Got mounds of tomatoes from your garden this season? Lucky you!
If you’ve run through the whole gamut of tomato recipes, from tomato sauce (with the skins on!) to sun-dried tomatoes (made fast and easy in the oven), and you’re pretty sure you don’t want to eat another tomato again — at least, not until winter when you start missing what a real, ripe tomato should taste like — I’m bringing you the best and easiest way to save your tomato harvest this year.
No canning. No blanching, peeling, pureeing, or any extra work required on your part. You don’t even have to slice or dice them!
If you have the freezer space, you have everything you need to preserve tomatoes without the hassle of a boiling water bath or pressure canner.
Yes, I’m talking about freezing tomatoes — whole!
When most people think about preserving their food, they think jams, jellies, chutneys, pickles, and other canned goods. But freezing is often overlooked as a viable preservation technique, even though it’s one of the quickest and easiest to pull off.
You may have never thought about freezing your tomatoes, but it’s my favorite method of preserving them because it gives me more options for using them later.
Freezing whole tomatoes also locks in all those good-for-you nutrients found in the skins, so you’re not being lazy at all — just efficient and smart.
What kind of tomatoes can you freeze whole?
Depending on what you plan to make with your tomatoes later, the variety of tomato you freeze matters.
Cherry tomatoes and grape tomatoes are my personal favorites to freeze because they’re simple to store and take up little space (a plus if all you have is a small freezer or side-by-side fridge/freezer model). You can throw them into soups as is, or partially defrost and then roast them in the oven with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper.
Plum tomatoes (like Romas) and other paste types (like San Marzanos) freeze well and hold their shape after thawing. They’re easy to slice and can be used in cold salads (think noodle salads and pasta salads) where they soak up sauces and dressings. (Tip: I also like to add them to my spicy tomato sauce when I want a chunkier consistency.)
Beefsteaks and slicing tomatoes are thick and full of juice, so they tend to collapse after thawing and melt into a dish as they’re cooking. Use them in recipes that call for stewed or crushed tomatoes, such as chili (and other hearty stews) or pasta bolognese. I also like them for homemade tomato sauce or tomato soup.
Whichever variety of tomato you freeze, make sure the fruits are free of blemishes and bruises, and are as ripe as possible for best flavor.
Does freezing tomatoes affect flavor?
Storing tomatoes in the fridge or freezer does affect flavor. The volatile compounds responsible for giving tomatoes their distinctive flavors (those that we attribute as sweet, smoky, or tangy) are sensitive to temperatures below 53°F.
Cold storage hampers the enzymes that help synthesize these volatile compounds in tomatoes, so while your fruits will have a longer shelf life, the trade-off is a reduction in flavor.
However, the loss in flavor is less noticeable in frozen tomatoes because you’re not eating them fresh off the vine. Compare the taste of a supermarket tomato with a vine-ripened homegrown tomato that was frozen, then thawed (in a sauce or soup, for example), and the homegrown tomato wins every time.
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How to freeze fresh tomatoes the easy way
Destem, wash, and dry your tomatoes whole, then spread them out in a single layer on a baking sheet.
Place the baking sheet in the freezer until the tomatoes are frozen all the way through. This may take anywhere from 2 to 4 hours, depending on size.
Once the tomatoes are rock hard, transfer them to a freeze-proof container or bag and put them back in the freezer.
By doing it this way (instead of just tossing all your tomatoes into bags right away), your tomatoes won’t freeze together into one big clump. Sure, you might have to whack them around a bit if they’ve been frozen for a long time, but you won’t need to thaw out the entire bag just to use a few.
When you need fresh tomatoes in the middle of winter for your soups and stews, pull out as many as you need to thaw and return the rest to the freezer.
How long can you keep fresh tomatoes in the freezer?
When stored in an airtight container or freezer bag, frozen tomatoes will keep in the freezer for up to six months.
Always return any unused tomatoes to the freezer immediately, because once they start thawing, the moisture will cause your tomatoes to stick together in the jar or bag.
What can you do with frozen tomatoes?
Anywhere you might use stewed, diced, or crushed tomatoes from a can, you can use whole frozen tomatoes.
Thaw them in the fridge or on the counter at room temperature. If desired, you can peel the tomatoes before using — the skins slip off easily at this point with just your fingers.
Once thawed, you can add them to soups, stews, curries, or sauces, either whole or coarsely chopped.
But what about blanching them?
Remember, this is a fuss-free way of preserving tomatoes. Despite countless recipes online telling you otherwise, you do not need to blanch tomatoes before you freeze them. It’s simply an unnecessary step.
Just freeze your whole tomatoes raw, with the skins on, and defrost what you want to use each time. Once you cook the tomatoes down or puree them, you won’t even notice they had skins on anyway.
Proof? Make my skins-on tomato sauce from scratch — and let me know how you like it!
Tomato Freezing Sources
Arrow Reusable 32-Ounce Plastic Storage Containers | PH Plastic 32-Ounce Food Storage Containers | Dilabee Half-Gallon Plastic Storage Jars | Homelux Theory Reusable Silicone Storage Bags | Forid Food-Grade PEVA Reusable Freezer Bags | Qualeap Amber Stand-Up Reusable Freezer Bags | Ziploc Slider Stand-Up Freezer Bags with Power Shield Technology | Ziploc FLEX’NSEAL Freezer Bags | Ziploc Professional Double-Zipper Freezer Bags
This post updated from an article that originally appeared on September 1, 2011.