What you see: Very wrinkly tomatoes.
What they are: Tomatoes that have lost a lot of water.
Eat or toss: As long as they smell fine, the skin isn’t broken and they aren’t oozing, slimy, squishy or showing signs of mold, they should still be edible. However, their texture and taste may not be very good.
Are wrinkled tomatoes safe to eat?
When a fruit or vegetable wrinkles, it’s losing water. Most likely prompted by warm temperatures, the water is slipping out of its cells and into the air. Imagine how a balloon collapses and creases when you let air out, and you start to get a sense of what happens to dehydrating fruit or vegetable cells.
Nothing about losing water makes the fruit or vegetable—tomatoes in this case—unsafe to eat (consider that we deliberately dehydrate lots of foods to preserve them). But, too much water loss can make the tomato’s taste and texture unpleasant so you may not want to eat them anyway.
Something else to keep in mind: a wrinkled tomato is likely an older tomato so we’ll want to make sure nothing else is amiss. Check your wrinkled tomato for spoilage signs like squishiness, sliminess, broken skin, mold or odors.
Handling before the store can cause tomatoes to later develop wrinkles
When I shared images of these tomato “prunes” with Angelos Deltsidis, an assistant professor in postharvest physiology at the University of Georgia, I assumed that their sad state was my fault, since the tomatoes had sat on my counter for quite some time. Possibly, Angelos told me, but he also pointed out that handling en route to the consumer can make tomatoes more likely to go creasy sooner.
“Possibly, this tomato was harvested, left in the sun for a couple hours, lost a lot of water,” he said. “But you don’t see that until later. You store it and then you have all the damage from the heat occur. It shrinks really fast and loses a lot of water.”
Like damage from cold temperatures that we’ve discussed in other posts (avocados, potatoes, and eggplants, for example), mistreatment earlier in the food’s life can set the stage for problems that don’t appear until after the food lands in your kitchen.
“Whatever you might do to a commodity early on will have a positive or negative impact on the overall quality for the end consumer,” Deltsidis said.
I ate two of the tomatoes above and they were fine. Not juicy, but not awful. I skipped the third one, however, because it had a slightly fermented smell, which could indicate some microbial activity.
- Angelos Deltsidis, Ph.D. Assistant Professor in Postharvest Physiology. Department of Horticulture. University of Georgia