Have you noticed that some tomatoes have thicker skins than others? There is more than one possible reason for the differences in skin thickness.
Why some tomatoes have thicker skins
- This trait is bred into commercial varieties for supermarket-reasons. Thick-skinned tomatoes survive long-distance transportation better than thin-skinned tomatoes. More tomatoes arrive at the store looking good. Then, more people buy them.
- This trait is bred into some tomatoes to improve appearance. Thick-skinned-tomatoes resist “cracking” (info from HortScience reasearch article). More thick-skinned tomatoes picked at the farm look good. This is another supermarket-driven reason.
- Paste-type tomatoes, like ‘Roma’, that have drier innards also tend to have thick skins.
I heard another possible reason for thicker-skinned tomatoes in a presentation by UGA plant pathologist Elizabeth Little. She said tomatoes that are resistant to root-knot nematodes seem to have thicker skins. The two traits may be linked somehow, so that when nematode resistance is “on”, so are thicker skins.
When I moved to Georgia (1990), I found that many Southerners peel their fresh tomatoes before serving them. It didn’t matter whether the pieces were going in a salad, on a sandwich, or in a soup, the tomato got peeled before being sliced/chopped and served.
Most of our Southern gardens are troubled by root-knot nematodes; maybe the thicker skins on our local tomatoes — plants that resist root-knot-nematodes — explain that practice.
If your home-grown tomatoes are in the thick-skinned group, then one or more of the above reasons could explain why.
If you want home-garden tomatoes with thinner skins
Varieties that are bred for commercial use often have thicker skins. These varieties for commercial use are also sold to gardeners, to grow at home.
Some commercial varieties are hybrids, and the word “Hybrid” — if the variety is one — will be somewhere on the seed packet or plant label. This is a clue that the variety may be for commercial use. See points 1 and 2 in the list above, in the section “why do some tomatoes have thicker skins”.
To avoid the thick-skinned tomatoes, experiment with growing one or two heirloom varieties. Many of these will have thinner skins, because they were bred for home-use. They were not developed with the idea of shipping them across the country, or the world, in mind.
Of course, if your garden is infested with root-knot nematodes, you will get more tomatoes from nematode-resistant plants. In that situation, you may be stuck with thicker skins.
How to remove tomato skins
Some eaters are not especially sensitive to the difference in texture caused by thicker skins. We eat most tomatoes without peeling them. However, tomato skins have a bitter flavor for some people. If the skins bother you, either in texture or flavor, you can easily remove the tomato skins. Below are four methods that work.
Cut out the stem and then cut a small “x” in the bottom end of the tomato with a sharp knife; lower the tomato into a pot of boiling water (a large, slotted spoon is a good tool for this). Leave for about 30-60 seconds, or until the cut edges of tomato skin start to curl. Remove the tomato from the boiling water and set it in a bowl of ice water. After the tomato has cooled, the skin will slip off easily. Several tomatoes can go into the boiling water pot at the same time.
Wash your tomatoes, then freeze them. When freezing them, place the tomatoes in a single-layer in the freezer bag, to help them freeze quickly. If they are bunched together in the bag, in a tomato-huddle, they might take longer to freeze all the way through. Faster freezing usually gives better quality in the final product, so speed here is important.
To peel, submerge a frozen tomato in warm water. The skin will peel off easily.
The old-fashioned way is to use a paring knife, slicing just under the skin and pulling it away in strips.
If you are planning to use your tomatoes in the mashed/sauced state, use a food mill to remove skin and seeds (see article in Bon Appetit). The author of the Bon Appetit article (Marco Canora, as told to Julia Bainbridge) says “When you use a food mill, those tomatoes stay dense and rich and unctuous.”
Hoping that you are all enjoying good food from your gardens!