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How To Tell If A Tomato Is Ripe

Nothing quite matches the flavor of a juicy, vine-ripened tomato. Whether you’re growing your own or shopping at the local market, knowing how to tell if a tomato is ripe is key to maximizing its potential and enjoying the ultimate flavor.

So, how can you tell when a tomato is perfectly ripe? Let’s explore.

Four vine ripe tomatoes on a wooden background.

A ripe tomato often has a vibrant color matching its variety, a firm but slightly yielding feel, a strong, sweet, earthy aroma, and smooth, glossy skin. The stem should be dry and shriveled. Different varieties ripen to different colors, so knowing your tomato type is key.

How To Tell If A Tomato Is Ripe


All tomatoes, regardless of variety, pass through a color spectrum as they ripen. They start out green, then progress through a ‘breaker’ stage (where the first blush of color appears), then orange, and finally a rich red (or yellow, pink, purple, or even black, depending on the variety).

Different tomato varieties ripen to different colors, and it’s important to know what the mature color of your chosen variety is.

  • Beefsteak tomatoes are large and turn a deep, bright red when ripe.
  • Cherry tomatoes are small, round, and ripen to a bright red color.
  • Roma or Plum tomatoes have an elongated shape and turn to a vibrant red when mature.
  • Yellow Pear tomatoes turn a bright, sunny yellow when ripe.
  • Green Zebra is a striped variety that remains green even when ripe.


A ripe tomato should be firm but yield slightly under pressure. It should not be squishy or mushy.

Try gently squeezing the tomato. You’ll find a ripe tomato will give slightly to pressure, while an unripe one will be hard.


A ripe tomato will have a strong, sweet, earthy smell – the stronger the aroma, the riper the tomato. Unripe tomatoes won’t have much smell.


The skin of a ripe tomato should be smooth and glossy, without any wrinkles, blemishes, or cracks.

The stem of a ripe tomato should be dry and shriveled, not green and fresh-looking.

While it’s important to know how to tell if a tomato is ripe, there’s much more to explore about this versatile fruit.

For additional insights on tomato varieties and cultivation tips, you might find this comprehensive guide by Butter N Thyme quite informative and helpful.

Common Mistakes When Checking for Tomato Ripeness

  1. Basing ripeness on color alone.
  2. Squeezing too hard.
  3. Not considering the variety.

If a tomato has gone bad, it will have a foul smell, visibly moldy spots, or a squishy texture indicating it’s overripe and starting to rot. Check out our post about how to tell if a tomato has gone bad to learn more.

Ripe Characteristic
LookColor matching variety, smooth and glossy skin, dry and shriveled stem
FeelFirm but slightly yielding
SmellA strong, sweet, earthy aroma

How to Store Tomatoes

The key to storing tomatoes is to keep them at room temperature, away from direct sunlight. A countertop is typically the ideal spot.

Refrigerating tomatoes can affect their texture and flavor, making them mealy and dull. However, if your tomatoes are overripe and you want to slow down further ripening, you may place them in the fridge.

Cut Tomatoes

When storing a cut tomato, cover it tightly with plastic wrap or place it in an airtight container, and then store it in the refrigerator to maintain freshness.

The way you cut a tomato can impact its storage life, so be sure to use a sharp knife and clean cuts to preserve the integrity of the tomato. Check out our guide on how to properly cut tomatoes for detailed instructions.

Freeze tomatoes

If you have an abundance of tomatoes that you want to freeze, check out our full guide on how to properly freeze tomatoes for later use.

Just remember to take them out a few hours before you plan to use them, to allow the tomato to regain its best flavor.

Frequently Asked Questions About How To Tell If A Tomato Is Ripe

Absolutely! While they are more tart and less sweet than their ripe counterparts, green tomatoes can be delicious when fried or used in salsas and relishes.

If your tomato is turning brown instead of red, it may be suffering from a condition known as blossom end rot, which is usually caused by a calcium deficiency and inconsistent watering.

Tomatoes ripen faster on the vine when conditions are optimal – warm, but not too hot, and with plenty of sunlight. However, once they’ve started showing some color (the ‘breaker’ stage), they can continue to ripen off the vine, though the flavor might not be as robust.


Identifying ripe tomatoes involves a bit more than a quick visual check. Understanding the variety, checking the color, feeling the firmness, smelling the aroma, and inspecting the skin and stem can ensure you pick the ripest, juiciest, and most flavorful tomatoes every time.

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