Unripe Tomatoes: Ok to Eat?

The majority of fruits are best eaten ripe. Since you must have already heard the fact that tomatoes are technically fruits, you might be wondering if you can eat them unripe.

In general, you can eat unripe tomatoes. Enjoying them offers a different experience from eating ripe tomatoes as they are firmer, less juicy and have a tart, acidic taste. While they are just as healthy and nutritious as their ripe counterparts, unripe tomatoes may be harsh on the digestive system of some.

On the fence as to whether to eat that unripe tomato or wait for it to fully ripen?

Don’t stop reading now. Below, we will answer some of the most pressing questions many consumers have about unripe tomatoes but feel too embarrassed to ask the pros.

What Do Unripe Tomatoes Look Like?

Unripe tomatoes, no matter the variety, are green in color. Unlike ripe tomatoes that are a little tender to the touch, unripe ones feel nearly hard and solid. They are not as juicy as ripe tomatoes. When it comes to the taste, unripe tomatoes are more acidic and tart than their ripe counterparts.

Not all green tomatoes are unripe tomatoes. There are instances where a green-colored tomato could already be fully ripe. It all depends on the variety.

unripe tomatoes

One common example is the green zebra tomato. Just like what the name suggests, it’s a type of tomato that’s green in color not only while it’s unripe but also when it’s already ripe. And as the name insinuates, too, a green zebra tomato possesses light-yellow stripes. Taste-wise, it’s like a typical tomato — sharp when unripe, sweet when ripe.

Another well-known tomato variety that stays green when ripe is the Aunt Ruby tomato.

Like tomatoes that turn red when ripe, tomatoes that stay green throughout their lifespan can be eaten ripe or unripe. But it can be a challenge for some people to determine whether green-colored tomatoes are already ripe or still unripe. Keep the following in mind before you put them in your shopping cart:

  • Ripe green tomatoes are a little soft and tender to the touch. If the one you are holding feels firm and compact, you can rest assured that it’s still unripe.
  • Dark-green colored green tomatoes are most likely unripe. On the other hand, already ripe green tomatoes are light-green. Some of them may have a hint of pink in the blossom end.
  • Unripe green tomatoes do not contain a lot of juice. They also taste more acidic, often astringent.

Are Unripe Tomatoes Poisonous?

Both ripe and unripe tomatoes contain solanine, a poisonous compound found in green potatoes and many others from the nightshade family within the genus Solanum, like eggplants and tomatoes. However, the amount of solanine in an unripe tomato (and even a ripe one) is not enough to be life-threatening.

Children are at higher risk of solanine poisoning than adults. That’s because they have smaller body sizes.

However, it’s no secret that most kids hate fruits and vegetables. And because unripe tomatoes are firmer and more acidic than ripe tomatoes, chances are that little ones will stay away from them.

Suppose that a child falls in love with the gastronomic uniqueness of unripe tomatoes. In that case, it’s very unlikely that he or she will be able to eat tons of unripe tomatoes and ingest life-threatening amounts of solanine due to having a small stomach — it’s likely to end up packed to full capacity before too many unripe tomatoes are eaten.

Besides tomatoes, ripe and unripe alike, there are many others that have solanine, too:

  • Tomatillos
  • White potatoes
  • Red potatoes
  • Eggplants
  • Bell peppers
  • Chili peppers
  • Hot peppers
  • Jalapeno
  • Pimientos
  • Ground cherries
  • Goji berries

Just about any food product derived from plants containing solanine has solanine, too. However, it’s not unlikely for the amount of the toxic compound in them to be considerably lower than the amount present in their food sources because of the processing they have gone through.

Paprika, chili powder, cayenne powder, curry powder — all of these have solanine.

Needless to say, various products that are tomato-based also contain small amounts of solanine. Some common examples are canned tomatoes, tomato ketchup, tomato juice, tomato sauce, tomato paste and marinara sauce.

How Can I Remove Solanine in Unripe Tomatoes?

Cooking unripe tomatoes removes some of their solanine content, thus making them less toxic. Deep-frying unripe tomatoes helps get rid of as much solanine present as possible. While boiling unripe tomatoes also helps eliminate some of their solanine content, it’s not as effective as deep-frying them.

What makes deep-frying unripe tomatoes effective for reducing the amount of solanine in them is that some of the toxic compound end up in the oil or fat and get damaged.

The best temperature of the oil to make it ideal for deep-frying is anywhere from 350°F to 375°F (177°C to 191°C). Fortunately, there is no need to wait for the oil’s temperature to reach that high. That’s because a temperature of 338°F (170°C) is enough to lower the amount of solanine present in unripe tomatoes considerably.

Other than deep-frying unripe tomatoes, such as how they like to prepare them in the south, you may also opt for those in the early stages of ripening. Most of them are still green in color, although some may be yellow-green.

As a general rule of thumb, the riper the tomatoes, the lesser the solanine content.

Should I Cook Unripe Tomatoes Before Eating Them?

Individuals who are concerned about ingesting solanine may consider deep-frying unripe tomatoes before eating them. However, it’s not just the amount of solanine that cooking can reduce. It can also destroy some of the nutrients present in unripe tomatoes, such as immune system-boosting vitamin C.

For as long as you don’t stuff yourself with unripe tomatoes, solanine poisoning should be the least of your worries, even if you eat them without cooking them first.

Exposure to high temperatures can help reduce the solanine content of unripe tomatoes. However, some of the health-giving nutrients in unripe tomatoes can be reduced by cooking, too. The higher the temperature and the longer the cooking time, the more vitamins and minerals in unripe tomatoes are destroyed.

However, in some instances, exposing tomatoes to heat before eating them is a great idea.

There is a powerful antioxidant found in many fruits and vegetables, including especially pink- and red-colored ones. It’s called lycopene. Besides giving edibles their pink and red color, lycopene also gives humans an assortment of amazing health perks.

According to health authorities, lycopene may help:

  • Protect skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays.
  • Lower blood pressure and bad cholesterol levels.
  • Improve the overall health of the cardiovascular system.
  • Keep one’s cancer risk low.

Cooking ripe red tomatoes helps increase the amounts of lycopene present in them. It also makes the antioxidant easier for the body to absorb and process.

Alas, lycopene is not present in green-colored tomatoes. Needless to say, unripe tomatoes do not have lycopene, even if they are the kinds that turn red when ripe. Lycopene is also absent in yellow tomatoes.

Just Before You Add Unripe Tomatoes to Your Diet

Whether ripe or unripe, tomatoes can be eaten. You can enjoy unripe tomatoes raw or cooked — either way, they can provide you with a different palate experience each time because of their taste and texture. For as long as you don’t eat tons of unripe tomatoes at once, there is no need to fear that you might die from solanine poisoning.

Don’t like to consume tomatoes unripe and hate to throw them away either?

The good news is that, just like other fruits on the face of the planet, tomatoes continue to ripen even after they have been picked. It usually takes one to two weeks for unripe tomatoes to fully ripen.

Related Questions

How do I know if I have nightshade sensitivity?

Individuals with nightshade sensitivity tend to encounter a host of signs and symptoms after ingesting nightshades, such as nausea, vomiting, heartburn and bloating. Those with nightshade allergy usually develop more severe signs and symptoms, such as joint pain, hives and skin rashes.

What is the best way to peel tomatoes?

Using a knife, cut a shallow “X” in the bottom of tomatoes. Boil them briefly, about 30 seconds only. Dunk tomatoes in ice water quickly. Heating and cooling tomatoes cause their skins to peel right off. Make sure to avoid boiling tomatoes longer than 30 seconds to keep them from getting cooked and too soft.

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