When to Pick Tomatoes for the Best Flavor

by Jack Grover
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In the fragrant, sun-soaked world of home gardening, there’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of plucking a ripe tomato from your very own vine.

But when does that perfect moment arrive? When is it precisely right to harvest tomatoes for maximum flavor?

Mastering this task requires attention to detail and an intimate understanding of the fruit. From color and size to weather forecasts, here are a few essential tips for picking tomatoes at their peak:

Color — A Key to Variety-specific Ripeness

Every tomato variety boasts its own unique color palette when it reaches maturity. Investigate the mature color of your specific variety before planting. Then, during the harvesting period, keep this color in mind as your primary indicator of ripeness.

Here is a handy tomato ripening color chart:

A quick internet search can reveal the color spectrum of your particular tomato type, but here are a few quick examples:

  • For instance, yellow heirloom tomatoes; though their name suggests ripeness at yellow, their flavor peaks when they turn a vibrant gold.
  • Are you growing a Golden Jubilee? Wait for it to shine with a sunny yellow hue.
  • If it’s the classic Beefsteak, anticipate a blush of profound red when it’s ripe for picking.

Patience plays a pivotal role in this process. Partially ripe tomatoes may still exhibit traces of green, while fully mature ones will display a uniform color transformation.

Remember: Color is not merely an indicator of ripeness but also of flavor intensity.

Feel Test

Once your tomato begins to radiate its mature hue, it’s time to engage your sense of touch in the ripeness evaluation.

A perfectly ripe tomato should yield slightly under gentle pressure and have a certain heftiness when lifted. It should be firm but not rock-hard.

Nonetheless, remember that the texture can vary significantly among different varieties. Some heirloom tomatoes may feel quite soft when they’ve reached their flavor pinnacle, while modern hybrids tend to maintain a firmer disposition even at full ripeness. Therefore, understanding the specific characteristics of your chosen variety is essential.

So, approach your tomato plant with care and gently assess each fruit. If its flesh feels spongy or overly yielding, chances are you’ve missed the optimum picking window.

Taste Test

The ultimate test of a ripe tomato lies in its taste — a perfect balance between sweetness and acidity that dances on your tongue.

If you’re unsure about the ripeness even after visual inspection and feel test, take a small bite out of one (or cut a small slice if you prefer).

An underripe tomato will have an acidic bite and lack sweetness, while an overripe one could taste bland or over-sugary.

If the first pick doesn’t satisfy your flavor expectations, don’t despair. Wait for a couple of days and then harvest another tomato from the same plant.

Rest assured that as long as threatening winds or heavy rains are not in the forecast, your tomatoes can patiently wait on the vine for another day or two without running into problems.

Related: Can You Eat Tomatoes With Blossom End Rot?

Size Speaks Volumes

The size of your tomato can also offer clues about its readiness for harvest. Each tomato variety has an expected mature size, much like its destined color at full ripeness.

However, it’s not just the final size but the growing trajectory that counts when assessing if it’s harvest time.

Smaller varieties like cherry and grape tomatoes typically race ahead in the ripening relay, often ready to be harvested several days or even up to three weeks before their larger cousins. So, if you’ve planted all your tomatoes simultaneously, don’t be surprised if these little guys are ripe and ready while your beefsteaks are still maturing.

This variation in ripening schedules underlines the importance of vigilant monitoring of all your tomato plants rather than focusing solely on the slicer tomatoes for that eagerly-awaited first BLT of the season. Those tiny cherries ripening unobserved on a nearby plant could provide an earlier and equally delicious treat.

Amount of Color

While identifying the correct color is crucial in determining ripeness, it’s equally important to consider the spread of that color on your tomato.

A common pattern in tomato ripening is the color progression, starting from the bottom and gradually moving toward the stem. This color transition provides a valuable clue about when to harvest tomatoes.

A fully ripe tomato should be uniformly colored, with no green or yellow patches remaining (unless it’s a variety that keeps some green or gold at maturity).

Make sure to check the blossom end as well, as it tends to ripen last.

Pro tip: Unlike many other fruits and vegetables, tomatoes have a unique ability to continue ripening even post-harvest. A good rule of thumb is to wait until at least two-thirds of the tomato displays its mature color, leaving just one-third showing signs of coloring but not fully there.

Harvesting at this stage allows the tomato to achieve its full potential on your kitchen counter, ripening perfectly without compromising flavor.

Weather Forecast

Weather also plays a part in deciding when to pick your tomatoes.

If there’s a frost warning or extreme heatwave on the horizon, you might want to harvest early to protect your fruits from damage. A sudden downpour, especially following a dry spell, can also cause harm to your nearly-ripe tomatoes — these fruits, close to full maturity on the vine, are prone to cracking in response to heavy rainfall.

Tomatoes harvested at their “breaker stage” —- when they first start showing color —- can continue to ripen off-vine indoors without any significant loss in quality or flavor.

So, as a diligent gardener, always keep an eye on the weather forecast and let it guide you in making timely decisions for your precious tomato harvest.


Harvesting tomatoes at their peak flavor is both science and art — requiring knowledge about varieties and attentiveness to changes in color, feel, and size. It’s about embracing your role as a weather watcher and fine-tuning your senses for that perfect taste test.

But above all else, it’s about patience and enjoying the process because nothing tastes sweeter than a well-earned, home-grown tomato!


What’s the best way to harvest tomatoes?

The best way to harvest tomatoes is by using a pair of sharp, clean scissors or pruners and cutting the stem above the fruit.

Make sure you’ve observed the signs of ripeness — the right color and size for the variety, a slight give when gently pressed, and two-thirds or more of the tomato showing its mature color.

How to store tomatoes from my garden?

Tomatoes are best stored at room temperature, away from direct sunlight. If they’re fully ripe, you can keep them on a kitchen counter.

For those harvested at the “breaker stage” with only two-thirds of their mature color, allow them to ripen fully on your countertop before consuming.

Refrigerating tomatoes is generally not recommended as it can reduce their flavor and change their texture.

Can I eat unripe tomatoes?

Yes, unripe tomatoes can be eaten, although they will have a tangier taste compared to ripe ones. They can be used in various recipes like fried green tomatoes or pickles.

However, don’t consume tomatoes that are green because of being underripe but from varieties that are naturally green when mature — they will have a different flavor profile.

Do picked tomatoes ripen faster than ones on the plant?

Not necessarily. Tomatoes continue to ripen off the vine if they were picked at the “breaker stage” or later when they start showing their mature color.

However, this doesn’t mean they ripen faster than those left on the plant.

The ripening process’s speed can depend on several factors, including temperature and whether the tomato was already starting to ripen when picked.

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