The tomatoes I find at the grocery store and the farmers market always look perfect—they are glossy and blemish-free. But that’s not always the case for home-grown tomatoes from a planter or garden, which can often be misshapen, vary in size and form, and some are even cracked.
After talking to a food scientist, I recently found out that it is normal for tomatoes to split open while then ripen on the vine. Here’s what I learned about why tomatoes crack and if they are still safe to eat.
Why Do Tomatoes Split?
Brian Chau, food scientist and principal of Chau Time, explains that cracks and indents form on tomatoes when the skin grows slower than the flesh.
The temperature could impact tomatoes’ growth—warm sunny spells followed by colder nights could lead to tomatoes expanding rapidly and bursting the skin. “Weather (also) impacts water conditions,” says Chau. Heavy or sudden rainfalls can lead to the tomato’s interior growing and swelling.
While fluctuating weather conditions cannot be controlled, gardening habits could affect how the tomatoes look. Chau adds that watering too much on one day and not enough on another makes the tomatoes grow unevenly, causing them to crack.
Is It Safe To Eat a Cracked Tomato?
For the most part, small cracks on the surface of the skin are harmless, and you can still eat the tomato. Harvest them right away to salvage them from further damage. The cracked tomato can be used in recipes where appearance doesn’t matter, like soups, jam, salsas, and juice.
Split tomatoes are unsafe to eat when their flesh and seeds are exposed. At that point, there is a risk of infection from pests, such as fruitworms that feed on the fruit by burrowing in it through the crack.
Chau adds that when the tomato’s interior is exposed, it could also attract pests like fruit flies, causing bacteria and mold to grow in it. If the tomato appears slimy, moldy, smelly, or insect-infested, it is better to compost it than to run the risk of getting sick.