If you find yourself in the enviable position of having more tomatoes than you can eat, and you don’t want to go to the trouble of canning them, freezing is a simple and effective way to prolong their shelf life until you’re ready to use them. Tomatoes can be frozen peeled, in their skins or made into a sauce, so if you’ve just harvested the tomatoes from your vegetable plot, or even if you just have leftovers, you’ve got plenty of options. Freezing tomatoes will alter their texture, and they will no longer be firm enough to enjoy raw, but they will still be good for cooking, so soups, sauces and ragù are all on the menu.
When freezing tomatoes, it is important to make sure you have a freezer-safe container that will protect their delicate flesh from freezer burn. Suitable containers include plastic freezer bags, plastic containers with the freezer-safe snowflake symbol, or straight-sided mason jars.
It is important to avoid glass containers with curved tops, or ‘shoulders’, as these are more prone to cracking when the tomatoes freeze and start to expand. Other containers that may offer inadequate protection include regular food storage bags, and reused packaging from non-frozen products such as old butter or margarine cartons.
Freezing cherry tomatoes
If you have cherry tomatoes, the easiest way to freeze them is whole.
Wash the tomatoes, remove the stems and dry thoroughly. It is important not to leave any moisture on the surface, as this will turn into frost.
Arrange them on a baking sheet, making sure they are not touching, and freeze for around 1 hour. Try not to leave them loose in the freezer for any longer, as this will increase the risk of freezer burn.
Once frozen, transfer the tomatoes to a freezer-safe container, and label with the date. Stored in this way, they will keep for up to 6 months.
Freezing tomatoes whole
Whole tomatoes can be frozen with their skins on, or peeled. To freeze them in their skins, follow the same method as for cherry tomatoes, but allow 2 hours for them to freeze before you remove them from the baking sheet.
To freeze peeled tomatoes, follow these simple steps:
Wash the tomatoes and remove the stems.
Take a sharp knife, and score a cross at the bottom of each tomato.
Bring a pan of water to the boil, and blanch the tomatoes for 30 seconds each, in small batches.
Remove the tomatoes with a slotted spoon and dip them in an ice bath, then leave them to drain and cool in a colander that is placed over a bowl to catch the drips.
When cool enough to handle, remove their skins, holding them over the container you plan to freeze them in to catch any juice.
Pack your peeled tomatoes into a mason jar or plastic container, making sure they are tightly packed, but leaving a gap of at least an inch at the top to allow for expansion.
As with freezing whole, peeled tomatoes will keep in the freezer for up to 6 months.
Freezing tomato sauce
If you don’t have much room in your freezer, making your tomatoes into a sauce before freezing them can save valuable space.
Wash the tomatoes, score their skin and blanch them as you would for freezing peeled tomatoes, then dice them and add to a large pot.
Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the tomatoes become soft.
Strain the cooked tomatoes through a fine mesh sieve, into your storage container of choice, leaving a gap of at least an inch at the top to allow for expansion.
As with the other methods of storage, frozen tomato sauce should keep for up to 6 months.
Tips and tricks
Follow these handy hints to get the best from your frozen tomatoes.
Only freeze completely ripe, unspoiled tomatoes. If your tomatoes have defects, freezing is likely to exaggerate them, and unripe tomatoes will not ripen further once you thaw them out. Discard damaged tomatoes, and if you have any that are still a bit green, put them in a bag with a ripe banana to encourage them to ripen.
Try and freeze your tomatoes in useful portion sizes. It is better to avoid taking tomatoes you don’t need out of the freezer, so think about how much you are likely to need for some of your favourite tomato recipes, and choose the size of your freezer containers accordingly.
When freezing tomato sauce, mushy peeled tomatoes, or any other liquid, leave at least an inch at the top of your container. Liquid expands when frozen, and could cause your container to break if it is already full to the brim. This is particularly important to remember if you’re using a glass container.
If you’ve been blessed with a bumper crop of vegetables this year, and you’re wondering where to put them all, take a look at our guide to Fruit and Vegetables You Can Freeze.