Many highly intelligent people are poor thinkers. Many people of average intelligence are skilled thinkers. The power of a car is separate from the way the car is driven. - Edward De Bono
Barack Obama - book recommendations
It's August, so I wanted to let you know about a few books I've been reading this summer, in case you're looking for some suggestions. To start, you can't go wrong by reading or re-reading the collected works of Toni Morrison. Beloved, Song of Solomon, The Bluest Eye, Sula, everything else — they're transcendent, all of them. You’ll be glad you read them. And while I’m at it, here are a few more titles you might want to explore:
Sometimes difficult to swallow, The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead is a necessary read, detailing the way Jim Crow and mass incarceration tore apart lives and wrought consequences that ripple into today.
Exhalation by Ted Chiang is a collection of short stories that will make you think, grapple with big questions, and feel more human. The best kind of science fiction.
Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel’s epic fictionalized look at Thomas Cromwell’s rise to power, came out in 2009, but I was a little busy back then, so I missed it. Still great today.
Haruki Murakami’s Men Without Women examines what happens to characters without important women in their lives; it'll move you and confuse you and sometimes leave you with more questions than answers.
American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson is a whole lot more than just a spy thriller, wrapping together the ties of family, of love, and of country.
The Shallows by Nicholas Carr came out a few years ago, but its arguments on the internet’s impact on our brains, our lives, and our communities are still worthy of reflection, which is something we all could use a little more of in this age.
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren is a beautifully written memoir about the life of a woman in science, a brilliant friendship, and the profundity of trees. Terrific.
Inland by Téa Obreht just came out yesterday, so I won’t spoil anything. But those of you who’ve been waiting for Obreht’s next novel won’t be disappointed.
You’ll get a better sense of the complexity and redemption within the American immigrant story with Dinaw Mengestu’s novel, How to Read the Air.
Maid by Stephanie Land is a single mother’s personal, unflinching look at America’s class divide, a description of the tightrope many families walk just to get by, and a reminder of the dignity of all work.
Is it better to leave these tomatoes on the counter, or put them in the fridge? [Photographs: Vicky Wasik, unless otherwise noted]
Editor’s Note: This content was originally published as a three-part series. It has since been condensed into a single article.
Some people say that you should never refrigerate tomatoes. Is this really true?
I've been told for so long, by so many people, not to refrigerate my tomatoes that I'm not sure if I've ever done anything other than leave them on my counter. But the question has made me think back on it, and to be honest, I can remember losing quite a few beautiful summer tomatoes over the years to rapid rot and decomposition, because they were sitting out in sweltering heat.
And I think this gets right to the core of the trouble with this rule: While refrigerators tend to operate within a narrow band of temperatures, usually in the 35-to-40°F (2-to-4°C) zone, the actual temperature of most rooms can range anywhere from about 60°F (16°C) to upwards of 100°F (38°C), particularly if it's an un-air-conditioned space at the height of summer. Right now, for example, I'm typing this while sitting in my sweltering apartment, and I'd guess—based on the amount of sweat soaking from my lower back into my chair—that it's at least 90° in here. Is 90°F really better for a tomato than 37°F? And if so, for how long?
To answer these questions, I set up a series of experiments that spanned an entire summer and included literally hundreds upon hundreds of tomatoes of different sources, varieties, and quality and ripeness levels, and recruited a small army of blind-tasters to evaluate the results. I even asked Kenji to run the same tests over in California, just to make sure my results were reproducible.
Before I get to my testing details, let me first explain my results and offer some recommendations, right up front. They’re controversial only because they buck what has become conventional and deep-rooted wisdom; but really, what I found makes a lot of sense.
Should You Refrigerate Tomatoes? Here’s the Short Answer
If your tomatoes have never been refrigerated (i.e., if you grew them yourself or bought them from a farmers market stand you trust, in season):
- Remove the stems and store unripe tomatoes upside down on a plate or cutting board at room temperature until they fully ripen. (Why upside down? Read Kenji’s article on why stem side down is best.)
- Consume fully ripened tomatoes immediately.
- Refrigerate any unconsumed fully ripe tomatoes, but allow them to come to room temperature before serving them. (To speed up this process, slice them while still cold—slices will warm up much more quickly than an intact fruit.) One study we've read suggests that refrigerating for no longer than three days is optimal.*
If your tomatoes have been refrigerated (i.e., if you got them anywhere other than your backyard or the farmers market, in season):
- Leave them at room temperature until fully ripe, then store them in the refrigerator until ready to use.
* If you are inclined to read the full study, you can do so here. But this is the relevant quote: "Red ripe fruits were stored at 5°C for 1, 3, or 7 d followed by a recovery period of either 1 or 3 d at 20°C, and volatiles were measured. Compared with the day of harvest (day 0), no significant loss of flavor volatile content was observed after 1 or 3 d of cold storage."
It's as simple as that. Now, here's the (brief, for now) explanation.
A refrigerator is cold—colder than is ideal for tomatoes. This is a basic fact, and it’s the fact upon which the "never refrigerate a tomato" rule is based. But that rule fails to acknowledge several real-world conditions that can complicate things. It also fails to recognize that not all tomatoes are affected by refrigeration equally.
So here’s what you need to know: Leave your tomatoes at room temp for as long as possible, especially if they’re still a little shy of hitting their peak ripeness. Once they hit their apex, though, you need to either eat them right away or refrigerate them. The refrigerator can buy you some time before the tomatoes begin to break down and eventually rot—something that can happen several hours after the tomato has peaked. And a refrigerated ripe tomato holds up and tastes better than one that has been left out at room temperature beyond its prime, especially if you allow the refrigerated one to return to room temperature before eating it.
And here’s the other thing to know: The refrigerator is not great for tomatoes—it can degrade their texture and dampen their flavor—but it’s far more harmful to lower-quality and underripe tomatoes than it is to truly ripe, delicious ones. Top-quality, in-season, picked-straight-from-the-vine ripe tomatoes do much better in the fridge than most conventional tomatoes from large industrial operations.
Test 1: Conventional Tomatoes
[Photograph: Daniel Gritzer]
To run my first tomato experiment, I went out and bought three different varieties of tomato: first, run-of-the-mill hothouse tomatoes—you know, the kind that typically get sliced and served on cheap deli sandwiches; plum tomatoes; and, finally, some cherry tomatoes that came in a plastic clamshell and tried to look fancy by just barely holding on to their desiccated vine. (Nothing says farm-fresh like a withered, dried-out stem.)
