Why do tomatoes turn red when ripe? What triggers this process?

Why do tomatoes turn red when ripe?  What triggers this process?

One of the most emblematic characteristics of ripe tomatoes is their color, that appetizing bright red. However, when they are still growing on the plant, the tomatoes are not as good-looking as they are green.

So why do greens grow on the tomato plant and turn red only when ripe and ready to eat?

Which is why tomatoes turn red when ripe

Photo: PxHere
Photo: PxHere

All this transformation takes place due to two pigments that tomatoes use for photosynthesis: chlorophyll and lycopene.

Chlorophyll is green, while lycopene is red. When the tomatoes start to grow, they mostly contain chlorophyll in their composition, which gives them the green color that we see when they are still attached to the tomato plant.

However, as it bakes, a change begins to occur. Chlorophyll begins to dissolve and lycopene begins to take control. You can watch this process unfold from the peel of the tomato as the lycopene slowly creates stronger and more reddish hues.

It’s just ethylene gas

Photo: PxHere
Photo: PxHere

During the early stages of ripening, tomatoes begin to produce an odorless, tasteless, colorless gas called ethylene. In general, ethylene is responsible for ripening fruit, acting as a hormone that is produced by cells and is present throughout the structure of the fruit, from the skin to the inside. (Yes, from a botanical point of view, the tomato is also a fruit; the fruit is that part of the plant where the seeds are found.)

In the case of tomatoes, it is the ethylene gas that is responsible for triggering the ripening process, which releases lycopene and gives these fruits their famous red color.

Curiously, in addition to the fact that they turn red, tomatoes become even softer, as the sugar level increases and the acid level decreases, thus becoming ready for consumption.

Photo: Piqsels
Photo: Piqsels

It is important to note that although it can take several months for the tomatoes to grow, the ripening process usually takes place in a short period of time. This is why most farmers prefer to pick tomatoes when they are still green.

As tomatoes are often shipped to markets hundreds of miles away, they can be treated with ethylene just to start the ripening process before reaching the markets.

Another curiosity is that not all tomatoes turn red at the same rate. In fact, researchers have found that smaller varieties, such as cherry tomatoes, tend to ripen faster than larger varieties.

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