Your mother always told you to keep tomatoes out of the refrigerator and now science is backing her up. Researchers have figured out that chilling “greatly reduces flavor quality” by affecting a tomato’s genetics. So don’t do it. That’s the takeaway of a University of Florida study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences looking at the effects of refrigeration on flavor compounds — especially aromatic “volatiles” — in tomatoes.
Scientists gathered an array of ripe tomatoes — supermarket kinds as well as heirlooms — and chilled them between one and seven days. Each tomato then got either a one- or three-day recovery period at room temperature. Briefer chilling periods had little impact on volatiles, but that weeklong stint in cold storage dramatically reduced volatiles for either recovery period.
Seasoned taste-testers rated chilled tomatoes lower than ones that had been picked and served fresh. Scientists also found that chilling set off molecular reactions that reduced volatiles and flavor. Sugars and acids, which also impact the taste, weren’t that affected by chilling. But the next time you’re offered a beefsteak from the fridge, feel free to give it the cold shoulder.
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