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How to Ripen Tomatoes

To ripen tomatoes, put them in a bowl and leave them in the sun, or store them in a brown paper bag. Here’s everything else you need to know to get it right.

Let’s play a game: Name me one person who doesn’t love tomatoes so ripe, they’re ready to burst? It’s all right, I’m waiting!

In season from the months of May to October, though this may vary depending on where you live, tomatoes are a fantastic fruit (or vegetable, if you ask the U.S. Supreme Court) to add to your sauces, salads, and cooked dishes alike.

A ripe tomato is plump, juicy, and flavorsome. It cooks down in sauces, holds its shape in salads, and melds together deliciously well with the other ingredients in soups, stews, and braises. And yet the tomatoes we buy in the grocery store seldom live up to this description.

If you can only get your hands on green, unripe tomatoes, let’s talk about the things that you can do to make them ripen quickly and without hassle at home.

In a Fruit Bowl

The tomato is a fruit that grows in the sun. So it’s not surprising that tomatoes ripen best in a fruit bowl (or a food storage container without the lid) placed in a sunny place in the kitchen.

With this technique, the tomatoes will ripen in 1 to 3 days depending on how green they were when you started. The key to the success of this method is not to stack the tomatoes too tightly; for each tomato to ripen properly, it must have room to breathe.

In a Brown Paper Bag

To ripen tomatoes quickly, wrap them tightly in a brown paper bag. The paper bag, a breathable container, traps the ethylene gas inside while allowing the tomatoes to breathe and thus preventing them from spoiling.

Avoid using plastic bags (even if you poked hole in them) and don’t wrap the tomatoes in plastic wrap. Plastic is permeable, but not as permeable as paper, and it won’t take long for the tomatoes to sweat and spoil.

For this method too, the trick is not to pack the tomatoes in the bag too full. It is better to have two small bags with two sets of tomatoes than one large one with too many tomatoes crammed in.

The tomatoes should be ripe within 24-48 hours. To speed up the process even more, throw in a banana—another big producer of ethylene gas.

Which Method Is Better?

I prefer ripening my tomatoes in a fruit bowl for a number of reasons.

For starters, some of the tomatoes will inevitably ooze a little liquid. If you ripen them in a brown paper bag, the bag may get soggy. In a bowl, this isn’t necessarily a problem because the juices pool at the bottom.

Second, I don’t always have a brown paper bag in the kitchen that’s suitable for ripening tomatoes. But as long as I’ve taken the trouble to load the dishwasher or wash the dishes by hand, I always have a clean bowl within a hand’s reach.

Last but not least, a bowl of tomatoes decorates my kitchen—a brown paper bag, on the other hand, doesn’t.

Know your author

Written by

Jim is the former editor of Home Cook World. He is a career food writer who's been cooking and baking at home ever since he could see over the counter and put a chair by the stove.