Understanding the tomato ripening stages is the first step to knowing how to ripen tomatoes. This is a very important part of harvesting tomatoes because these color stages of tomatoes indicate when to pick them from the plants.
Different stages of tomatoes take a different lengths of time to ripen. So, you might need to know at which stage you are picking your tomatoes. This little effort will help you to ripen them properly.
According to the research on “Optimum Procedures for Ripening Tomatoes” by Marita Cantwell, there are six different color stages of a ripening tomato.
Stage 1: Tomatoes in Mature Green Stage
In this stage, tomatoes reach their mature green stage. Usually, seeds are fully developed inside fruits in this point, and jellylike materials settle in locules. Besides red color slightly develops inside fruits but doesn’t appear on the fruit surface.
Some commercial or store-bought tomatoes may pick up in this stage to ripen during the long way of shipping.
As a home gardener, you shouldn’t pick your tomatoes at the green stage to ripen them unless there are some environmental causes. Tomatoes don’t develop their flavor properly at this stage. So, you should at least wait for the next ripening stage (breakers) to pick them to start ripening.
However, if your tomatoes remain at the green stage during the season end when the winter comes, then you have only the choice to harvest them at this stage.
There are two different ways to ripen your tomatoes during the season.
- Ripen Tomatoes Off the Vine
- Ripen Tomatoes On the Vine
Stage 2: The Breaker Stage
Once tomatoes start changing their color from the mature green stage to some other color is called the ‘breaker stage.’ In this stage, tomatoes definitely break the green color spell and jump to tannish-yellow, pink or red color up to 10% of the surface of the fruit.
When tomatoes reach the ‘breaker stage,’ they are considered vine-ripe tomatoes, said Frank Watson, a Cooperative Extension agent in Wilkes County. He worked in Cooperative Extension Office for 37 years and got retirement.
Tomatoes are in the breaker stage physiologically mature and develop the flavor fully or very close to it. In this stage, light pink or red color shows at the blossom end of your tomatoes. That indicates the fruits are producing ethylene gas internally, which encourages ripening.
So, once your tomatoes get to the breaker stage, they don’t need any more nutrients from plants. Then you can pick them up and apply several indoor tomato ripening methods to ripen them. After one or two weeks, they will ripen thoroughly.
Some commercial growers prefer to pick their tomatoes at the breaker stage. However, it may depend on the growing season. Usually, tomatoes are in the winter season picked up earlier at the mature green stage. On the other side, summer season tomatoes are picked at the breaker stage.
Benefits of ripening breaker stage tomatoes off the vine:
- Get the flavor like vine-ripe tomatoes.
- Prevent tomato fruit cracking, blossom end rot, and sunscald problems.
- Help to ripen faster the other green tomatoes on the vine.
- Reduce the risk of wasting fruits.
- Protect from natural critters like birds, ants, or slugs.
- Shipping is easier than ripe tomatoes.
Stage 3: Turning Stage
Tomatoes in the turning stage are less firm than in the previous stages. If you pick your tomatoes at this stage, they will take less time to ripen than the tomatoes picked up from the breaker stage.
As you know that fruits harvested from a breaker or more advanced stages are considered vine-ripe tomatoes. In this stage, more than 10% but less than 30% of tomato fruit surface turns its color from green to tannish-yellow, pink, red, or a combination thereof.
Stage 4: Pink Stage
Tomatoes in the pink stage cover more than 30% but less than 60% of their fruit surface with pink or red color. They are less firm than the previous stages and ripen faster than turning tomatoes.
Birds or other natural critters may attack your tomatoes in this stage or the advanced stages.
Stage 5: Light Red Stage
This stage covers more than 60% but less than 90% of the tomato fruit surface with pinkish-red or red color. The light red tomatoes are softer than pink stage tomatoes and are a few days behind getting full ripe tomatoes.
Stage 6: Red and Final Stage
This is the ultimate ripening stage of tomatoes. In this stage, more than 90% of the fruit surface turns red color. Fruits are neither too hard nor too soft. Some folks believe that only red tomatoes get the real taste and flavor when they are picked off the vine.
Red tomatoes are ready to eat instantly after picking them and need not ripen anymore.