to find home sprouting kits.


Small Kitchen Garden Store





Tomato Controversy at Your Small Kitchen Garden

This beauty isn’t quite ready to harvest. Yes, it’s a tomato. I believe it’s of the Andes variety… it’s a paste tomato with very little gel, few seeds, and delicious flesh. Pick a green tomato at your own peril. You can coax a green tomato to ripen, but the results are rarely satisfying.

Vine-ripened tomatoes are NOT better than tomatoes that ripen off the vine. Still, there is such passion for vine-ripening that kitchen gardeners perpetuate the lie; they claim a vine-ripened tomato is noticeably better.

Ripen Tomatoes Well

Last summer, Your Small Kitchen Garden blog challenged the conventional wisdom that store-bought tomatoes are horrible because they ripen off the vine. I argued that store-bought tomatoes are lousy because they are lousy cultivars: ripened on or off the vine, they grow up to be flavorless and wanting in texture.

Then I explained how I harvest, and I insisted that my “picked-pink” tomatoes are just as good as their vine-ripened counterparts… in fact, that picked-pink tomatoes are better because they don’t crack or develop “green shoulders.” Please read the original post here: The Vine-Ripened Tomato Lie.

I’ve enjoyed the insights from readers who have shared their opinions. Some are adamant that vine-ripened tomatoes are dramatically tastier than picked-pink tomatoes… and I won’t argue with their experiences. In my experience, if there is a difference, It’s insignificant and I’d be happy to prepare a scientific double-blind taste-test of several varieties of tomatoes both vine-ripened and picked pink. I’m confident that 99% of participants in such a test would not be able to distinguish between the two.

Tomato Nutrition

One person who read my original post on this suspiciously declared that picked-pink tomatoes lack the nutritional qualities of vine-ripened tomatoes. The visitor went by the name “Dr. Tomato,” lending a sense of authority to his or her comments. I conceded that it’s possible there are nutritional differences, and asked Dr. Tomato to provide links to the research that supports the claim.

My first tomato harvest of 2010 is a very large paste tomato that I’ve picked-pink. The tomato has just started to change color, and it will finish on my dining room table. Had I left it on the plant, a rain storm could have caused it to crack… and direct sunlight could have made it develop green shoulders.

Dr. Tomato probably wasn’t listening, because the links never materialized. Then, yesterday another commenter “sided” with Dr. Tomato. This left a bad taste in my mouth: I hate arguing about facts. If something is so, then opinions about it are meaningless. When a yardstick is 36 inches long, you seem a little silly to say, “In my opinion, the ruler is 37 inches long.” A simple measurement can settle the issue, so why take sides? I went in search of facts about tomato nutrition.

What Science Says

Turns out food science enthusiasts have done some research on ripening tomatoes off the vine. I read several (incredibly dull) studies full of science-writing gobbledygook and have reduced the obtuse language to a few simple factual statements:

1. There is no stastically significant nutritional (including vitamin C and Lycopene) difference between vine-ripened and picked-pink tomatoes. (Conclusion of the study Colour of post-harvest ripened and vine ripened tomatoes
(Lycopersicon esculentum Mill.) as related to total
antioxidant capacity and chemical composition

At the peak of tomato season and then some, there are hundreds of tomatoes ripening on my dining room table. In this photo, the youngest tomatoes are in back, with the oldest – ready to eat – in front.

2. Some picked-pink tomatoes develop MORE lycopene (the antioxidant) than vine-ripened tomatoes do, others develop LESS lycopene. This seems to depend, in part, on the temperature at which you ripen the picked-pink tomatoes, and, perhaps, on whether you’re growing the tomatoes hydroponically.

3. You can harvest tomatoes well before they become fully ripe without loss of lycopene. (Conclusion of the study Lycopene Content among Organically Grown Tomatoes.)

So, you won’t become malnourished if you eat picked-pink tomatoes. Because there are so many advantages to harvesting tomatoes this way, once again I encourage you to try it and decide for yourself: When a tomato starts to turn from green to red—when it already has pink skin—pick it and set it in your house to finish ripening (I fill bowls with picked-pink tomatoes). When it’s fully-ripe, taste it next to a freshly-picked vine-ripened tomato.

If you taste a difference, is it enough of a difference to make you pass on the advantages of picking pink? Whatever you decide I hope we can still get along… and thanks for considering this heretical suggestion.


Technorati Tags: , ,

11 Responses to “Tomato Controversy at Your Small Kitchen Garden”

  • Michelle B:

    How very interesting. I will try this approach of yours as my first tomatoes which I have ever grown are just beginning to change color. In France, it is dogma to pick them red.

    It is also a more convenient picking pace if you can pick before they are fully ripe. Very practical.

