Scientists have an incredibly easy solution for better-tasting supermarket tomatoes

Go ahead and chill.
Go ahead and chill.
Image: AP/David Goldman
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Any true tomato fan knows that you do not put them in the refrigerator. Cold temperatures cause tomatoes to lose their flavor, which is why so many that arrive in your home from a store are already bland.

But new scientific research has found there might be an unbelievably easy fix: a quick dip in hot water before they are ever chilled.

This morning (August 19), plant physiologist Jinhe Bai presented his team’s findings (video) and demonstrated how the process works at a meeting of the American Chemical Society. The group from the U.S. Department of Agriculture took tomatoes fresh off the stem and placed them in 125-degree-Fahrenheit water for five minutes, let them return to room temperature, and then went through the normal process of chilling the fruit.

The heated tomatoes retained more of their flavor and, according to Bai, tasted better than those that weren’t heated before chilling.

In order to prevent tomatoes from getting too ripe on the road between farm, supermarket, and table, they’re normally stored and shipped at cold temperatures, generally between 41 and 55 degrees. But this stifles the enzymes that produce the aromas that make our plump, juicy friends taste so good.

Bai says his team is also attempting to save flavor by picking the tomatoes later than normal and treating them with a gas called 1-methylcyclopropene, which lets tomatoes stay unripe for longer. This process might eliminate the need to chill tomatoes at all.