What to do with green tomatoes (easy and delicious)

Growing tomatoes is one of the more rewarding home gardening projects for gardeners.

Quick facts: Green tomatoes can be frozen or used to make green tomato salsa. Or place them on a plate on a sunny window sill and watch them ripen before your eyes. 

Whether you buy tomato plants or start your plants from seed, many varieties will produce a rich harvest with minimum effort.

Remember to water daily and fertilize the plant once or twice; you will harvest delicious sun-ripened tomatoes all summer.

And then, at the end of the season, you will be left with green tomatoes that had not ripened before the weather turned cooler. 

Not all tomatoes will ripen on the vine
Some tomatoes do not ripen on the vine.

I am here to tell you that this is a happy problem. Nothing beats a sun-ripe tomato, but green tomatoes are worth their weight in gold.

But why are my tomatoes not ripening?

When you grow tomatoes in a four-season climate, you will invariably have green tomatoes on your tomato plants as the growing season ends.

Tomatoes need a temperature above approximately 20 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit) to ripen on the vine.  

Tomatoes ripening on the vine
Sun, blue sky, and ripening tomatoes

And towards the end of the plant’s life cycle, a lot comes down to helping it ripen its fruits. I live by the following rules passed on to me by my parents, who were lifelong gardeners.

When the temperature falls and the growing season comes to an end:

  1. Do not fertilize your tomato plants 
  2. Water your tomato plants sparingly and protect against excessive rainfall
  3. Water the soil but keep the plant dry
  4. Remove new top growth 
  5. Remove any diseased or distressed leaves and branches

When your tomato plant nears the end of its life cycle, you want the plant to use its energy to ripen fruit on the vine. 

Fertilizing your plant encourages new growth. And further growth consumes energy better used to ripen your tomatoes.

Excessive watering encourages new growth and increases the risk of diseases like late blight [1] that can ruin your entire plant and harvest. This is also why you do not want the actual plant getting wet. Always water at the base.

New growth and diseased leaves and branches use a lot of energy. Remove them to help your plant ripen its fruits.

How to care for tomato plants with green tomatoes

You can do five things to help your tomato plant ripen green tomatoes. 

A good starting point is when the temperature drops in the mornings and evenings. 

  1. Do not fertilize your plant
  2. Water sparingly and always at the base
  3. Use clean garden scissors to remove all top growth. Your plant will not produce more fruit, and eliminating top shoots will help the plant to divert its energy to the remaining green tomatoes.
  4. Start from the bottom of the plant and cut all branches and leaves that do not hold fruit. Removing leaves will help prevent diseases like late blight and allow any remaining sunlight to reach and help ripen your green tomatoes.
  5. Finally, inspect your tomatoes and remove any tomatoes with split skins, dark spots, or signs of disease and distress.

Follow these five simple steps for more green tomatoes to ripen and to prevent the plants from getting disease-ridden. 

How to ripen unripened tomatoes 

Despite all your efforts, you will end up with unripe green tomatoes on your plants. 

And while nothing beats a sun-ripe tomato, green tomatoes are worth their weight in gold.

So yes, you should harvest your green tomatoes.

Tip: Learn three simple methods to ripen unripe peppers in the article How to ripen unripe green peppers indoors.

Green tomatoes ripen indoors when placed on a plate on a sunny window sill. Do not stack the tomatoes in a bowl, restricting air circulation. 

We do not use the paper bag method [2], where you place tomatoes in a paper bag in a warm spot indoors. This method works, but we prefer to see the tomatoes ripen in all their beauty.

Can I eat unripe green tomatoes? 

Green unripe tomatoes are more acidic than ripe tomatoes but are still an excellent source of goodness and vitamins. [3]

We are not fans of raw green tomatoes. Raw, uncooked green tomatoes can taste tart and have an almost astringent flavor, like biting into a pit when eating a grape.

But if you are unsure about anything related to your health, you should always consult a medical professional. 

How to use unripened green tomatoes

Green tomatoes can be ripened indoors, frozen, or used to make chutneys or salsas.

How to freeze green tomatoes

We use the same method as when freezing fennel. Follow the simple steps below to freeze your green tomatoes whole or sliced.

  1. Blanch tomatoes for 30-60 seconds in sightly salted water, brought up to a rolling boil (simmering)
  2. Remove tomatoes and place them in an ice bath
  3. Dry tomatoes and store them in a freezing bag 
  4. If storing tomatoes in slices, place a baking sheet or similar in between pieces.
Blanching green tomatoes before freezing helps preserve the color but also protects vitamins that can be lost during freezing. [4] This is basically the same procedure as when we blanch swiss chard and fennel.

How to make green tomato chutney and salsa

I use the words chutney and salsa pretty much interchangeably. 

And when I Google, there seem to be a lot of different definitions. I learned that salsas are raw; chutneys are cooked. I also read that chutneys are the vinegar-based cousins of salsa. Others say salsas can be cooked. 

Coarsely chopped green tomatoes ready to be cooked into chutney
Cooking green tomato chutney

For me, they are essentially the same. The recipe I will share is a family favorite, and all quantities are approximate as you will need to control the liquid from the tomatoes.

I use this green tomato chutney with bread and cheese and as a cold side dish with a spicey Indian or Thai basil curry dish.

My favorite green tomato chutney or salsa recipe

First things first, I always cook green tomato chutneys or salsas and add vinegar as it extends the shelf life in the fridge.

My chutney keeps at least three weeks in the refrigerator. 

Green tomatoes do not have the sweetness of sun-ripened tomatoes. Green tomatoes are more tart and much firmer than red tomatoes. I use honey to balance the sweetness; more honey can be added if needed.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb / 0,5 kg green tomatoes
  • One onion
  • 1-inch piece of ginger
  • Five cloves of garlic 
  • One cayenne pepper  (or sweet pepper)
  • One habanero pepper (or sweet pepper)
  • One tablespoon of dry oregano
  • One teaspoon of ground coriander
  • Three tablespoons of honey (to taste)
  • 1 cup / 2 dl of white wine vinegar (optional)
  • 1-2 tablespoons of flavorless cooking oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Add water as needed.

Prep work:

  • Chop green tomatoes coarsely
  • Chop onion coarsely
  • Chop ginger finely
  • Press garlic cloves
  • Remove seeds and chop peppers finely

Cooking

  1. Sweat onion, ginger, peppers, and garlic in the oil
  2. When the onion is translucent, add green tomatoes, dry spices, and honey
  3. Optional, add white wine vinegar
  4. Leave to simmer on low heat for 20-30 minutes
  5. Add salt, pepper, and honey to taste.
  6. Simmer for approximately 20-30 minutes more while monitoring the level of liquid and consistency.

I prefer my chutney to be chunky and will simmer for longer if there is too much liquid in the pot.

Keep in mind that the chutney will firm up as it cools.

Delicious green tomato chutney
Green tomato chutney

Helpful resources:

[1] https://extension.umn.edu/disease-management/late-blight

[2] https://www.farmersalmanac.com/ripen-green-tomatoes-home-28846

[3] https://lenoir.ces.ncsu.edu/2014/07/what-is-a-green-tomato-unripe-red-or-its-very-own-variety/

[4] https://fyi.extension.wisc.edu/safefood/2019/06/25/why-is-blanching-recommended-when-freezing-vegetables/

Meet the author: Mattias is an experienced gardener spending most of his free time on his knees among herbs, plants, and garden vegetables. For the past two years, he has been sharing gardening projects and how-to tutorials on the NordicLavender website and YouTube channel.