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Having just had a lovely sandwich of Aberdeen Angus beef, vine ripened tomato and horseradish I was wondering if anyone could explain to me exactly what a vine ripened tomato is?

Since all tomatoes have ripened and all tomatoes grow on a vine, should not all tomatoes be referred to as vine ripened? Is it not the same as me referring to an apple as tree ripened?

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To answer the title question, I recommend some high quality tomato paste for that delicious, full tomato flavor if fresh tomatoes are not available/in season. If you want the texture/juiciness too, perhaps throw in some cucumber slices (In the case of your sandwich). –  AlexMA Apr 26 '13 at 20:03
    
Thanks - that sounds like a really good idea. I love the tomato flavour but hate it when a sandwich goes soggy! –  StuPointerException Apr 29 '13 at 8:02

4 Answers 4

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Tomatoes grow on a vine. But it is possible to pick them unripe, ship them unripe (which is much easier than shipping ripe tomatoes), then gas them with ethylene at the destination. Ethylene acts as a plant hormone and causes ripening.

But tomatoes ripened in storage don't taste the same as vine ripened ones. The compounds a tomato builds are dependent on the amount of UV light it gets, the surrounding temperature, the speed of ripening, the nutrients it gets during ripening, and many other variables. There are lots of tasty compounds it creates while ripening on the vine, which are absent when it ripens in storage. This is why vine ripened tomatoes are tastier. It is also more expensive to let them ripen naturally, therefore the producers label the vine ripened ones as a sign of quality, else customers wouldn't be willing to pay the premium.

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Great answer, thanks :) –  StuPointerException Apr 25 '13 at 13:06
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Note that in the US, the only requirement for them to be labeled as 'vine ripened' is for them to be starting to change color ... so at the first little bit of red/pink on them, they get picked for shipping (and later gassing). Something that's been left to actually ripen fully on the vine will be much better than what you commonly get in most stores. I highly recommend buying tomatoes from a farmer's market or growing your own if you have the space. (just make sure to grow an indeterminate variety) –  Joe Apr 25 '13 at 18:32
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It not that simple. Some modern tomato genetics have been breed to allow for vine ripening, and these taste fine when vie ripened. Old varieties are not really suitable for this and should be picked before they look ripe, or the core will be over-ripe. The most flavoured tomatoes (often referred to as "Heirloom") are best picked before they are ripe and left to ripen off-vine (or with ethylene if you are trying to ripen to an exact schedule as shops would require) –  TFD Apr 25 '13 at 21:16

Many fruits (tomatoes being one) and vegetables are picked before they are ripe and then artificially ripened at their transport destination using artificial means like ethylene gas. This makes fruits and vegetables make it to the store and last longer there without spoiling, and is the reason we have many of our vegetables year-round. The down-side to this technique is that the flavor of them is nowhere near what a garden-ripened vegetable or fruit would be.

A vine ripened tomato is one that has been allowed to ripen completely on the vine until it is at or near its peak, giving much better flavor. Because they are so perishable they tend to be much more expensive and harder to get. Supermarkets won't have them but farmers markets will depending on the season. Good restaurants pay a lot of money for a good year-round supply of quality vegetables.

I grow my own and I can tell you that there's not comparison between even the best store-bought tomatoes and the ones from a good garden. Not hard to grow either if you pick the right variety.

That being said, the term vine-ripened is often misused as a bit of marketing speak to make them sound more attractive, however if you're at a good restaurant it's probably true.

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In many countries, including the UK, tomatoes grown outdoors often will not ripen at all, due to a lack of sunshine at the right time. What gardeners usually do is pick the green or reddening tomatoes and leave them to ripen on a windowsill (or something similar). They may not taste as good as ones grown under glass. but they are better than ordinary 'vine-ripened' tomatoes would be. [Feel free to convert to a comment; I don't have an account here].

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I live in the UK and even last summer almost all my tomatoes ripened on the vine. Up north may be different though, I'm in SE england. –  GdD Apr 25 '13 at 18:37
    
Yeah, "in the UK" is a bit of a generalisation… due to its micro-climate, the Clyde valley region of Scotland used to be the tomato and soft fruit capital of the empire :) –  scottishwildcat Apr 26 '13 at 10:33

To contradict / complement the other answers: the "vine-ripened" point is mostly moot. Your regular old comercial round red tomato variety has been bred for shelf-life for roughly forever, won't develop much flavour anyway, and most of whatever is left is probably lost in (refrigerated) transportation and storage even if they were picked ripe - I haven't found one that wouldn't taste disappointingly for years.

What you're looking for is a tomato that's sweet and tasty, so go with the one you can get that you like best. Heirloom/named varieties are a good choice. (E.g. Roma or San Marzano - those are denser-fleshed canning tomatoes but should work fine in a sandwich, especially if you don't like juice making things mushy.) The kumato is also tasty even before it fully ripens. Buying local from a market helps. Avoid refrigeration, eat them ASAP.

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Quite true -- and they've also been bred for size, shape, quantity ... all over flavor. Which is another reason for the farmer's market if you're not going to grow your own ... some of the heirlook varieties might look strange (purple, brown, white, green striped, etc.), but they haven't had the flavor bred out of them (and they might've been bred for flavor originally). –  Joe Apr 25 '13 at 21:21
    
@Joe I'm carefully optimistic that the Kumato marks the start of a turnaround in the commercial tomato trend, the way it happened with apples. After the ages of Golden Delicious (and blander) dominance, even here I reliably find an Evelina or a Pink Lady or a Granny Smith. (Obviously there are problems with the club variety approach, but it's a good fallback when the inherently hit-and-miss farmer's markets turn out misses.) –  millimoose Apr 26 '13 at 0:50
    
you do get the occassional miss ... but if that's the case, find a new farmer. Unfortunately, all of the farmers around me who used to set up stands in the afternoon on my route home have since sold off to large developments. (so no more farm stands and more traffic). I had to break down and start growing my own. –  Joe Apr 26 '13 at 0:58
    
@Joe It's partly a regional thing. I live too far into the east bloc for any sort of established local food culture (yet), the sellers on farmer's markets fall back on reselling from distributors to make ends meet sometimes, and there's a whole one veggie-box service in the city with hilariously terrible stock. (It's the middle of wild garlic and asparagus season, the tail end of scallions and radishes, and this week's box on the website is pounds upon pounds of apples, carrots, onion, and potatoes and not much else.) –  millimoose Apr 26 '13 at 1:36

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