I bought several of each variety, selecting similar-looking specimens to minimize variations in ripeness—fairly easy, given that these were all pretty crappy yet highly invariable mass-market fruit. In terms of relative quality, the cherry tomatoes were the best, the plums in the middle, and the standard ones were the worst.
I took them back to my mother’s place, where the central air is set to about 75 to 80°F (24 to 27°C). I put half of each kind in the fridge and the other half out on the counter.
After 1 Day of Storage
After letting the tomatoes sit in their respective environments for a day, I sat my mom and sister down and asked them to taste and rate my tomato samples, which I served to them blind. To make sure the cold of the refrigerator didn't sway their votes, I let the chilled tomatoes warm up to room temp before proceeding with the tasting.
After 24 hours, the counter tomato, at left, was redder than its refrigerator counterpart. [Photograph: Daniel Gritzer]
Even before cutting into the tomatoes, I could see some differences. The standard tomatoes, for instance, had turned redder on the counter than they had in the fridge, though the difference was subtle. Note the yellow flecks on the skin of the refrigerator tomato on the right, compared with the redder skin of the countertop tomato on the left.
The room-temp plum tomatoes (left) also ripened faster than the refrigerated samples, as seen by the redder color. [Photograph: Daniel Gritzer]
The plum tomatoes showed a similar effect, with the countertop ones (at left in the photo above) redder than the chilled ones to the right. The whole cherry tomatoes, meanwhile, were harder to tell apart by sight.
Once I cut into them, a similar pattern emerged:
Here, the refrigerated sample is to the left, with a slightly lighter, less red color, though the difference is just barely visible. [Photograph: Daniel Gritzer]
Inside, the standard tomato looked slightly more yellow and pale in the refrigerated sample than the countertop one, though both looked mealy and not particularly ripe.
Refrigerated plum tomato, left, and countertop at right. [Photograph: Daniel Gritzer]
The plum tomato showed the most drastic visual difference, with the refrigerated sample appearing more white and grainy in its flesh than the countertop one.
[Photograph: Daniel Gritzer]
Here's an even closer look at the plum tomato, again with the refrigerated sample to the left.
Cherry tomato. [Photograph: Daniel Gritzer]
The cherry tomatoes showed the least difference, with a just barely perceptible increase in redness in the countertop sample (at left).
As for the taste-test results? Well, first, my mom was disqualified because she kept rejecting all the tomatoes, regardless of storage method, while reminiscing about what they used to taste like in the farmlands of Maryland where she grew up in the '40s and '50s.
My sister, thankfully, was able to focus on the task at hand—analyzing the relative, not absolute, merits of these tomatoes—and give me her opinion. In each case, the tomato she picked as her favorite was the countertop sample: Not once did the refrigerator sample come out on top. She found the countertop ones to be more aromatic and sweet, with a better texture, than the refrigerated ones, though she said the differences weren't as apparent with the cherry tomatoes.
My own tasting of the samples backed her choices up, and she and I walked away with a few observations:
- First, a truly mediocre tomato, like the standard ones here, cannot be turned into a good tomato, no matter how you store it.
- A tomato that is just fine, but not great, like the plums I bought, can benefit quite a bit from being left out at room temp.
- Better-tasting tomatoes, like the cherries in this test, aren't as adversely affected by cold temperatures.
- Another detail that my sister pointed out: Tomatoes with more flesh and less seed jelly, like the standard ones here, are more likely to suffer textural degradation than varieties with very little flesh and more seed jelly, like the cherries.
So far, my test results were as I'd expected.
The Unexpected Turn After 2 Days of Storage
It was at this point that I thought I'd repeat my tasting after another day, confirm all my findings, and be done with it. So, a day later, I sat my family down again—this time my sister, stepfather, and mother (who, I explained to her, could only participate if she forgot about those mythic Maryland tomatoes and focused on the ones in front of her).
Once again, I let the refrigerated tomatoes warm up to room temperature before serving them alongside the countertop ones. But this time, I also stuck some of my countertop ones in the fridge a couple hours earlier, to compare briefly chilled countertop ones to room-temp multi-day-refrigerated ones. I served all the tomato samples blind.
And the weirdest thing happened: My sister reversed all her picks from the day before, and consistently selected the refrigerated tomatoes as her favorites this time. What?
Confused, I sat down at the table and asked my sister to serve me the samples blind. Here's what's even more weird: Because I had been slicing, smelling, and tasting the tomatoes as I served them, I was able to correctly differentiate the refrigerated and countertop samples every time by smell alone. But even though I could tell them apart, I had to agree with my sister—the refrigerated ones were better that day, in all cases.
So, in the case of these three types of conventional supermarket tomatoes, the refrigerator initially made them worse, but with extra time the refrigerated ones became better than the countertop ones.
One possibility with this initial set of test results is that, because my mom's home was a warmish 75 to 80°F, the heat started to take its toll on my countertop samples once enough time had elapsed.
As I've reviewed some tomato literature, this explanation starts to make some sense, though I haven't verified that it's correct. What most studies have found is that storage temperatures can affect both a tomato's texture and its volatile aromatics (which are responsible for its complex scent), with colder temperatures degrading the volatiles more quickly.
According to this report from the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis, firm, ripe tomatoes are best held at anywhere from 44 to 50°F (7 to 10°C), which is higher than fridge temperature but lower than most rooms. (The report says to store less ripe tomatoes at higher temperatures, which supports my above observation that riper tomatoes can withstand the cold, while less ripe ones benefit from some warmth.) This French study, meanwhile, found that 4°C (39°F) temperatures are much more harmful to volatiles in the tomato than 20°C (68°F), though it also found that letting refrigerated tomatoes sit out for 24 hours at 68°F reversed some of the ill effects.
But what the studies I've found fail to explore is the effect of even higher temperatures on tomato storage. That may not be a problem for tomato and produce companies with refrigerated trucks and warehouses, but it is a problem for those of us at home, since not all of us with air conditioning have the thermostat set as low as 68°F, or even have it running 24/7; some of us, like me, don't have air conditioning at all. Given that tomatoes ripen in the summer, the challenge is that we're trying to store them at home during a season characterized by intense heat, and we don't usually have storage conditions in the 44-to-50°F range.
