How to Freeze Tomatoes

By: Chris Obenschain

Frozen tomatoes yield great stews and sauces in the wintertime, when fresh produce can be hard to find. See more pictures of heirloom tomato pictures.
Frozen tomatoes yield great stews and sauces in the wintertime, when fresh produce can be hard to find. See more pictures of heirloom tomato pictures.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Freezing tomatoes (or any type of fresh produce, for that matter) is more complicated than simply tossing them into the freezer. They must be carefully cleaned and prepared, and you've got to follow a specific series of steps if you want them to be worth eating after you thaw them out.

The first thing you need to realize about freezing tomatoes -- regardless if you're freezing them whole, blanched or stewed -- is that they're going to be somewhat mushy after they're thawed. There's not much you can do to prevent this. The cellular damage that occurs during the freezing process is irreversible and unavoidable. Therefore, frozen tomatoes tend to make better sauces, soups and stews than they do toppings for your hamburgers or salad components.

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Roma tomatoes are a popular choice for freezing, especially when you plan to use them in future sauces, but there's no single variety of tomato that is the best (or worst) candidate for freezing. Preferences vary per person, and one seasoned tomato freezer might warn you about freezing cherry tomatoes, for example, while another might swear by them.

What most people agree upon is the state the tomato should be in before you put it into a deep freeze. The ideal tomato should be firm and blemish-free. As with virtually all foods, the fresher it is, the better, so don't stick your suspicious-looking three-week-old tomatoes in the ice box and expect them to be edible after you thaw them out. In fact, if your tomato is cracked, mushy, discolored or browning, you should discard it, as the freezing process will only amplify its faults.

Read the next page to learn how to freeze whole tomatoes.

 

How to Freeze Tomatoes Whole

As you might expect, freezing whole tomatoes is a bit easier and less time-consuming than putting blanched and stewed tomatoes on ice. The first thing you need to do is select your tomatoes. After ensuring that your chosen fruits are firm, relatively fresh and unblemished, wash them in the sink under running water. You shouldn't use any soaps or detergents (you'll be eating these tomatoes eventually, after all), so just rub the surface of each tomato clean and then rinse it off again. Avoid dunking the fruits into a sink full of water. Even if you just filled the sink, lurking bacteria and other contaminants can be absorbed through the tomato's skin and stem scar. After you finish rinsing them, blot the tomatoes dry with a paper towel.

After your tomatoes are clean and dry, slice away their brown stem scars and place them on a cookie sheet. Put the cookie sheet in the freezer uncovered for several hours until the tomatoes are frozen. Then, transfer the tomatoes into freezer bags and seal them up, ensuring there's little to no excess air in the bags. Stash them in the freezer until you're ready to make some sauce or stew.

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A frozen tomato's lifespan is usually around eight months. As with any batch of frozen food, to ensure they last as long as possible, package them in bags or containers specifically made for freezing. Also, make sure your freezer remains at or below 0 degrees Fahrenheit.

Blanching Tomatoes for Freezing

Before you blanch tomatoes, cut out their brown stem scars.
Before you blanch tomatoes, cut out their brown stem scars.
Hemera/Thinkstock

Freezing whole tomatoes works great in some cases, but varieties of tomatoes with thick skins, such as the Roma, will ruin stews, sauces and dips with their excess flesh. Blanching tomatoes is more complicated and time-consuming than freezing them whole, but they often retain more flavor after freezing than their whole-hided kin. In the end, we think the end result is worth the extra time investment.

To blanch tomatoes, you'll need:

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  • a clean cutting board
  • a sharp paring knife
  • a pair of tongs or a large slotted spoon
  • a large pot of ice-cold water
  • a saucepan with enough water to cover a few tomatoes at once

If you have a fryer basket that will fit inside both the saucepan and the pot of cold water, you can use that instead of the tongs or spoon.

Begin by bringing the water in the saucepan to a boil. While you're waiting, remove the stem scar from the top of each tomato, then make a small X- or cross-shaped incision on the underside of each one. Drop the tomatoes, three or four at a time, into the boiling water. It should only take a little while for the skin to soften (typically between 10 seconds and a minute, depending on the size consistency of the tomatoes).

After the tomatoes' skin becomes loose or pliable, remove them from the saucepan and promptly submerge the entire batch into the ice water. Keep them submerged for a few seconds -- long enough to cool -- then peel the tomatoes by hand or with the knife. Start peeling the tomatoes from the incision you created earlier and work your way up. Place the blanched tomatoes on a paper towel or clean cloth to dry. Then, put them on a cookie sheet and follow the steps for freezing whole tomatoes.

How to Freeze Stewed Tomatoes

Preparing stewed tomatoes for the freezer requires plenty of steps, but the results are well worth the labor. Before you can stew tomatoes, you've got to blanch them. Besides all the supplies you'll need for blanching (refer to the previous page), you'll require an additional pan, cooking spray or butter and whatever extra ingredients you'd like to add to your stewed tomatoes.

Yes, we said extra ingredients. Because you're actually cooking the tomatoes before freezing them, the rule we mentioned about adding spices, veggies and herbs after your tomatoes have thawed doesn't apply here. You have the option of preparing the stewed tomatoes so they're ready to thaw and serve as a side dish, or you can cook them and add the extras later. As for what to add, we like garlic, onions, zucchini and peppers.

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Not taking into account any extras, this is the basic process for stewing tomatoes. Once you've blanched them, quarter the tomatoes or chop them into large chunks. Warm your pan, and coat it with cooking spray or butter. Add the tomatoes; cover and cook for 10 to 20 minutes. Place the stewed tomatoes in cold water to cool, then pour them into freezer-safe containers until you're ready to make a meal out of them.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Calvert, Rita. "Blanched Tomatoes Slip Right Out of Their Skins." The Baltimore Sun. Oct 20, 1993. (Nov. 7, 2010).http://articles.baltimoresun.com/1993-10-20/features/1993293110_1_frozen-turkey-cook-a-turkey-fresh-turkey
  • Henneman, Alice. "UNL Food: Home Food Preservation." University of Nebraska-Lincoln. 2010. (Nov. 7, 2010).http://food.unl.edu/web/preservation/freezing-tomatoes
  • Toussaint-Samat, Maguelonne. "A History of Food." 2009. Blackwell, Singapore.
  • National Center for Home Food Preservation. "Freezing Tomatoes." University of Georgia. 2006. (Nov. 7, 2010).http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/how/freeze/tomato.html
  • Tomato Dirt. "Freezing Tomatoes: What You Need to Get Started." 2010. (Nov. 7, 2010).http://www.tomatodirt.com/freezing-tomatoes.html