Storing tomatoes below about 55 degrees Fahrenheit results in measurably lower “aroma volatiles” (i.e., the things responsible for scents), says Elizabeth Baldwin, the research leader of the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service’s Citrus and Subtropical Products Research Laboratory. A large part of our sense of taste comes from these aroma volatiles traveling up the back of our throat to our olfactory receptors; we perceive less flavor in foods with fewer of them.
Scientists have worked out that enzymes cause the reaction that forms aroma volatiles; which enzymes and exactly how they’re affected when tomatoes get colder is still being researched.
For the best flavor, store tomatoes on the counter. Baldwin says that a refrigerated tomato is unlikely to recover even if it’s returned to warmer storage. But cut tomatoes will spoil quickly if they are left out, so it’s best to eat the entire thing instead of having to stick some of it in the fridge for later. If you need ideas for how to use up your tomatoes, check out these recipes.