This article from Business Insider illustrates my point well: The scientist quoted in the piece, who is recommending that we not refrigerate our tomatoes, casually defines normal kitchen temperature as between 68 and 73°F (20 and 23°C). That is a chilly kitchen—colder than most kitchens I’ve visited in the summertime! Unless you're blasting your AC 24/7 from July through September, it's probably colder than your kitchen, too.
Test 2: In-Season, Local Tomatoes
My first test delivered some surprises, but it was based on just a few varieties of lesser-quality supermarket tomatoes, which left some questions unanswered. Specifically: How does this wisdom apply to really good, farm-fresh tomatoes that are perfectly ripe and ready to eat, and are there any more useful guidelines for storing tomatoes?
To find out, I spent the next several weeks loading up on all kinds of fantastic tomatoes. Every time I went to the farmers market, I'd buy as many tomatoes as I could carry, then leave half on the counter and half in the fridge for at least a day before tasting them.
[Photograph: Daniel Gritzer]
You'd think that there'd be many studies out there that look at the effects of storage on really great, ripe-picked tomatoes that have come straight from the farm, but as it turns out, most of the research money out there goes toward studying the effects of storage on the average, picked-when-still-green supermarket tomato. My tests would try to fill in the gaps.
In all, I ran 11 different rounds of tests, each of which included several types of tomato, from hybrids like beefsteaks to many different heirloom varieties in all shapes and sizes. In all cases, the tomatoes were bought fully ripe from the farmers market. I kept half the tomatoes on the counter and half in the fridge. I conducted eight of the tastings after a roughly 24-hour storage period, and the remaining four tastings after two or more days of storage (with no tastings after longer than four days of storage). Like tomatoes were always compared with like (so, no pitting a beefsteak against a cherry tomato), and all refrigerated tomatoes were allowed to come to room temperature before serving, to eliminate temperature bias. When other tasters were present, which was true the majority of the time, everyone but the server tasted blind.
Here are the basic results:
- In one out of 11 tests, tasters unanimously chose the countertop tomatoes over the refrigerated ones. This was one of the batches stored for 24 hours.
- In five out of 11 tests, tasters unanimously preferred the refrigerated tomatoes—the countertop tomatoes tasted flat and dull in comparison.
- The remaining five tests yielded either split votes or an inability to differentiate between the two samples. In all instances where the votes were split, no tasters had strong convictions about which tomato was better, so I'm considering all five of these cases in which the refrigerator and the countertop tomatoes were essentially indistinguishable from each other.
These results jibe with my original theory: Because peak-season farmers market tomatoes are already perfectly ripe, they benefit very little from extra time in the heat, and in many cases they are harmed by it, while the refrigerator does minimal harm once tomatoes are ripe. Even the texture of the ripe tomatoes was not noticeably affected by the refrigerator.
Let me leave you with one lasting image that, all on its own, should illustrate my point. Below, you can see the relative merits of counter versus refrigerator storage at the four-day mark on a pair of tomatoes that started out just about equally ripe. The countertop tomato is degrading more quickly due to its high-heat environment.
[Photograph: Daniel Gritzer]
Great, you might be thinking. You just showed that tomatoes rot faster at room temperature than in the refrigerator. Big whoop... But that’s exactly the point: If you're buying your tomatoes ripe (which we should all be doing!) and need to store them for an extra day or two, you're often better off storing them in the fridge than on the countertop.
Where Do We Stand Now?
The question of whether to refrigerate tomatoes or not is really a question of which is the lesser of two evils. I have little doubt that food scientists are right, and that the ideal storage temperature for tomatoes is somewhere between 55 and 70°F (13 and 21°C)—at least for supermarket tomatoes. But I also know that few of us maintain such consistently cool temperatures at home. If you have a chilly cellar or a wine fridge, then count yourself lucky. If your thermostat is always set that low, then I don't want to see your electric bill. The rest of us have a choice: warm (or even sweltering) counter, or too-cold fridge. Once your tomatoes are ripe, the fridge is usually your best bet.
Based on my tests, here are some more fully fleshed-out tomato-storage guidelines:
- If at all possible, buy only as many perfectly ripe tomatoes as you can eat within a day or two, keep them stored stem side down on a flat surface at room temperature, and make sure to eat them all within the first day or two.
- If you buy underripe tomatoes, leave them out at room temperature until they're fully ripened, then move them to a cooler spot for longer storage.
- If you have a wine fridge or cool cellar, store all ripe tomatoes that you can't eat within the first day there.
- If you don't have a wine fridge or cool cellar, store all ripe tomatoes that you can't eat within the first day in the refrigerator.
- If you're storing tomatoes in the refrigerator, it may be better to locate them on a top shelf near the door, which is often warmer than the bottom and back of the fridge.
- If you're the kind of person who can't stand eating fridge-cold tomatoes and doesn't have the time or patience to let them warm back up on the counter, then you've got some tough decisions ahead of you, I'm afraid.
Test 3: In Search of More Data
My tomato tests were challenging the long-held idea that a tomato should never see the inside of a refrigerator, but I still needed more data.
After all, more data is always a good thing, and reproducibility is the foundation of any reliable experimental result. I decided to run more tests, and asked Kenji to run some over on the West Coast, just to see if he would get similar results as mine. Either my initial observations would hold, or I'd have to revise them.
Kenji and I split up the tasks. Here on the East Coast, I went to the farmers market and bought a large load of both regular red tomatoes and a variety of heirlooms.** My plan was to do one giant blind tasting in the office, with as many people as I could wrangle, and more quantitative measures (as opposed to the strictly qualitative assessments I had done earlier in the summer). Then I'd follow that with some triangle tests to see just how well tasters could really differentiate between refrigerated and room-temp samples.
** For those wondering if I had bought crappy tomatoes from a wholesaler at the market, it's worth pointing out that NYC Greenmarket allows vendors to sell only produce they've grown themselves, and that I had talked to the farmers to confirm the tomatoes had not been previously refrigerated.
Meanwhile, over yonder in the Bay Area, Kenji went and picked his own tomatoes straight from the vine, just to remove any lingering question about the handling practices of the middlemen. He then did his own blind tastings with those tomatoes. He also examined the refrigerated tomatoes for signs of mealiness.
