Can You Eat Green Tomatoes Raw? Everything You Need to Know

Can You Eat Green Tomatoes Raw? Everything You Need to Know

Key Takeaways

  • Green tomatoes stay green even when ripe, unlike most other fruits.
  • Green tomatoes are not toxic when eaten in reasonable quantities; concerns about toxicity come from their alkaloid content, but it would take a large amount to be harmful.
  • Green tomatoes have a nutritional profile similar to red tomatoes, offering vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber.
  • Eating green tomatoes can boost your immune function, support skin health, improve digestion, reduce heart disease risk, and promote eye health.
  • When eating green tomatoes raw, choose barely ripe ones for the best flavor and texture and consider various options such as slicing them for sandwiches, adding them to salsa, or pickling them into relish. You can also try unique recipes like green tomato chutney, kimchi, salsa verde, green tomato soup, or fried green tomatoes.

Green tomatoes are one of the more peculiar fruits you’ll find. Unlike most other fruits which turn red, orange, yellow, or purple when ripe, green tomatoes stay green even when mature.

This anomaly frequently prompts questions from home gardeners and produce aisle shoppers alike: Can you eat green tomatoes raw? Are green tomatoes safe to eat? What do green tomatoes taste like?

In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about eating raw green tomatoes:

  • Are green tomatoes toxic?
  • Nutrition facts: What’s in a green tomato?
  • Health benefits of eating green tomatoes
  • How to eat green tomatoes raw
  • Recipe ideas for enjoying green tomatoes

Let’s start at the beginning: where do green tomatoes come from, and why are they green in the first place?

A Brief History of the Peculiar Green Tomato

While most of us think of tomatoes as being red, there are actually hundreds of heirloom tomato varieties that come in colors ranging from purple and black to yellow, orange, pink, and yes—green.

So while red tomatoes are certainly the most popular, green tomatoes are no anomaly.

In fact, all tomatoes start off green.

As chlorophyll breaks down and carotenoids build up in the ripening fruit, green tomatoes start to change color. Most will turn red, orange, or yellow, but some heirlooms have been cultivated specifically to maintain high levels of green chlorophyll.

Some of the most common green tomato varieties include:

  • Green Zebra: Bright green with lime green stripes when ripe
  • Aunt Ruby’s German Green: Pale green flesh when ripe
  • Cherokee Green: Medium green when ripe, with a pinkish bloom
  • Green Grape: Small bright green fruits even when ripe
  • Lime Green Salad: Round and bright lime green at maturity

While we don’t know the exact origins of green tomatoes, they likely originated in South America and made their way north over thousands of years. The Cherokee people are credited with cultivating a number of green and purple tomato varieties.

The first published account of tomatoes being cultivated in the United States was in 1710 when herbalist William Salmon described seeing them in what is now South Carolina.

So while we think of tomatoes as a staple of Italian cuisine, they actually originated in South America and have grown in North America for centuries.

Are Green Tomatoes Toxic?

If you’ve ever wondered Can you eat green tomatoes raw?” chances are you were concerned about toxicity. Thankfully, green tomatoes are not toxic to humans when eaten in reasonable quantities. But why do people worry about green tomato toxicity in the first place?

Like many fruits and vegetables in the nightshade family (which includes tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and potatoes), green tomatoes contain small amounts of alkaloids such as tomatine and solanine.

At high enough concentrations, these compounds can be toxic and cause digestive upset. But green tomatoes contain only trace amounts, nowhere near enough to harm you.

According to food science research, you’d have to eat anywhere from 625 grams to a few kilograms of fully green tomatoes in one sitting to ingest a toxic quantity. Since green tomatoes have a tart, bitter flavor, it’s highly unlikely anyone would eat more than a small bite or two at once.

As tomatoes ripen, alkaloid levels naturally decrease. By the time tomatoes are fully red, concentrations are negligible. So while very underripe green tomatoes do contain trace alkaloids, the amounts are far too low to be dangerous unless you eat them by the pound.

Nutrition Facts: What’s in a Green Tomato?

Green tomatoes offer a very similar nutritional profile to their red, yellow, and orange cousins. The only difference comes down to carotenoids.

Red tomatoes get their color from lycopene, the antioxidant carotenoid that makes them red. Green tomatoes have much lower levels of lycopene because their chlorophyll masks the red pigment.

However, green tomatoes make up for their lack of lycopene with high levels of other beneficial carotenoids like beta-carotene and lutein. They also contain useful amounts of vitamin C, potassium, folate, vitamin K1, and fiber.

Some of the top nutrients found in 1 cup (149g) of raw green tomatoes include:

  • Vitamin C: 17% Daily Value
  • Vitamin A: 15% DV (from beta-carotene)
  • Vitamin B9 (Folate): 12% DV
  • Potassium: 12% DV
  • Vitamin K1: 10% DV
  • Fibber: 2 grams

Green tomatoes are also low in calories and carbs. A one-cup serving contains just 35 calories and 8.4 grams of carbs, only 2 grams of sugar.

So while their nutritional makeup varies slightly from red tomatoes, green tomatoes contain plentiful vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber in a low-calorie package.

Health Benefits of Eating Green Tomatoes

Thanks to their stellar nutritional profile, incorporating green tomatoes into your diet can provide some solid health perks. According to Healthline, these are some Health Benefits of Eating Green Tomatoes

Here are a few of the top benefits you can expect to reap from eating green tomatoes:

1. Boost immune function

With generous amounts of vitamins A, C, and K1, green tomatoes can give your immune system a leg up. Vitamin C is well known for its antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties. Vitamins A and K help regulate the immune response. Together, they can help ward off pathogens and reduce systemic inflammation.