  • Alicia (NEMapleQtee):

    At the last garden chat, someone else suggested picking when tomatoes were the slightest shade of pink. She also talked about the advantages of ripening in doors and I fell hook, line and sinker. Your article only helps to increase my desire to pick most of my tomatoes when pink. :)

  • admin:

    Michelle B: Thanks for having a look. I’m trying to cut through the vine-ripened dogma. People should do what pleases them… but it seems wrong to me that tomato-enthusiasts push the vine-ripened approach when they may not even be aware of the advantages of picking-pink. I hope you’ll drop me a note when you’ve tested the approach and let me know your honest opinion.

    Alicia: I’m glad to hear there are other voices talking about “picking-pink.” The scientific studies refer to a tomato’s “break point” as when 25% of the tomato’s skin is no longer green. This is when they harvested the tomatoes “ripened after harvest” in their studies. At least try this with a handful of tomatoes, and I believe you’ll be pleasantly surprised (I was very doubtful when I first tried it, and was dumbfounded at the results). Thanks so much for visiting!

  • holee1:

    Over the past few seasons, I have been more successful growing squirrel food than ripe tomatoes. It has gotten so bad that I have started harvesting green and learning to love fried green tomatoes. I was intrigued by your assertion that tomatoes picked at first blush and ripened indoors are as tasty as those that are vine ripened.

    Although Dr. Tomato raised an important question regarding the nutritional quality of picked pink tomatoes, I agree that his assertions smacked of the kind of “common sense” reasoning that is often wrong and always condescending. I was glad to see that you have actually done the research into this subject and found no data to support Dr. Tomato’s position.

    Regardless of whether a vine ripened tomato does or does not have more vitamins, etc. I am fairly certain that any tomato grown organically by the gardener provides better sustenance than a store bought industrial tomato. Back to the question of the actual nutritional value, I would only caution that the studies you have found should be taken with a grain of salt. There may be significant bias built into those studies (e.g. were they funded by industrial growers who have a vested interest in demonstrating the nutritional value of their product).

    I look forward to picking my tomatoes pink this year. I will try to check back in at this site once I have tasted the results.

  • admin:

    holee1: Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I had considered the possibility that the studies of the nutritional value of tomatoes might have been funded by a concern trying to promote an agenda, but I ended up failing to answer this question: Who benefits from a study showing that tomatoes picked-pink are as nutritious as tomatoes ripened on the vine? If commercial growers believe this finding will somehow make the horrible tomatoes they ship become more appealing, they really need to spend the research dollars somewhere else! A bad tomato is a bad tomato no matter how nutritious it is.

    The studies used several varieties of tomatoes. Perhaps some were the “disgusting shippable commercial” variety, but again: the only people who are going to buy those horrid tomatoes are the people who think that’s what a tomato is. So, sure: the studies may be biased or flawed… Still, I hope you find that picking pink gives you an edge over those pesky squirrels… I promise a picked-pink tomato that you ripen completely before eating will taste much more like a ripe tomato than a green one will!

    Best of luck!


  • i have started picking tomatoes when they have turned even the slightest bit red…that way I don’t forget about them and they don’t rot in the garden…or get eaten by bugs. I’d much rather finish them in the kitchen and get the tomato. I haven’t ever noticed any difference in the taste. If anything, the ones I pick early are less likely to get rotten before I turn them into something.

  • RW Cook:

    I agree. I pick when pink. I started this a few years ago. If I wait any longer the varmints will start nibbling…and I have given up nothing in flavor as far as I can tell.

  • I have to pick my tomatoes before they fully ripen from my community garden plot or they get stolen. So I have basketfuls of greenish toms on my kitchen table most of the summer. I think they taste fine – but they take a long time to ripen this way…and sometimes they wither before fully ripe (sad).

    Great info on this though – glad you took the time to post it all up.

  • admin:

    Stevie: Thanks for adding your voice on the topic. When picked pink, my tomatoes seem to take seven to 14 days to finish ripening. This season more than any I’ve had tomatoes wither as they ripen… not so bad if I’m cooking them, but very unappealing when I’m eating them raw. Paste tomatoes seem most prone to withering, and I suspect it has something to do with having less moisture in them to begin with. Generally, my slicing tomatoes stay firm and come out beautifully after a week or two on the dining room table.

  • Hey bro, I too look for the pink. I got my ‘maters in late this year due to damping off of the first seedlings. I’m hoping the frost will hold off another week so I can get those pink shoulders.
    Good air drainage has kept me frost free while the neighbors have frozen! KJG.

  • admin:

    Hey, Bro! Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment. I was so glad for frost this year. The tomato harvest was overwhelming and my shear lack of interest in the past month cost me about a half bushel of tomatoes. In fact, I need to get away from the computer and do something culinary with the last 10 pounds of ripe ones and 15-20 pounds of greenies. Good luck with your late harvest.

Leave a Reply

Subscribe… a reader:     

...via eMail:

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner


contests & sweeps for moms
Contests & Sweepstakes


Business Directory for Lewisburg, Pennsylvania