So, what were our results? Shocker! The refrigerator still isn’t as evil as the never-refrigerate rule makes it seem.
My East Coast Tests
When I ran my initial series of tests, it was at the height of summer in New York City, with temperatures well above 80°F (27°C). Without air conditioning in my apartment, I found that more often than not, refrigerated ripe tomatoes tasted better than ones that continued to sit out on the counter, suggesting that in instances in which room temperature was above roughly 80°F, refrigeration was often preferable.***
*** Remember, I had found several scientific studies that compared refrigeration to "room-temperature" conditions, in which the room-temp conditions were all below 70°F (21°C), colder than many summertime rooms in real life; I hadn't found a single study that compared refrigeration to warmer storage conditions. I also found no studies that examined truly ripe tomatoes—they seemed to have all been designed with the concerns of large-scale tomato growers, who pick their tomatoes while still green, in mind, and not the concerns of those of us at home.
But when I went out to run this latest round of tests, temperatures in New York had fallen considerably, down to the 60s and 70s. My whole argument revolved around very hot summertime conditions, and I had made no claim that the refrigerator was equal to or better than temps in the 70s and below. With conditions shifting, I wasn’t sure what I’d see this time.
The Blind Tasting
As I mentioned above, I bought a variety of tomatoes at the farmers market. Most of them were regular red slicing tomatoes; the rest were an assortment of heirlooms. Their quality was variable. I put half of each type of tomato in the refrigerator and the other half out on the counter. The next day, I took the refrigerated ones out and let them come back up to room temperature.
I then cut up each tomato and assigned it a number. I had 10 tasters work their way through the samples, each in a different order, to ensure that no single tomato was disadvantaged due to tasters' palate fatigue. Tasters evaluated the tomatoes on a scale of one to 10 on four criteria: overall preference, flavor, aroma, and texture. The overall-preference score aligned almost exactly with the other scores, so the below chart shows the overall-preference score, since the others look pretty much the same:
Tasters' Overall Preference of Refrigerated Versus Unrefrigerated Tomatoes.
Before going into the specifics, I want to reiterate that this test compared tomatoes stored at temperatures in the low 70s to refrigerated ones, essentially pitting refrigerated tomatoes against much more ideal conditions than in my previous tests.
Instead of seeing a clear and decisive difference between refrigerated tomatoes and counter tomatoes, the differences were very small. On average, the counter tomatoes just barely edged out the refrigerated ones, except with the small yellow heirloom tomatoes, in which case the refrigerated ones received the highest average score. That was also the highest average score of all the tomatoes, which means that even when compared with much more ideal conditions, refrigerated tomatoes are capable of coming out on top: absolutely not what we'd expect if refrigeration were really as bad as the common wisdom claims.
Of all the tomatoes in the tasting, all of us (the 10 tasters plus me) agreed, unanimously, that the small yellow tomatoes—the ones that scored highest in the fridge and out—were the best.
Meanwhile, the basic red tomatoes were the worst in terms of overall quality, and they also were the set in which the refrigerated tomatoes scored the lowest. This lends further support to my theory that the higher-quality and riper the tomato, the less harm the refrigerator will do to it.
Simply put, really good, ripe tomatoes tend to do well in the refrigerator, while lower-quality tomatoes remain bad or get worse in the fridge: Underripe tomatoes continue to be underripe, and mealy tomatoes become mealier.
One more very important detail: What the chart above shows are average scores. But within each group, there was a notable variance. For the red tomatoes, for instance, I had individual refrigerated samples that scored as high as 5.5, and countertop tomatoes that scored as low as 3.6. So while the countertop tomatoes slightly edged out the refrigerated ones when averaged together, the distribution of individual tomato scores was much less consistent, regardless of storage method. This, too, suggests that the fruit itself is the bigger factor in how it will handle storage conditions, not some blanket rule about the storage conditions themselves.
The Triangle Tests
Next up, the triangle test, which determines whether blind-tasters can pick the odd sample out through many rounds of tasting. I wasn't totally convinced there was an advantage to this test: I had never claimed that refrigerated tomatoes were going to always be indistinguishable from room-temp ones. In my earlier tests, we were unable to differentiate between refrigerated and unrefrigerated about half the time. But in the other instances, the differences were apparent; it's just that in those cases, we tended to like the refrigerated ones more.
Still, I figured there was no harm in trying a triangle test out. I did a test run on Max one night, using more of those not-so-great red tomatoes that I had set aside. Max has a very good palate, so I was curious to see how he would do. In each tasting round, I presented Max with three slices of tomato in random order (either two refrigerated and one countertop, or two countertop and one refrigerated), and his task was to see if he could figure out which of the three was the odd one out. After 12 rounds, Max had correctly identified the odd tomato six times, which is slightly better than chance. (In a triangle test, random guessing should yield correct answers one-third of the time, which in this case would be four out of the 12 rounds.) When he was able to correctly identify the tomato samples, he also picked the counter sample(s) as his preference.
But when he got it wrong, he sometimes picked refrigerated slices as his preference. This is consistent with the blind-tasting results above: Even though the red counter tomatoes edged out the refrigerated ones overall, there were individual refrigerated samples within the mix that scored higher than some of the counter samples.
But 12 rounds isn't enough, so the next day I bought even more tomatoes, refrigerated half overnight, and then lined up five different tasters for a new session of triangle testing, with 24 rounds total. Out of 24 rounds, we'd expect random guessing to be correct eight times (one-third of the total number of rounds). By the end of my session, my tasters had been correct nine out of 24 times, performing just a hair above the random-guessing rate.
I'll be honest: As I was slicing the tomatoes for these tests, I felt that the differences were more apparent, but then again, I knew which was which. (In some cases, I thought the counter tomatoes were better; in others, I thought the refrigerated ones were.) What this test shows is that once that knowledge is removed, the differences can be subtle enough that tasters have a very hard time telling refrigerated and countertop tomatoes apart. So, while I don't believe that room-temp and refrigerated tomatoes are totally indistinguishable, these tests indicate that the claims of horrible effects of refrigeration on ripe tomatoes are exaggerated.
