The freezer is a fantastic way to make fresh produce last longer, especially in the height of summer where the heat affects the longevity of most foods. Yet, freezing food isn’t always simple. There are different ways to do so and the best approach varies depending on the product you choose.
In particular, freezing fruit and vegetables tends to require some prep work. For example, with bananas, you need to think about whether to take the skins off or not and whether to freeze them whole. If you’re freezing spinach or zucchini instead, blanching might be in order. Other foods can be simpler, such as lunch meat or milk, but even here there are things to consider.
Tomatoes are an especially interesting food to consider, given that their water content is so high. Learning how to freeze tomatoes is also incredibly helpful, as tomato vines often produce many more tomatoes than you need (especially if you’re growing cherry tomatoes).
Tomatoes can be frozen whole (with or without blanching), chopped into segments, or frozen as a puree. Freezing tomatoes whole is the simplest approach, but isn’t always the right one, as the tomatoes take longer to thaw and crack apart as they do so.
Let’s take a look at what you can expect when freezing tomatoes. What’s the right approach for you?
The simplest answer is that you freeze tomatoes by putting them in the freezer. But, as you’ll see, there are a few areas you need to think about, including whether you blanch the tomatoes and whether you cut them up. You can even freeze tomato puree rather than tomatoes on their own.
Approaches You Can Take
Let’s begin with the simplest approach, freezing your tomatoes whole This is useful if you plan to use the entire tomato anyway and don’t want much prep work.
If you want the least work possible, then you can just wash and dry your tomatoes, cut away the area surrounding the stem, place the tomatoes on a cookie sheet, and freeze them. Once they’re frozen, you can place them in whatever container you like.
Freezing on a tray first stops the tomatoes from sticking together. You’ll see this pattern with most types of frozen food.
Freezing whole tomatoes works well enough, but the tomatoes will often crack and collapse after thawing. As such, they’re not useful for any situations where you need the structure of the tomato intact.
Still… if you plan to use your tomatoes in a tomato puree, a sauce, or a stew, then freezing the tomatoes whole is completely fine. It also requires the least work, which is great when you’re in a hurry.
The next approach is to peel and core the tomatoes first. Doing so is as simple as dipping the tomatoes in boiling water for roughly a minute, after which point the skins will split open and the skins are easy to remove.
You can then dip the tomatoes in ice water, which blanches them and helps them retain their quality when freezing. Blanching isn’t essential, but it’s worth doing given that you’re boiling the tomatoes anyway.
Once the tomatoes are cool enough, core and peel them. You can then freeze them just like you did with unpeeled tomatoes. While this approach takes more work, it also makes the tomatoes easier to use when you need them. Peeled and blanched tomatoes should also retain their quality better in the freezer than ones that haven’t been blanched.
The next approach is to chop your tomatoes instead. You might peel the tomatoes first or leave them whole (leaving them whole is much less messy).
Chopping tomatoes requires more prep work than freezing them whole, but the tomatoes are easier to use at the other end. You can also use small containers or freezer bags so that your tomatoes are in an appropriate portion size.
You could also include some herbs and spices with your tomatoes. Doing so makes them even easier to drop into your meals.
If you’re going to use tomato puree in your recipes, why not make the puree first, then freeze it? Doing so gives you a versatile ingredient. You’ll even be able to add it to many stews and other recipes without thawing first.
There are a variety of other techniques to experiment with, including the following.
- Sliced with less water. Here, you slice your tomatoes and use a paper towel to absorb some of the liquid. This way the tomatoes are less soggy once they’re thawed.
- Removing the seeds. Some people remove the seeds from tomatoes. This is useful if you’re sensitive to the seeds or they don’t work in your planned recipe.
- Roasted tomatoes. You can actually roast tomatoes, allow them to cool, and then freeze them. Doing so intensifies their flavor and reduces their water content – both helpful features when you’re freezing produce.
How Do You Freeze Cherry Tomatoes?
The approaches we talked about previously can be used for large or small tomatoes. However, many people stick with freezing cherry tomatoes whole, as peeling or chopping them can quickly get frustrating.
Plus, because cherry tomatoes are so small, they’re easy to work with, even when they’ve been frozen whole.
Is It Better To Freeze Tomatoes Whole or Chopped?
Because whole tomatoes tend to crack and collapse, it’s often better to chop your tomatoes or make a puree first. Chopped tomatoes also thaw more quickly than whole tomatoes, which is helpful for some recipes.
This distinction is less relevant for cherry tomatoes. Their small size means there’s often no need to chop them.
