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Are Winter Tomatoes Worth the Effort?

Are Winter Tomatoes Worth the Effort?

One key signifier indicating whether or not a restaurant practices within a local and seasonal sustainability model is the inclusion of fresh tomatoes on their menu between the months of November and April. For most of the United States growing a tomato at this time is either impossible, or just yields pathetic and tasteless results. So if you are a truly seasonal consumer, you will simply go without the tang of a fresh tomato for anywhere from 4 to 7 months out of the year (depending on where you live).

For years there has been a thriving tomato import business coming up from Mexico, with varying results. But the carbon footprint on that operation is pretty regrettable. Then there are the hothouse tomatoes that dominate the produce section of your supermarket. These are tomatoes that have been bred to withstand rough treatment, but still look good in the produce aisle for days, if not weeks. These tomatoes are usually harvested well before they are ripe and moderately ripened in transit. However, they taste of cellulose and unripe fruit, at best.

But there have been small leaps forward in an effort to grow an exemplary winter tomato, and do it in a way that serves a local market without gobbling up huge amounts of resources. As one would predict, these tomatoes have to be grown indoors in greenhouses, and are often done so without the use of pesticides due to the fact that they are protected from meddling pests. As a recent NPR report points out, the advantage of the new greenhouse model is that the tomatoes are grown not far from the cities where they’re sold and eaten. Many of these tomatoes are grown hydroponically, meaning they are grown without soil and gain their nutrients from liquid solutions. This method requires less land and less water than traditional summertime farming of tomatoes. But are the tomatoes worth the effort? Well, some say they are quite good, whereas others turn up their nose at a tomato grown outside of the warm embrace of the summer sun.

I personally don’t hold much affection for these winter greenhouse tomatoes, but maybe I haven’t yet had the exemplary tomato cross my plate. Does the idea of bringing a local tomato crop indoors to have the luxury of year-round tomatoes appeal to you? Should we just accept that some items, like tomatoes, are better enjoyed on a seasonal basis?

Read more: Blogs, Diet & Nutrition, Eating for Health, Environment, Following Food, Food, Lawns & Gardens, Nature, Raw, Vegan, Vegetarian, , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.


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11:51AM PDT on Apr 12, 2013

Pomidory zimowe, przynajmniej u nas są bez smaku, a do tego drogie.

10:50AM PDT on Apr 12, 2013


8:54AM PDT on Apr 12, 2013

I live in an area where tomatoes are grown hydroponically in greenhouses 9 months of the year. They are tasty during approximately 6-7 months of that time. By mid-April they are full of flavor and hold that flavor until the end of October. They are picked pale red and get to us within 24 hrs. Prefer to eat homegrown but these are local and I buy them when the Michigan tomatoes are still growing in the yard or fields.

2:34AM PDT on Apr 12, 2013

Not for me.

2:09AM PDT on Apr 12, 2013


1:16AM PDT on Apr 12, 2013


6:39PM PST on Dec 19, 2012


12:23PM PST on Dec 19, 2012

I COULDN'T live without tomato! There is no day when I do not eat it, I think it is very tasty and has almost all of the vitamins that one needs. I live in Europe and it is true that winter tomatoes in Tesco are not the same, but it is still better than being without it! It was interesting to learn about that the U.S. has their tomatoes from Mexico... in Europe, Spain exports it.

2:11AM PST on Dec 8, 2012

Tomatoes are my favorite vegetable to grow and eat. The Heirloom varieties are the best for flavour - just like they used to grow in years gone by.

3:46AM PST on Dec 6, 2012

The problem with most greenhouse tomatoes is that they are grown from tasteless varieties designed for shipping. They are firm and solid to survive shipping. They are picked green and turn red in shipment, without developing any flavor. The new trend for locally grown tomatoes means that tasty varieties are grown and picked when ripe for local delivery, making for a much better flavor.

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