Out in the Bay Area, Kenji also ran his tests, with tomatoes he picked directly off the vine himself. Just as with my most recent tests, Kenji's house is in the low 70s and mid-to-high 60s—theoretically ideal tomato-storage conditions. I'm going to let Kenji tell you in his own words:
The tomatoes that I picked were fully ripe. I held them for two days, half in the fridge, half on the counter. I let the refrigerated tomatoes come back to room temp before tasting, then I did a blind taste test with six people. Of those six, two did simple side-by-side preference tests: They both picked the fridge tomatoes as superior. The other four did triangle tests: Of those, three correctly picked the odd tomato out, and all picked the refrigerated tomatoes as superior. The fourth person who did the triangle test selected the odd one out incorrectly, but she still picked the refrigerated tomato as her favorite.
I also did a test slicing tomatoes open and checking them (subjectively) for mealiness as they warmed up. I didn't notice any mealiness from a fully ripe tomato that had been put in the refrigerator.
Kenji's results support what I suggested above: Refrigerated and countertop tomatoes won't always be indistinguishable, but even when they are, the refrigerator isn't by any means guaranteed to be worse.
Our results from these latest tests are, frankly, as surprising to me as I imagine they are to many of you reading this: Before these tests, I never, ever would have argued that tomatoes kept at a mild 70°F could be beaten by or mistaken for refrigerated tomatoes.
Yet here we have multiple tests, performed on two different coasts by two different people, with many different varieties of tomato, and that's exactly what we're seeing.
On the Value of Science and the Danger of Misusing It
Throughout this tomato-tasting experience, I've reflected quite a bit on the role of science in all of this.
Science itself has done nothing wrong: It's a beautiful system—the best one we've got—for answering questions about how pretty much everything in the observable universe works. But it's easy for us to misuse it, and I think it's just such a misuse that created this inflexible rule about tomato storage in the first place. If you'll bear with me, I'll explain:
As I've written above, all of the academic studies I found on tomato storage were based on a narrow set of conditions: namely, tomatoes picked when underripe, and stored in temperatures below 70°F. Those studies concluded—and I'm willing to believe that they're correct—that those tomatoes are harmed by refrigeration and are better stored at slightly higher temperatures, in the 50s and 60s. The studies I found didn't examine tomatoes that were picked when fully ripe, and they didn't consider warmer storage temperatures, certainly not above 80°F.
So what happens with these studies? This is just a scenario I've made up, but it's plausible to me, and it shows how the further we get from the original data, the more likely it is that the data will be misinterpreted: The big-ag tomato growers follow the research and begin storing their underripe tomatoes in cool temperatures (but not as cold as a refrigerator), and wholesalers do the same. Word gets to the produce vendor: Don't refrigerate these tomatoes, it's bad for them. Then the produce vendor tells the customer: Don't refrigerate your tomatoes, it's bad for them.
But that last step is the problem: The don't-refrigerate wisdom was good throughout the supply chain and kept the tomatoes in the best possible condition, but it doesn't necessarily apply to the retail customer with different storage conditions at home, or to tomatoes that are picked when ripe—conditions that had not been tested in any scientific study I found.
Another example of the misuse of science is in this Alton Brown Facebook directive: "Do me a favor: Never put tomatoes in the refrigerator," he implores. "If they drop below 50 degrees F, a flavor compound called (Z)-3-hexenal is just going to flip itself off like a chemical switch ... permanently." Uh-oh, (Z)-3-hexenal gets switched off permanently? That sounds really bad.
Let’s assume this thing about (Z)-3-hexenal is true. My question is: So what? In a complex biological structure like a tomato, am I supposed to believe that because one single aroma molecule goes dormant, that's therefore a good enough reason to never refrigerate a tomato? What about all the thousands and thousands of other complex processes that are taking place in a tomato as it ages? How can we possibly draw an actionable conclusion from one single factor in such an intricate system as a tomato?
This is a problem in a lot of science-based journalism: Scientists perform a study and publish their results. Lay publications, looking to make that information relevant to the lay person, try to find some kind of practical advice buried in the findings. Scientists have found that vitamins are important to the human body? Take them as a pill! Scientists have found that fat is bad? Stop eating fat! Scientists have found that fat isn't as bad as they thought? Stop eating carbs!
The problem isn't necessarily with the scientists; it's with the people trying to give concrete advice about how to live and act based on the work of the scientists. It puts us in hot water far too often.
Tomato Storage: Conclusion
None of my tests, nor Kenji's, are rigorous enough for publication in any kind of scientific journal, but I think we've each had clear enough results that no one should at this point continue to believe that the no-refrigeration rule is always true. At the very least, the rule exaggerates the harm that a refrigerator does to ripe tomatoes, while not considering the sometimes greater harm that can befall that same tomato if left at room temperature—especially the warmer that room gets.
As for me, next time tomato season rolls around, I'll stick them in the fridge when it seems like they're ripe enough.**** And I won't feel a smidgen of shame about it.
**** While I’m at it, I’ll also be storing them in the fridge upside down, for reasons Kenji explains here.
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I was having dinner at the bar of a high-end Italian restaurant in Washington when the bartender handed me a hefty wine list. Feeling overwhelmed, I asked him to choose something for me.
“I like bold reds,” I told him.
“Pour me two glasses of wine at $25 apiece without informing me of the exorbitant price,” is what he must have heard.
Not all servers are out to “upsell,” of course, but my costly blunder could have been avoided had I not been afraid to engage in a deeper conversation about my wine preferences.
Sommeliers say that not asking the right — or any — questions is often the biggest mistake diners make when ordering wine.
“Choosing a wine is not a multiple-choice exam with right and wrong answers,” says Bianca Bosker, a certified sommelier and the author of “Cork Dork,” a book about her intensive 18-month immersion in the world of wine. “People are embarrassed to ask questions about wine because they feel like they should know more about it than they do.”
Determined not to make a similar mistake again, I sought the advice of pros on the do’s and don’ts of ordering wine.
Don’t: Be shy about your budget
“A price range is always one of the most helpful things to know as a sommelier, because it narrows down the options,” says Eric DiNardo, sommelier and beverage director for Schlow Restaurant Group, which owns, among others, Alta Strada, the Riggsby and Tico.
If you’re embarrassed to admit your price range in front of your companions, Bosker recommends pointing to a bottle on the menu: “A good sommelier will pick up on your hint and won’t suggest a $150 bottle if you’re indicating something that’s $50.”
For those on a budget, Justin Logan, co-owner of Ruta Del Vino in Petworth, also recommends warming up your palate with a pricier varietal and switching to something less expensive later, such as what's referenced in the biblical account of the wedding feast at Cana.