2. Support skin health

Beta-carotene and vitamin A are essential for skin cell growth and regeneration. They help strengthen the skin barrier to protect against UV damage. The vitamin C in green tomatoes is also key for collagen production, which keeps skin firm and supple. Eating green tomatoes can help minimize sun damage and signs of aging.

3. Improve digestion

The fiber in green tomatoes helps promote regularity and bowel movements. It also feeds beneficial gut bacteria, contributing to a healthy microbiome. The vitamin A in green tomatoes further supports digestive health by stimulating the production of gastric juices.

4. Reduce heart disease risk

Green tomatoes provide potassium, a mineral that helps control blood pressure by balancing fluid levels in the body.

The fiber in green tomatoes is also beneficial, as it binds to cholesterol and removes it from the body before it can clog arteries. Vitamin K1 protects against calcification of blood vessels as well.

5. Support eye health

Lutein and zeaxanthin, two carotenoids found in green tomatoes, are considered crucial nutrients for eye health. They help filter out damaging blue light and UV rays to protect the retina. Eating foods high in lutein and zeaxanthin can help ward off vision loss and disorders like macular degeneration or cataracts.

How to Eat Green Tomatoes Raw

Now that you know green tomatoes aren’t toxic and offer some impressive benefits, you’re probably wondering how to eat them raw.

While you can eat firm, underripe green tomatoes straight from the vine, they tend to be too tart and bitter when completely unripe. And overripe green tomatoes will be mealy and soft.

For the best flavor and texture, look for green tomatoes that are just barely ripe:

  • The skin will have a bit of give when gently squeezed
  • There will be no exterior red spots
  • The tomato will feel heavy for its size

This stage offers the perfect balance between tartness and sweetness for eating raw.

When preparing raw green tomatoes:

  • Rinse under cool water and pat dry. Don’t wash until ready to eat, as moisture speeds up spoilage.
  • Slice off the blossom end. That’s the end opposite of the stem. It can harbor more alkaloids.
  • Use them right away for maximum flavor and texture. Ripe green tomatoes only last 2-3 days in the fridge before quality declines.

Now you’re ready to enjoy your green tomatoes! Here are some of our favorite ways to eat them raw:

  • Thinly slice and use on sandwiches instead of red tomatoes
  • Chop and add to fresh salsa or pico de gallo
  • Toss sliced green tomatoes into a salad
  • Skewer cubed green tomatoes for an appetizer
  • Blend into gazpacho or a vegetable smoothie
  • Pickle into green tomato relish
  • Ferment sliced green tomatoes into a tangy salsa

Green Tomato Recipes to Try at Home

If you need a little more inspiration for using green tomatoes, here are some tasty and unique green tomato recipes to try at home:

1. Green Tomato Chutney

Chutney is a popular Indian condiment that combines fruit with vinegar, spices, and sugar. This recipe pairs tart green tomatoes with raisins, ginger, and warm spices like coriander, cumin, and mustard seeds. It’s delicious served with Indian dishes, spread on sandwiches, or spooned over cheese.

2. Green Tomato Kimchi

Kimchi is a classic Korean fermented food that’s typically made with napa cabbage. But this unique spin uses sliced green tomatoes as the base instead. Along with spices like chili powder, garlic, and ginger, it delivers a kick of probiotics. Use it to top bowls or rice, sandwiches, eggs, and more.

3. Green Tomato Salsa Verde

Tomatillos are the usual star of salsa verde, but green tomatoes work beautifully too. Blend them up with spicy jalapenos, cilantro, lime, and garlic for a bright, tangy dip or sauce. It’s fantastic served with tortilla chips, grilled fish or chicken, tacos, and more.

4. Green Tomato Soup

For an easy, comforting soup, simply sauté onion and garlic, add chopped green tomatoes and broth, and puree. Finish it off with a dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt. The green tomatoes provide plenty of tangy flavor, but their bitterness mellows out when cooked.

5. Fried Green Tomatoes

No article on green tomatoes would be complete without fried green tomatoes! For perfectly crispy, flavorful results, slice green tomatoes about 1/2-inch thick and soak in buttermilk before dredging in cornmeal and frying until golden brown. Top with ranch dressing for the perfect Southern-inspired appetizer.

Conclusion

While most tomatoes turn red, orange, or yellow when ripe, some heirloom varieties stay green – even when fully mature. So yes, you can eat green tomatoes raw when they’re ripe!

Fully green tomatoes do contain trace amounts of alkaloids like tomatine and solanine. But the amounts are far too low to cause toxicity unless you eat several pounds at once.

When ripe, green tomatoes offer a similar nutrition profile to red tomatoes, with benefits like immune-boosting vitamin C, heart-healthy potassium, and vision-protecting lutein.

For the best flavor and texture, choose green tomatoes that are just barely ripe without any red spots. Then slice or chop them raw into salsas, sandwiches, salads and more. Or try cooking green tomatoes into chutneys, kimchi, soup, or classic fried green tomatoes.

So embrace green tomatoes as a uniquely flavored addition to a healthy, diverse diet. Just don’t go eating them by the bucketful and you can safely enjoy these under-appreciated gems.


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Mohsin
By Mohsin

Hi, I’m Mohsin, creator of Tomato about website. I have over a two decade of gardening experience and I love helping others growing healthy tomatoes!


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