What to do with Unripe Tomatoes

If you grow your own tomatoes, it is common to have a few stragglers at the end of the season that just don’t want to ripen. This is especially true for indeterminate varieties, as they continue to produce more fruits until the cold weather arrives.

If you’re like me, you don’t want any of your fresh produce to go to waste. So, in this article, I will share some ideas for what to do with unripe tomatoes.

Unripe green tomatoes on vine
Unripe tomatoes on plant.

Depending on how close the tomatoes are to maturity, you will have different options for using them. If they are picked very early, the tomatoes will likely not ripen off the plant. However, they are still edible and used for specialty dishes.

On the other hand, if your tomatoes are unripe, but have begun to ripen, you may still have a shot at them turning red off the vine.

1. Ripen Them in a Baggie

This should probably be your first step when dealing with unripe tomatoes. Green tomatoes will often ripen after being picked, but not always.

If your tomatoes are a deeper green or have begun to show some color (yellowish/orange), then they can likely continue to ripen off the vine. To speed up the process, place the unripe tomatoes into a paper baggie and loosely close it.

Place the baggie on a windowsill or the pantry and allow the tomato to ripen for several days. Check on the bag periodically to see if the process is working.

Tip: Add another fruit, like an apple or similar, to the baggie. The fruit will give off additional ethylene gas to help ripen the tomato more quickly.

If, after 2-3 days, the tomatoes have not changed color at all, then they will likely not ripen and you should move onto another option.


2. Make Fried Green Tomatoes

Unripe tomatoes taste nothing like ripe tomatoes. Green tomatoes are tart and acidic with very little sweetness. While the flavor isn’t for everyone, there are several recipes that make use of unripe tomatoes.

Fried green tomatoes are among the most popular dishes to use green tomatoes. It involved breading and frying sliced green tomatoes. They make the perfect appetizer for dipping into a creamy ranch or thousand island.

Try this recipe for a classic take.


3. Green Tomato Salsa

If you’d rather not take on the task of deep frying, maybe a punchy green tomato salsa will hit the spot. Remember, green tomatoes are more crunchy and much more acidic than red ones, so don’t expect a traditional salsa flavor!

Also known as salsa verde, green tomato salsa is bright, punchy, and great on Mexican food. You can also substitute tomatillos for green tomatoes if you’d like to make a more traditional salsa verde.

This recipe gets the proportions just right for a green tomato salsa.


4. Pickled Green Tomatoes

Ripe tomatoes are not ideal for pickling, though it is possible. Green tomatoes, on the other hand, are still firm, making them suitable for pickling fresh.

You can then use the pickled unripe tomatoes on sandwiches, in dip, blended into a sauce, or simply eaten straight! I love pickled fresh veggies, and this option is probably my favorite method for using unripe tomatoes.

This recipe from A Couple Cooks nails it.


Can You Eat Unripe Tomatoes?

A common misconception is that unripe tomatoes and other veggies are inedible. However, many veggies are mostly eaten in their unripe form. Green bell peppers are just the unripe form of a red bell pepper!

While their flavor can be off-putting, unripe tomatoes are perfectly edible. They are commonly fried, pickled or used for fresh salsa verde. The flavor, however, is known to be an acquired taste.

Unripe green heirloom tomatoes

How do you Make Green Tomatoes Turn Red?

If you have a late harvest of tomatoes, many of them will likely still be green. However, if the ripening process has begun, you may still have a chance to ripen your green tomatoes to red.

In short, green tomatoes can be ripened to red by enclosing them in a small paper lunch bag. Keep the baggie at room temperature to speed up ripening off the vine.

The reason that a paper bag is best is because it allows for airflow while increasing the amount of ethylene gas that reaches the tomatoes. Many fruits emit ethylene gas, which is known to stimulate ripening.

Tomatoes are a ‘climacteric’ fruit, or one that can continue to ripen after being picked. Others include bananas, pears and peaches. Add another climacteric fruit to your baggie to speed up the ripening process. These ripe fruits will emit additional ethylene gas nearby the tomato.

However, keep in mind that a green tomato will only turn red off the plant if the ripening process had already begun before picking. An extremely underripe tomato may never ripen, no matter what you do.

Why are my green tomatoes not turning red?

If you are waiting for your tomatoes to turn red, just keep waiting! The plant will ripen the fruits in due time. However, if time is running out in the season, you may wish to speed up the process.

Try pruning away any excess leafy foliage from your plants to help fruits ripen faster on the plant. This will redirect some of the plant’s energy towards ripening the tomatoes.

Also, pluck any tomatoes that have already ripened in a timely manner. In other words, do not let any red fruits sit on the plant. Not only does this attract pests, but it also slows down the ripening of remaining tomatoes.

For green tomatoes that have already been picked, it is a different story. If green tomatoes are too immature when picked, they will never ripen, even when placed in a paper bag. Instead, I recommend trying one of the above methods for using them!

Unripe grape tomatoes
Unripe grape tomatoes.

I hope this article helps you decide what to do with your underripe tomatoes. I get tons of them each year, and it is fun to experiment with the different flavor. Enjoy!

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