Ask a Foodie: What is the best way to store leftover sliced tomatoes?

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By: Geoff Lesar
glesar@flavor574.com

The Elkhart Truth

Any way you cut it, there is no singular method for storing sliced tomatoes.

Unlike other produce preservation practices, which typically call for items to be chilled, tomatoes tend to lose their characteristic flavors if left cool for too long. After preparing a personal portion of a classic summertime BLT, what should happen to the rest of ‘T?’  

This week’s Ask a Foodie question inquired, “What is the best way to store leftover sliced tomatoes?”

Dean Karacson of Edwardsburg, Mich. has been harvesting tomatoes since 1964. The Elkhart Truth’s community editor and Flavor 574 columnist Marshall V. King once referred to Karacson as a “tomato-growing genius,” after featuring him in the spring 2014 issue of Flavor 574 magazine.

Karacson believes temperature to be crucial in containing the flavor of the fruit. And yes, it’s technically a fruit.

“Anytime you cool a tomato below 50 degrees, it kills some of the flavor of the tomatoes,” Karacson said. “I store my leftover tomatoes just upside down on a paper plate on the counter. It will get a little soggy, but it won’t lose any of the flavor.”

Karacson has left his tomatoes on the counter for “24 hours, no problem,” but does not recommend much longer.

“If you put it in the refrigerator, the best way to do it is take it out a couple of hours before you want to use and let it warm back to room temperature and you’ll get about 90 percent of the flavor back,” Karacson said.

Heirloom tomato expert and “Epic Tomatoes” author Craig LeHoullier has grown about 2,000 varieties of the crop over the past 30 years. The Raleigh, N.C., resident offered his reasoning for why some people prefer their tomatoes chilled.

“I have a theory on why some of us actually enjoy the flavor of refrigerated tomatoes — nostalgia! I know that my mom would put tomatoes purchased at farm stands or grown by my grampa [sic] in the fridge, and it is often that flavor we grew up with,” LeHoullier wrote in an email.

LeHoullier echoed the advice of Karacson, suggesting refrigerated tomatoes be stored in plastic sandwich bags or closed containers, removed after no more than a day or two and warmed to room temperature a couple of hours before serving. However, the author disagrees with leaving them out for extended periods of time.

“From what I’ve read, there are enough concerns about leaving a cut tomato out on a plate, or in a plastic bag or covered container, at room temperature that it isn’t really advisable,” LeHoullier wrote. “My caveat is that the acidity of tomatoes should lessen the possibility of bacterial spoilage, but anything health-related concerning food is worth being as safe as possible.”

LeHoullier’s primary solution to post-cutting preservation panic? Eat ’em all.

“Find some room in the stomach to consume it all after cutting,” he wrote. “Consider those last few slices dessert — just a drizzle of olive oil, some salt and pepper, shredded basil and dusting of grated Parmesan.”

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