Do: Spring for a bottle
If you and a dining companion are on the same page in terms of flavor, it makes economic sense to order a bottle, which typically yields about 4 to 6 glasses. "I try to press on people, value-wise, the wines we offer by the bottle are always the better price," says Logan of his restaurant.
Worried about not being able to drink it all? Familiarize yourself with local liquor regulations. In the District, Maryland and Virginia, for example, you can take home any wine you haven’t finished as long as it’s in a container that can’t be resealed.
Do: Ask for a sample before committing to a glass
Most restaurants are happy to oblige when you ask to sample a wine before committing to a glass. If it’s not to your taste, you should feel no pressure to order it.
On the other hand, if you’ve ordered a full bottle, your options are more limited.
“When you’re given a taste after ordering a bottle of wine, you are not testing if you like it, you’re seeing if it’s fundamentally flawed,” Bosker says. A bad or “corked” bottle will have hints of mustiness or wet rag, according to local wine consultant Tom Madrecki.
To be safe, talk to your server about how the wine you have in mind tastes before ordering a bottle. For a deeper conversation, you could ask whether the restaurant has a sommelier.
You’ll have little recourse once the bottle has been popped. But don’t be afraid to send back a bottle of wine if you really don’t like it. Good restaurants want you to have a pleasant experience, and they might be willing to take it off the check and perhaps offer it by the glass to another table.
Don’t: Fall for the “gimme” wines
Most restaurants have what sommeliers refer to as “gimme” wines, Bosker says, or wines that are so familiar and popular that diners order them on autopilot — think New Zealand sauvignon blanc or a California cabernet sauvignon.
“If you order a gimme wine, you’re going to pay a gimme tax,” Bosker says. “They’re not a great value because restaurants know they will sell easily. Instead go with the wine from the grape you’ve never heard of from the region you can’t pronounce. It might not be the cheapest of your options, but it will be a better value.”
Jessica Childress and Oneshia Herring at Ruta del Vino. The Petworth restaurant's co-owner says wines by the bottle are always a better deal. (Photo by Deb Lindsey For The Washington Post)
Do: Take note of what’s missing from the wine list
You can count on most restaurants to offer the usual suspects, such as the aforementioned “gimmes.” If the standards are nowhere to be found, there’s probably a reason.
“Some places have a point of view with their wine list,” Bosker says. “They’re leaving off some of these more obvious wines because they pride themselves on doing things differently.”
And if something isn’t on the list, don’t ask for it. “People look at my list and are like, ‘Do you have a chardonnay?’ And I’m like, ‘No. That’s why it’s not on the list,’ ” says Carlie Steiner, co-founder and beverage director of Himitsu in Petworth.
If you’d prefer to stick to what you know, tell your server what you normally drink, and they can recommend something in that ballpark.
Don’t: Balk at prices
Often, the price you pay for a glass of wine is about the same as what the restaurant paid for the whole bottle. “A lot of people are like, ‘This is such a big markup, I could buy this at a wine shop for less,’ ” Bosker says. “But keep in mind you’re not just paying for the 750 milliliters of fermented grape juice in the bottle. You’re paying for the staff wages, for the insurance, the cost of laundering your napkin, the entire experience.”
Alcohol sales are what help keep restaurants in business, and by bellying up to the table, customers consent to a higher price than they’d find at a wine store. “Liquids keep restaurants liquid,” Bosker says. “You’re helping the restaurant survive.”
Do: Tip appropriately and be patient
When ordering wine at the bar, the $1 per-drink tip suggestion doesn’t always apply. “Tipping depends on what kind of establishment you’re at,” says Kate Chrisman, the wine director and assistant manager at Vinoteca, on the U Street corridor. “If you’re sitting and eating and having a meal, I would say use the 20 percent structure” that uses the total bill as its basis.
When ordering wine for the table, exercise patience. Although it’s not being mixed from scratch like a cocktail, it still takes time to prepare.
“Wine service on the floor is a little different than at the bar. Some people will order a bottle and expect it right away” says Nadine Brown, wine director for Charlie Palmer Steak on Capitol Hill.
But there are still logistics involved, she says, including ringing in the order, retrieving the wine, double-checking the vintage and temperature, and processing other diners’ orders.
“Storage is also often a huge problem in restaurants,” Brown says. “I used to work in a restaurant that kept the reds in one location, the whites in another and the champagnes downstairs in the basement.”
Don’t: Wear strong perfume if you’re planning to drink wine
A wine’s aroma is tied closely to its taste, which is part of the reason wine pros will swirl their glass and take a big sniff before taking a sip. That’s why it’s best to sample wine in unadulterated air.
“Don’t overperfume yourself,” says Hugo Lefevre, manager of Eno Wine Bar in Georgetown. “The scent of the perfume or cologne will detract from the aromas of the wine and affect your taste buds.”
Do: Download these wine apps
Introverts and antisocials rejoice: There are several apps that can help you choose a wine if you’d prefer to keep to yourself. Stacey Khoury-Diaz, who plans to open Dio wine bar on H Street NE this year, recommends Wine Ring, which makes recommendations based on previous bottles you’ve liked. Vivino, which lists ratings and suggested retail prices for wines, is also worth a download, especially if you want to make sure you’re getting a good deal.
But don’t haggle if you see a big price discrepancy — prices at restaurants are fixed. So only use these apps as a starting point.
Correction: A previous version of this article contained multiple errors. Justin Logan, co-owner of Ruta del Vino, was quoted as saying, “Wines by the bottle are always the better price,” as if he was talking in general about wine prices. He actually said of his own restaurant, “I try to press on people, value-wise, the wines we offer by the bottle are always the better price.” The article also misattributed to Logan a statement that a bottle of wine yields five glasses. In fact, servings per bottle vary, depending upon the amount poured for each glass. In addition, the article gave an incomplete explanation for a reference Logan made to the biblical story of the wedding at Cana, in which Jesus turns water into wine. Logan recommended that those on a budget start with a pricier varietal and switch to something less expensive later, saying, “They even did that in the Bible.” Such a switch does not occur during the wedding at Cana; rather he was referring to a remark made by a steward at the wedding feast, who says: “Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.”
A no-frills glossary for ordering wine
Blend: A wine made with a combination of grape varietals.
