How to Dry Tomato Seeds

By: Natalie Kilgore  | 
tomato seeds
Hundreds of seeds can be harvested from your favorite tomato varieties. Shebeko/Shutterstock

If you're a gardener who loves growing tomatoes, there are probably certain varieties you've fallen in love with and would like to grow from year to year. Successfully harvesting and saving the seeds from your prize plants is the best way to do it. Harvesting tomato seeds is a bit different than harvesting seeds from most other vegetables and fruits. But, with a little patience and time, you can save the seeds from your favorite varieties and plant them the following year.

Heirloom tomatoes, grown from seeds saved from generation to generation, are packed with flavor, tasting much better than the hybrid tomatoes (bred from two parents of different varieties) found at your neighborhood grocery store, which are bred more for beauty and color than taste.

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Tips for Drying Tomato Seeds

heirloom tomatoes
Heirloom tomatoes are passed down from generation to generation from saved seeds. Harvest and store them properly to ensure you'll have your favorite varieties to grow next year. istetiana/Getty Images

Here are the steps, according to gardener extraordinaire Joe Lamp'l, aka “Joe” behind joegardener.com, as well as some tips and tricks, for how to successfully dry tomato seeds, ensuring you'll have a new crop of mouthwatering, juicy tomatoes to enjoy next year.

To begin the seed-drying process, you'll have to start with fresh tomatoes. As long as you work carefully, you'll be able to harvest hundreds of seeds from a single tomato plant.

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First, be sure to pick the choicest tomatoes from which to harvest seeds. For the best results, choose mature, open-pollinated tomatoes, that are disease-free. Open-pollinated tomatoes are ideal because their seeds produce plants exactly like the mother plant, taking the previous season's characteristics and carrying them into the next season's plants; often, they're the tastiest tomatoes in your garden.

  1. After you've chosen some fully ripe tomatoes, wash them thoroughly and slice them in half, exposing the seeds and gel in the center of the fruit. Keep the gelatinous material with the seeds because you want the seeds to ferment in their own juice as much as possible. Fermentation removes the seed inhibitors that prevent germination and also cuts down on the survivability of diseases on the seeds.
  2. Place the seeds and tomato gel in a glass or plastic jar with a tight lid. If you are preserving seeds from different varieties, make sure to use separate jars for each type and label them clearly. Once they have dried, you won't be able to tell them apart — and you always want to make sure to keep your varieties straight.
  3. Store the jar in a cool, dark place — around 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius) — for three to four days.
  4. In that time, your seeds will have fermented. Remove the lid and place the fermented seed and gel mixture into a pitcher and fill it with water. The gel will separate and float to the surface, as will any non-viable seeds. The viable seeds will sink to the bottom. Slowly pour out the water, which will include the gel and the non-viable seeds, while the good seeds remain on the bottom. Use a fine mesh strainer if it makes it easier for you.
  5. Refill the pitcher with fresh water and continue this process a couple times until all the "bad" seeds and fermented gel are gone and you are left with good seeds.

Once you've saved the good tomato seeds, spread them on an absorbent surface like coffee filters or paper plates. We don't recommend paper towels because the seeds will stick to the paper. Metal, plastic and ceramic plates aren't conducive for drying seeds successfully, either. After placing your seeds on a porous surface, wait for 48 hours or up to a week until they are dry. Test the dryness of your seeds before storing them for the winter. Seeds that bend are not through drying; however, dried seeds will be very hard and tough to bite or smash. Making sure your seeds are dry is a very important step because damp seeds will foster mildew.

Move your dry seeds to a location away from direct sunlight, such as on top of your refrigerator. Check on their progress often for one to two weeks, waiting for the seeds to dry even more thoroughly. When drying tomato seeds, be cautious of the temperature, and never attempt to dry seeds in areas with high humidity. Conditions with high temperatures may cause wet seeds to sprout, which will ruin them. Attempting to speed up the process by drying seeds in an oven or other heating device should also be avoided; they'll go bad and will be of no use for the next growing season.

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Storing and Using Dried Tomato Seeds

Through the winter, store your harvested seeds in airtight packets or containers in the refrigerator or another cool, dry place until you're ready to use them again in the spring. Adding silica gel packets to your seed containers will keep moisture away and increase their shelf life. Also, don't forget to label your packet or container with the variety of tomato seeds you harvested, along with the harvest date as well. If seeds are stored properly, seed germination rates can reach 50 percent for up to 10 years.

Finally, if you find yourself with an abundance of healthy tomatoes during harvesting season, consider adding the seeds to your favorite dish! Chefs around the world highly recommend cooking with tomato seeds. According to a 2007 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, the seeds and the gel of a tomato actually contain three times the amount of flavor-enhancing glutamic acid as the flesh, and the seeds supply a savory quality known as umami in many foods.

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So, the next time you're cooking spaghetti or your grandma's famous homemade lasagna, consider tossing the tomato seeds into the sauce — your taste buds will thank you.

Originally Published: Nov 30, 2010

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  • Lamp'l, Joe. "How to Save Tomato Seeds." Aug. 20, 2020 (Aug. 2, 2022) https://joegardener.com/video/save-tomato-seeds/#:~:text=Disperse%20the%20seeds%20evenly%20on,couple%20of%20times%20each%20day.
  • Burr, Chuck. "How to Save Tomato Seeds." Permaculture Research Institute. July 8, 2014. (Aug. 2, 2022) https://www.permaculturenews.org/2014/07/08/save-tomato-seeds/
  • "Saving Tomato Seeds: An Illustrated Guide." Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. (Aug. 2, 2022) https://www.southernexposure.com/saving-tomato-seeds/
  • Tomato Dirt. "Can I Germinate Old Tomato Seeds?" (Aug. 2, 2022) http://www.tomatodirt.com/old-tomato-seeds.html#:~:text=Yes!,rate%20will%20be%20even%20better.
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