The best approach ultimately depends on how you plan to use them. If you want to throw the tomatoes straight in a recipe, chopping them may be the way to go. But, if you’re happy to let them thaw first, then you might leave the tomatoes whole.
Blanching tomatoes helps to preserve their color and flavor. This is especially important if you’re keeping tomatoes in the freezer for a while.
However, if you plan to use tomatoes within two months, you can skip the blanching step. For this time period, blanched and unblanched tomatoes aren’t that different in terms of color and flavor.
Frozen foods retain the best texture if they’re thawed slowly. Ideally, this means you would place your frozen tomatoes in the fridge overnight.
You can also defrost frozen tomatoes by placing them in a sealed bag in a bowl of cold water. You may need to weigh the tomatoes down to ensure they’re completely underwater. This approach will often thaw your tomatoes within an hour, often less.
Using Frozen Tomatoes As They Are
Most people thaw frozen tomatoes before using them. However, you can actually slice them and eat the slices while they are still frozen (or mostly frozen).
At this point, the ice crystals provide your tomatoes with some rigidity. This means they hold their shape and feel more like regular tomatoes. Of course, the tomatoes turn mushy as soon as they thaw.
You can also use frozen tomatoes directly in some long-simmer recipes, like stews, as they have plenty of time to defrost and break down. This approach is most powerful for chopped tomatoes and tomato puree. If you want to use a whole tomato from frozen, it’s best to cut it into smaller pieces first.
Freezing produce irreversibly changes it. This happens because the water in the fruit or vegetable freezes, which then punctures cell walls. The frozen water turns back to liquid after the tomato thaws, but the cell wall damage remains.
This effect tends to be less in products that were snap frozen using industrial tools, but even then, your tomatoes don’t retain the texture they once had. Specifically, thawed tomatoes are much softer and more watery than prior to freezing.
This softness means that you can’t use tomatoes in all of the same ways as before. The tomatoes won’t work well in recipes that rely on their texture, like sandwiches or salads. You probably won’t enjoy eating them on their own either.
Still… all is not lost. Thawed tomatoes are perfect in most recipes that call for canned tomatoes, such as stew, chili, and some pasta dishes.
The pigments in tomatoes are impacted by freezing and thawing as well. This often means that thawed tomatoes have a duller and less uniform color than the fresh version. However, the exact impact varies depending on the tomato variety and its freshness.
In general, tomatoes have a more muted flavor once they’ve been thawed. This is because some of the volatile compounds in tomatoes are damaged during chilling and freezing.
Other Ways To Preserve Tomatoes
Canning is one of the most popular ways to preserve tomatoes. It may also be the best one, as canning might preserve even more of the fresh tomato flavor than freezing does.
Plus, once the canning is completed, you end up with shelf stable tomatoes. This means you don’t need to waste valuable fridge or freezer space. They can simply be stored in a dry and cool environment.
While canning is a popular approach, you do need a decent amount of tomatoes and the right equipment. If you only have a few tomatoes to preserve, you’ll need to find a different approach.
Then there’s drying, by which we mean you’re making either sun dried or semi dried tomatoes. This approach removes much of the water from your tomatoes, helping them to last longer and also concentrating their flavor in the process.
Dried tomatoes are easy to make too. You’re generally blanching the tomatoes, allowing them to cool, coring them, then cutting them into equal sized pieces.
Then you’re up to the drying process. Some people do this in the sun, often under a cheesecloth or something similar to keep the bugs off. You can also use an oven or a dehydrator instead. You may be leaving the tomatoes in place anywhere from three to eight hours, depending on the temperature.
Pickled tomatoes follow the same idea as pickled cucumbers and other pickled vegetables. This means they’re packed in a brine, often made up of vinegar, salt, spices, and sometimes sugar. The tomatoes have a sweet-sour flavor profile and are easy to make at home.
There are also fermented pickled tomatoes. While these require more effort to make, they’re also packed with probiotics and have a more complex flavor profile. Green tomatoes are often fermented this way, as they are firmer and have a distinct tanginess.
Still, you can also ferment ripe tomatoes if you wish. Your tomatoes should still be delicious, but will be softer than pickled green tomatoes ad have a different flavor profile.
Instead of preserving tomatoes on their own, you can prepare a dish with them first. This includes making tomato sauce, salsa, tomato puree, and whatever else you can think of. These products can then be frozen or canned.
Doing so is especially helpful with cherry tomatoes, as these are often frustrating to can. Plus, making a sauce or salsa first gives you an ingredient that you can often use directly in your meal.
For example, you can drop a cube of frozen tomato puree into your stew or soup. This is much easier than waiting for your frozen tomatoes to thaw before you start the next step.