Taste Test: Ripening Tomatoes Off the Vine

Many people wait patiently for fruit like tomatoes to ripen on the vine before harvesting, but the impatient among us may be pleased to know that some crops can be harvested before they are ripe, and they taste just as good! Maybe even better, and we aim to prove it!

This is not true of all crops. Some fruits will not continue to ripen once harvested and should be harvested when they are ready to eat. Fruit that will NOT ripen once harvested include peppers, berries, and melons. If you harvest these before they are mature, they won’t taste good and will eventually go bad without ever deepening in colour or increasing in sweetness. The exception is green peppers which are tasty both unripened or left on the vine to ripen to the colour they were bred to be. Not true of eggplant or raspberries.

On the other hand, fruits like tomatoes, avocados, bananas and apples will continue to ripen even if they aren’t ripe when you harvest them. This can be incredibly useful because it takes energy for plant to keep holding their fruits, so if we can harvest them early, it can reduce stress on the plant, allow it to allocate energy to forming new fruits, and ultimately increase yields. Being able to harvest before fruits are ripe also ensures that you get to them before other foraging creatures do!

While there are many practical benefits to harvesting as early as possible, there’s a common belief that “vine ripened” tomatoes must taste superior to tomatoes. After all, aren’t fruits supposed to taste best when they are freshly plucked off the plant? Does ripening tomatoes off the vine therefore compromise flavour? In this BUFCO Lab experiment, we will investigate just that!

Arlene and Debbie perform blind taste tests of tomatoes ripened on and off the vine.

The Experiment

We isolated two tomatoes from the same plant that were both starting to change from green to their final colour. This blushing signals that the tomato is mature and starting to ripen. For our experiment, we left one tomato to continue to ripen on the vine and harvested one tomato to ripen on a window sill.

Sun Sugar TomatoBlack Plum Tomato
Tomatoes ripening off the vine, on the window sill.

Eight days later, both sets of tomatoes were ripe.

Tomatoes ripened off the vine on a window sill.
Sun Sugar Cherry (left) and Black Plum (right) tomatoes ripened on the vine.

Test Results

Debbie facilitated a blind taste test for Arlene with both the Sun Sugar and Black Plum tomatoes. Since the Black Plum tomato could be cut in half, Arlene had Debbie join in the fun and do a blind taste test for the black plum tomato as well.

TrialTomato VarietyTasterTasting OrderPreferred Tomato
FirstSecond
1Sun Sugar CherryArleneOff the VineOn the VineOff the Vine
2Black PlumArleneOn the VineOff the VineOff the Vine
3Black PlumDebbieOn the VineOff the VineOff the Vine

Conclusion

Despite two different tomato varieties (Sun Sugar Cherry and Black Plum), the order of tasting them (first or second), and the taster (Arlene and Debbie), we found that the tomatoes that were ripened off the vine actually tasted slightly better in all trials!

This means that allowing tomatoes to ripen off the vine is not only beneficial for the plants and a deterrent from predation by other creatures, but they might even taste better!

Have you tried this taste test in your garden? Do you agree? Comment below, we’d love to hear your thoughts!

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