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How to Know What Tomato to Use for That Dish

When to Buy Tomatoes

Summer is considered the best season to get tomatoes.
Summer is considered the best season to get tomatoes.
©iStockphoto.com/Jim Jurica

Before refrigeration was common, people would say you should buy oysters only in months with an "r" in their name -- that is, September through April. Shellfish spoiled quickly in the summer.

With tomatoes, the opposite is true. Summer tomatoes -- fresh, ripe, locally grown -- are unrivaled in color, flavor and juiciness. Most winter tomatoes in the supermarket were picked green and force-reddened (not necessarily ripened) for the journey from the farm. They're more durable than flavorful.

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If you must have fresh tomatoes out of season, greenhouse-grown are reasonable replacements. They're increasingly available year-round, but higher production costs make them more expensive.

If winter tomatoes are destined for cooking, opt for a good-quality canned brand. With high-tech processing, they retain more appeal than their "fresh" counterparts ever had. Choose whole tomatoes -- chopped or diced forms might hide second-rate pieces.

Next, we look at choosing the cream of the crop.

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