Body: The overall feel of a wine in your mouth. A “light-bodied” wine is more delicate than a heavy, “full-bodied” one.
Corked: This term is used to describe a bottle of wine that has come into contact with fungi in the cork. Signs that your wine has been “corked” include a wet-newspaper smell.
Dry: Not sweet.
Tannin: A naturally occurring element, strong in red wine, that gives it texture and creates a drying effect on the tongue.
Varietal: A type of grape used to make wine, or a wine made from a single type of grape.
Sommelier: A member of the waitstaff who is trained in wine and provides guidance on the selections.
What wine should you order?
Not sure what glass of wine to order? We chatted with Hugo Lefevre of Eno in Georgetown to compile this simple quiz to help you determine which varietal might be your best bet.
Our methodology: If you take your coffee with lots of sugar, chances are you won’t be turned off by a sweeter wine. And if you only drink lagers, you probably won’t be into a full-bodied, in-your-face cabernet.
Once you’re done, remember to still chat with your server before ordering: Differences arise among varietals, and the way a wine tastes can vary significantly year to year depending on growing conditions. (Quiz at link below)
Would You Wear Leather Made Of Wine?
by Millie Moore ·
We here at Guest of a Guest certainly love our wine and the innovations that come along with it. Sure, some things are a little too weird to get on board with, like blue prosecco, but alcohol is alcohol, right?
We've heard of champagne shampoo, wine infused coffee, and even wine butter, but wine leather?Italian designer Vegea has apparently thought up leather made of wine instead of adorable animals. The label's founder, Gianpiero Tessitore, found that grape stalks, skins, and seeds were conducive to making a luxury good like leather long-lasting and chic while still being eco-friendly and cruelty-free.
Environmental awareness is totally en vogue these days, despite what our Oompa Loompa in Chief has to say about it. Luxury car companies like BMW have started using vegan leather for their interiors, while Manolo Blahnik and Armani have been using eco-friendly materials as well. So drape yourself in luxe fabric made from your favorite beverage and toast to saving the planet.
[Photo via Facebook]
Sommelier adventuring in Italy to write her blog www.uncorkedinitaly.com about "real" Italian wine (organic/biodynamic wines with soul and taste).
You know your taste in clothes, shoes, food and cars, but do you know your taste in wine? If you had asked me ten years ago before I started living in Italy, I would have said, "No." and "Who cares? Wine snobs are boring."
Now, I care more about what wine I drink and why, but I still find wine snobs to be boring (because tasting and learning about wine is inherently a personal and cultural adventure). Anyone can enjoy pleasures of the palate. Here are a few things I've learned:
1) Palate Basics
Your palate is a complex combination of four senses: sight, smell, taste and feel. When you pick up a glass of wine, look at it and take a sip, your brain gets a tsunami of information. Stop and notice the specifics:
-Visual: Shade of Color, Intensity of Color, Still or Bubbly?
-Smell/Taste: Flavors through a combination of nasal and tongue sensors
-Taste: Sweet, Sour, Bitter, Salty (taste of Minerals-Minerality)
-Sensation: Cool/Warm, Heat (Alcohol), Astringency (Tannins), Fizz, Consistency
2) Your Palate: Memory Trained and Ready
Over your lifetime, your palate has automatically (and mostly unconsciously) developed likes and dislikes. For example, If you grew up drinking milk, then, moved to Coca-Cola, and finally, cocktails, your palate is used to creamy consistency, sweetness, cold temperature, fizziness and heat (alcohol). Write down a list things you liked to eat/drink when you were a child, adolescent, and now, as an adult. Note their characteristics. What are your palate preferences?
3) Cultural Influence on Your Palate
Your palate preferences are strongly influenced by your culture. A lot of Americans have developed a palate similar to the one in the example above.
In Italy, palates are different. This explains why Caramel, Cinnamon and Pumpkin Spice coffee flavors are popular at Starbucks in the U.S,. and why Americans tend to order cappuccino as an after dinner drink. Italians, on the other hand, tend to drink cappuccino only as a breakfast drink and espresso straight up otherwise. Neither is right or wrong, better or worse, just different
4) The American Wine Palate
American wine producers largely cater to the American palate. They have historically picked grapes later to yield sweeter, fruitier wines and used oak barrels (and other techniques) to soften tannins (astringency). They also concentrate on a few familiar grape varieties.
In a recent article on his Vinography blog, Alder Yarrow noted that "...93% of [Sonoma and Napa] acreage is planted with just eight grape varieties, in descending order of acreage: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Syrah, Petite Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel." ("California's Other Seven Percent", May 20, 2015, Yarrow) It's no wonder that some Italian producers add Cabernet or Merlot to their wines and/or use small oak barrels to make their wines softer and more familiar to the American palate .
5) Expert Palates Giving Advice
In the 1980s, America's most famous expert, Robert Parker developed a system of point scoring for wine that swept the industry. He has a strong preference for big, fruity, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot wines, very much in line with the American palate. Keep this in mind if you consult the "experts".
6) Non-Expert Palates Giving Advice
With the onset of TripAdvisor, Uber and Airbnb, we are in the era of democratization of every form of taste. Vivino and many other apps offer popular ratings of wine. If you use them, notice how they, too, are skewed by the factors above: "Cultural Palate" and "Expert Ratings".
7) How Tasting Order Affects your Palate
Your palate is a highly sensitive mechanism designed to detect both subtlety and intensity in different wine types. But once you expose it to intensity (big, heavy, red wine), you won't taste subtlety (light white). If you want your palate to work well, go in order from light white to heavier white, then, from light red to heavier red and then, to sweet or liquored wines.
8) How Food Pairing (or Lack Thereof) Affects Palate
The cocktail culture (drinking alcohol before a meal) influences American wine culture: better to find a wine that is easy drinking (harmonious without a lot of acidity or tannins) so it can stand on its own without food.
This is the exact opposite of Italian wine culture where wine is served in the context of food:
-a crisp white wine with lots of acidity or minerality to clear the richness of a risotto.
-a light red with some acidity to go with bread and cheese at lunch
-a structured red wine to counter the fattiness and weight of a big meat dish.
If you want to train your palate to "real" Italian wine, try food pairing.
