We finally know why tomatoes lose their flavour when you refrigerate them

Whatever you do, don’t tuck your freshly-purchased tomatoes in the fridge.

It might seem like a good way to store them, but in reality, the cold temperatures can wreak havoc on the flavour and texture of the produce.

While cold air can stop tomatoes from ripening — a good thing if you want to keep them around for longer — refrigeration also breaks down cell membranes inside the fruit, diminishing its flavour and texture.

But why? Turns out, these flavour changes happen on a genetic level, according to a study published this month in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Researchers from the University of Florida looked at two tomato varieties: heirloom and a more modern vision. They then exposed the tomatoes to 41-degree Fahrenheit temperatures. After one, three, or seven days, the researchers brought the tomatoes back up to a standard room temperature of 68 degrees Fahrenheit.

While the sugar and acid makeup of the tomatoes didn’t change, their volatiles — the chemicals that give produce their flavours — dipped sharply.

The researchers chalked this up to something called DNA methylation, or the process that essentially switches a gene off.

What you can do about it

But, as The New York Times noted, this might not be so easy a fix as just eating tomatoes in January as soon as you haul them back from the store. By the time you get them, they may have already hit 41 degrees or colder while getting transported from warmer climates.

Instead, getting your tomatoes another way, through preserves, sun-dried tomatoes or tomato sauce, might give you a better chance to capture all that great tomato-y flavour you might be missing.

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