Do Vine-Ripened Tomatoes (Cluster Tomatoes) Really Taste Better?
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Posted by Eric Troy on 28 Dec 2013 00:04

So, you're looking for a good tasting tomato at the grocery store, and looking is about all you can do because you can never seem to get a decent tomato. Then, you come across some vine-ripened tomatoes. Or, maybe they are called tomatoes on the vine, or even cluster tomatoes. The label may or may not proclaim them to be actually ripened on the vine, but, there they are, on the vine, so maybe they taste better, being allowed to ripen on the plant with the sun shining down on them, as opposed to ripening off the vine in some tomato processing facility, or just in the grocery store bin. So, you buy these tomatoes, planning on an awesome tomato sandwich later that evening. And, alas, your tomato sandwich turns out to be just a cruddy as the last one you ate.

Well, there is a reason that it's so difficult to find a decent tasting tomato anymore. We'll be explaining all about that very shortly in a new article, with some pertinent tomato history. It will be linked here when it is published, but if you want to know when it's posted, you can subscribe to CulinaryLore articles by email, or follow us on Facebook or Pinterest, using the appropriate button or link to the right. As for you vine-ripened tomatoes, I'm afraid to say that they are probably not much different than any other tomatoes at the grocery store.

I know why these are tempting, I've fallen for it as well. You're looking for a good tasting tomato and can't find one. It is easy to assume that these vine-ripened tomatoes must be picked ripe, and must, therefore, taste better.

Do vine-ripened tomatoes really taste better?
Do vine-ripened tomatoes really taste better?

If it were true, it may make for a somewhat better tasting tomato, and perhaps a better texture, as well. Still, it's hard to say how much difference it would really make, these days, as other factors have conspired to make the modern (i.e. not heirloom) tomato less delicious than its predecessors. But, tomatoes on the vine, or cluster tomatoes, are NOT picked ripe. They are picked a few days later than conventional tomatoes, they are still allowed to do most of their ripening after they are picked "still on the vine." Like individually picked tomatoes, they may be force-ripened at a regional facility, or they may ripen in storage, during transport, or at the grocery store. This few extra days on the plant may make some difference in flavor but I doubt it makes a big difference, and certainly, in my subjective experience, it does not. However, you will pay extra for these tomatoes, and it may not be worth the extra cost.

You may not think ripening a tomato on the vine makes a difference in taste, or you may steadfastly maintain that it makes all the difference in the world. But I would guess that, regardless, you would not want to pay extra for a tomato that is labelled to appear as if it is ripened in the field. The reality is that it is very impractical for the tomato industry to pick tomatoes ripe. Many ripe fruits and vegetables hold up fine during shipping, but ripe tomatoes do not. They're skins will split, they will turn to mush, and they may even be infested with fruit flies.

Keep in mind that most all tomatoes you buy in the grocery store are picked at the "breaker" point, just when the first bit of color appears. After this, they may be allowed to ripen the rest of the way during storage, or they may be force-ripened at a regional facility. As well, they may simply ripen in the grocery store bin. You'll notice that, depending on the time of the year, a lot of tomatoes will be almost, but not quite ripe, when you buy them. A light red almost orange color, but not a red ripe color, and you have to wait for them to ripen at home.

Why can't we get good tasting tomatoes anymore? Is it just that they are picked to early? That question, as I mentioned, will be answered in a later article. For now, let's just say there is more to it than being picked too soon. Stick with us to find out.

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