9) Experimenting with Taste
10) Evolving Taste
As you get to know your palate and begin experimenting with unfamiliar wines, your tastes will evolve. Remember, vino è piacere. (Wine is pleasure.) Enjoy the pleasure of playing with your wine palate.
Follow Eleanor Shannon on Twitter: www.twitter.com/uncorkedinitaly
The 10 Best Brunches in DC - Zagat Reviewers Recommend
It’s hard to imagine now, but DC wasn’t always a brunch town. Over the past five years or so, though, brunch in this city has become a Big Deal — a way to celebrate, a way to let loose, a way to relax and even an acceptable first-date option. And while we could easily tell you our favorite places to brunch, we decided to ask you, instead. Welcome to Zagat’s first Brunch Survey, which ranks your top 10 picks for the best brunches in the city — and what to order while you're there:
- 1. Osteria Morini
- Osteria Morini
- Navy Yard
- This waterfront Italian spot in Navy Yard might be fairly new to the scene, but that didn’t stop it from earning the top honors with our brunch voters, who love it for the “superb coffees,” “excellent bacon,” “best pancakes,” desserts and the “peaceful and luxurious feeling.” As one respondent put it, “What's better than being able to eat delicious food with a great view?”
- What to Order: Bacon; prosciutto panini; pancakes; scones
- Osteria Morini
- 2. Le Diplomate
- Le Diplomate
- 14th Street Corridor
- 14th Street Corridor
- Second place goes to this ever-popular Logan Circle French favorite, which voters rave about for its perfect blend of “very good food, excellent service,” beautiful patio, the legendary breads — and for just being “lots of fun.” Commenters note that it’s worth the effort to get in, with its “very consistent food and service” making it the perfect place to impress a girlfriend or celebrate a new job.
- What to Order: Eggs Benedict; omelets; breakfast pastries; wild mushroom tart
- Le Diplomate
- 3. Kapnos
- U Street Corridor
- Mike Isabella’s well-regarded Greek spot on bustling 14th Street delights brunchers with both its savory and sweet dishes, including what one diner calls “the best tzatziki and pita bread that I've ever had.” Others love the patio, the variety of dish sizes, the bottomless mimosas in interesting flavors — and the “truly attentive” servers “who kept the supply flowing,” despite the fact that one voter called dining inside “dark and very noisy.”
- What to Order: Waffles; baked eggs with pulled lamb; eggplant spread with flatbread
- 4. Bearnaise
- Capitol Hill
- This Spike Mendelsohn bistro on Capitol Hill started brunch only a year ago but is already quite popular for its “good Bloodies,” “great patio” and its “chef's hangover cure” — aka the delicious crispy pig’s feet hash with an egg and the restaurant’s namesake sauce. Diners also love that the staff is “attentive and knowledgeable,” the bottomless mimosas and that the patio is “welcoming to pets and great for people-watching.”
- What to Order: Ham and Brie omelet; pig's feet hash; French toast; croque madame
- 5. Mintwood Place
- Mintwood Place
- Adams Morgan
- It seems this “great neighborhood spot” is every bit as beloved for its French-American brunch as it is for dinner, with voters calling it their “favorite brunch in town” and citing its “vibrant, invigorating atmosphere and excellent food.” Adams Morgan families, couples and friends turn up early for the pancakes and eggs Benedicts on the beautiful, relaxing patio, but a spot in the bay window is just as coveted.
- What to Order: Burger; eggs Benedict; smoked salmon flammekueche
- Mintwood Place
- 6. Vinoteca Wine Bar and Bistro
- Vinoteca Wine Bar and Bistro
- U Street Corridor
- The brunch scene here is one that channels the energy and vibe of U Street itself — “noisy and loud, but it’s a party scene ready for fun!” With front and back patios, there is more outdoor space to go around, and voters love the “cheesy and fluffy” grits, the promptly filled bottomless mimosas and the fact that it’s just a “fun, casual weekend brunch” where the “ food is good too.”
- What to Order: Duck confit Benedict; grits; steak and eggs
- Vinoteca Wine Bar and Bistro
- 7. Birch & Barley
- Birch & Barley
- 14th Street Corridor
- Chef Kyle Bailey wins our voters’ affection with “the attention to detail in the presentation, and how all the flavors work so very well together.” Chicken and waffles here have long been a DC institution, although one commenter notes that the menu “feels more like lunch than brunch” and another notes that there are “no bottomless drinks” — a brunch feature that seems ubiquitous these days.
- What to Order: Orange-blossom French toast; chicken and waffles; fig and prosciutto flatbread; donuts
- Birch & Barley
- 8. Blue Duck Tavern
- Blue Duck Tavern
- West End
- Our voters universally praised the food at this Park Hyatt farm-to-table restaurant, with such accolades as, “You can go light and delicate or savory and heavy. Both are enjoyable,” and “the food exceeded expectations.” But commenters mentioned a few things they found off-putting, such as the “pricey” dishes and that the dining room can feel “a little stuffy.” Still, there’s “great espresso and sweet rolls” to be had, “great tea service,” as well as grits worth returning for.
- What to Order: French toast; eggs Benedict; chicken-fried sweetbreads; biscuits and jam
- Blue Duck Tavern
- 9. Farmers Fishers Bakers
- Farmers Fishers Bakers
- “If you want a buffet this is where you go!” notes one voter, with others agreeing that while it’s as “busy as expected,” you’ll want to “come hungry because it is very good and there is a lot to try.” In addition to the buffet, diners love the Georgetown waterfront view and the fact that brunch includes servers coming around with sushi and pizza — as well as the addictive welcome gift of cinnamon rolls.
- What to Order: Cinnamon rolls; caramelized grapefruit; honey pot fried chicken; pancakes
- Farmers Fishers Bakers
- 10. Acadiana Restaurant
- Acadiana Restaurant
- Contemporary Louisiana
- Mount Vernon Square
- Acadiana Restaurant
- Contemporary Louisiana
- Mount Vernon Square
- This New Orleans-style brunch features weekly live jazz, crawfish- and tasso-studded dishes galore, and a $29 three-course prix fixe menu in the dining room (although à la carte ordering is available at the bar). The patio is a big draw, as are the “yummy” and “excellent” traditional New Orleans dishes that are tough to find this far north. As one commenter says, “You know you're not in NOLA, but that's sort of OK.”
- What to Order: Eggs Sardou; shrimp and grits; pain perdu; grillades and grits.
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