How to Ripen Green Tomatoes

If you’re growing tomato plants in your garden and you’re getting an early frost, you may be wondering what to do. Contrary to popular belief, you can ripen green tomatoes indoors with my easy method.

Green tomatoes being ripened in a paper bag.

Winter has a tendency to arrive early here in the mountains, which means we have a short growing season. Some years, we get snow as early as September and we’re in a position of having to decide what to do about our unripe green tomatoes.

One year when the first frost arrived, we still had well over a hundred mature green tomatoes on our plants that we knew wouldn’t make it through the cold temperatures overnight. I was so bummed because we spent so much time caring for those plants.

From planting to watering and making sure the tomato plants were staked properly and well pruned, a lot of love when into those plants! I made the decision to harvest the whole crop, and I’m glad I did because the tomato plants were decimated by frost the next morning.

I had no use for that many unripe tomatoes though, so I wanted to figure out how to ripen green tomatoes. The tomatoes from those plants had the best flavor and we wanted more of that goodness! There was just no comparison with the tomatoes you get at the grocery store.

Fortunately, tomatoes are a type of climacteric fruit, which basically means that they’ll continue to get sweeter and more flavorful even off the vine as the starch is changed to sugar. Other types of climacteric fruits include apples, avocados, bananas, cantaloupe, nectarines, pears, peaches and plums.

I know most people put their tomatoes on a sunny windowsill to ripen them. Unfortunately, the direct sunlight filtered through the glass can cause the skin to become tough due to the high temperatures.

I knew there had to be a better way. The good news is that through my research and testing, I discovered the easiest way to ripen green tomatoes off the vine. This method gets better results than any other method I’ve tried.

Best Way to Ripen Green Tomatoes

A much easier and more effective way to ripen lots of green tomatoes is the paper bag method. All you have to do is place them in a brown paper bag and close the bag up. It’s so easy and hands-off!

Brown paper bag full of small green tomatoes.

It doesn’t take a long time to start seeing that beautiful red color that tomatoes are known for! And they still become sweeter and more flavorful just like on the vine.

You can check the bag for ripening fruits after a few days. Remove any red tomatoes from the bag and store them how you normally would (such as placing them in a fruit bowl or in the fridge with your other fresh produce).

Brown paper bag with some green tomatoes and some red tomatoes

What I love about this method is that the tomatoes still ripen at different times, so you’ll have ripening tomato fruit to use over time rather than all at once.

When my daughter was younger, I’d catch her sneaking so many homegrown tomatoes out of the bag, but I didn’t mind. At least I knew she was eating a healthy snack!

How to speed up the ripening process?

If you want to speed up the ripening process of tomatoes, put a ripe banana or other ripe fruit that emits ethylene gas in the bag. It’s not necessary, but this gas will help to ripen your tomatoes more quickly.

Does this work with all types of tomatoes?

Yes, you can use the paper bag method to ripen any variety of tomato, including cherry tomatoes. They do need to be mature tomatoes though. If you have tiny tomatoes that haven’t matured yet, they may not ripen.

Best Conditions for Ripening Tomatoes

For best results, here are some tips for the best conditions for ripening tomatoes in a paper bag.

Ideal temperature?

Temperature is an important factor when ripening tomatoes. You’ll want to keep the paper bag at room temperature as long as you’re in a relatively warm climate. The ideal temperature range will be between 70˚ F to no more than 80˚ F.

Cooler temperatures will slow the ripening process and warmer temperatures will speed it up. So playing with temperature control will help you ripen your tomatoes at the speed you want them ripened.

To wash or not to wash?

I don’t wash tomatoes before I put them in the bag because I find it increases the risk of molding. There isn’t good air circulation in a closed bag, so you want to make sure there’s no excess moisture in there.

Whether the end of the season where you live is late summer or early autumn, it’s a good idea to be prepared for the first frost. If you create the right conditions, you’ll have a better chance of enjoying the last of those late tomatoes for weeks to come! Trust me, it’s worth it!

Other Methods for Ripe Tomatoes?

If you want another way to ripen your tomatoes, here are a couple different ways, although my favorite way is using the brown bag method.

1. Whole plant method.

Another method you can try is to pull the whole tomato plant out of the soil by its roots. Remove as much of the soil from the roots as possible, then hang the entire plant upside down from the main stem in a warm place. You’ll want to hang each individual plant where they get sun, but not in direct sunlight.

Within a couple of weeks, your green fruit should be in the red stage. When it’s finished ripening, you can pick your tomatoes off the vine and enjoy them.

2. Cardboard box method.

If you don’t have a lot of tomatoes, but you do have a lot of space, you can try the cardboard box method. Wrap clean, dry tomatoes up in newspaper, then lay out a single layer of tomatoes in a cardboard box lined with a layer of newspaper.

Keep the box in a dry, cool place and check the tomatoes every few days to see how they’re ripening. As they ripen, remove them from the box and store or eat.

3. Plastic bag method.

Some people recommend placing green tomatoes in a plastic bag with a piece of ripening fruit like a yellow banana or ripe apple. While this method does concentrate the ethylene gas since there’s no air flow at all, there is a higher risk of mold due to the high humidity that will be created inside the bag.

4. Glass jar method.

I’ve also seen recommendations to follow the same method as the plastic bag method in a glass jar to ripen tomatoes. This has the same pros and cons of concentrating ethylene gas and increasing mold risk due to the enclosed space. Plus, there’s very little space in a glass jar, so you can’t ripen very many tomatoes at once.

What to Do with Extra Ripe Tomatoes?

If you have a lot of tomatoes, you may have too many ripen at the same time. If that’s the case, you can simply can the tomatoes from your garden and use them later.

Homemade canned tomatoes are great in chili recipes! Check out my tutorial on canning tomatoes from your garden if you want to give it a try.

If you’d rather make something with them, here are some great recipes using juicy tomatoes:

Other Ways to Use Green Tomatoes?

If you’re looking for green tomato recipes, check out these options:

If you still have green tomatoes on the vine and it’s the end of the growing season or you have cold temperatures in the weather forecast, give the brown paper bag method of ripening green tomatoes a try. It’s so easy your kids can help you ripen your final harvest of the year. Good luck!

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