The first time I saw a black tomato in a garden, it piqued my interest. I have to say, there’s nothing quite like the look of a dark tomato.
However, although black tomatoes may seem an odd color, that doesn’t mean they aren’t tasty when ripe.
But, unlike red tomatoes, which go from green to red as they ripen, black tomatoes aren’t so obvious.
So, how can you tell when a black tomato is ready for picking?
A black tomato’s color deepens when it’s ready for harvest. As black tomatoes age, their colors progressively change and darken. Besides color, the tomato should also feel heavy and firm, but not hard. There should be a slight give when feeling by hand that increases the more it ripens. Most black tomato varieties take 70 to 90 days to ripen.
In this article, we’ll take a look at what a black tomato is and what it should look like when it’s ripe.
How to Know When Your Black Tomato Is Ripe
Black tomatoes are typically indeterminate. This means they don’t ripen on a set time schedule. This can make it challenging to know if your black tomato is ready for harvest.
Red tomatoes clearly move from green to red. But black tomato colors can vary at different stages, depending on the variety.
As black tomatoes age, you’ll often see them redden before darkening to their peak color. This can be purple, blue, black, or a deeper reddish-brown. The process usually begins at the bottom of the fruit before spreading upwards.
With black tomatoes, the deeper the color, the riper the tomato.
But, it’s not only color, the feel also plays a role.
What Is a Black Tomato?
Before we delve into learning when your black tomato is ripe, let’s talk about what a black tomato is.
Although black tomatoes are called “black”, most are not truly black in color. Rather, they’re more purple, blue, or a deep brownish-red. The deep colors give the appearance of being black.
In addition to being indeterminate producers, black tomatoes are also typically heirloom varieties. This means they usually have a shorter shelf life. It’s one of the reasons they’re not found in grocery stores very often.
Black tomatoes have higher lycopene amounts. And, the darker varieties have higher anthocyanin levels. Anthocyanin is a flavonoid and antioxidant. It’s the compound that gives blueberries their blue color.
What Does a Ripe Black Tomato Look Like?
High levels of anthocyanin will give a black tomato its deep black/blue/purple color. But, not every variety has high anthocyanin levels. And not every variety will turn fully dark.
So, how to know when your black tomato is ripe?
Regardless of the color, most black tomatoes progressively darken as they mature. Like red tomatoes, they start off green. As they get older their color begins changing. It continues deepening until it reaches the variety’s intended shade.
Before picking your tomato, you want it to have an intense, rich color.
Some varieties have an overall dark color. Whereas others may have streaks of dark, or be darker on the top compared to the bottom. But, regardless of the color location, you want that color deep.
For many specimens, the deepest colors are on the shoulders. The bottoms may be lighter than the tops, but in general, they shouldn’t be a light green.
In addition to color, your tomato will have a subtle, pleasant scent. And it should pull easily off the vine.
In your hand, your black tomato will feel heavy and have a slight give. The softer the tomato, the riper it’ll be.
If you’re not completely confident in spotting a ripe tomato, don’t worry. As you experiment with growing black tomatoes, you’ll develop a feel for when they’re ripe and when they’re not yet ready for harvest.
Do Black Tomatoes Take Longer to Ripen?
Black tomatoes often take longer to ripen than other tomato varieties. Once in the ground, they can take anywhere from 65 to 90 days or more to ripen. Whereas other tomato strains generally take 65 – 70 days to ripen.
Some, like the Black Cherry or Black Prince varieties, ripen quicker. Regardless of the variety you choose, the seed packet should tell you the expected days to harvest.
Depending on your plant hardiness zone, you may need to start your seeds earlier in order for them to ripen in time. My article on growing black tomatoes has more information on starting your plants.
Can You Help Your Black Tomato Ripen Faster?
The more sunlight your tomato receives the quicker it will ripen. It’s important you plant your tomatoes in a sunny area that gets at least 6, but preferably 8, hours of sunlight a day.
Soils with higher acidity and mineral content can also help deepen the colors. You can test your soil’s acidity level with the pH tester. For more handy garden tools, take a look at my suggested list.
9 Black Tomato Varieties With Growth Chart
Here are some common black tomato varieties along with their general harvest dates and ripe appearance. For more varieties, check out the article I wrote on different black and brown tomatoes.
|Variety||Days to |
|Color When Ripe|
|Black Prince||70 – 75||Deep purple-maroon at the top, fading to red-maroon at the bottom.|
|Carbon||80 – 90||Dark mahogany-red on the peel.|
|Indigo Rose||75 – 80||Ripe when the color changes from a shiny blue-purple to a dull purple-brown. The bottoms will start to redden.|
|Black Plum||75 – 80||Dark red-mahogany skin with a dark brown-greenish tinge at the base of the stem.|
|Paul Robeson||80 – 90||Turns a dark red-brownish color and may turn blacker the riper it gets.|
|Black Cherry||65 – 75||Turns a dark mahogany-burgundy color.|
|Black Beauty||65 – 85||Turns a deep velvety red-black.|
|Dark Galaxy||70 – 80||Turns a rusty red on the bottom with darken purple-black shoulders and flecks of yellow.|
|Cherokee Purple||75 – 80||Turns a dusky reddish-purple color.|
The Best Time to Harvest Your Black Tomato
Most black tomatoes are ready for picking by late summer through fall. However, this depends on the variety you’re growing and you’re growing zone.
And, since black tomatoes are indeterminate, they may ripen sooner and later. So keep an eye on them throughout the growing season.
This is especially true for cherry tomato varieties. Like red cherry tomatoes, black cherry tomatoes ripen quicker and you’re apt to find ripe ones popping up throughout your plants.
Wondering how black tomatoes taste? My article takes a deep dive into the subject.
You know it’s time to harvest when the color has deepened and the fruit is still firm but not hard.
Tomatoes don’t ripen well in very hot temperatures – ones habitually 90℉ or above. They also won’t survive a frost.
If either extreme is in the forecast, you should pick your tomatoes.
If they’re not fully ripe, you can leave them on a bright windowsill to finish ripening. Just be careful with intense direct sunlight. It can scorch your tomato. Remember, glass intensifies sunlight.
- Black tomatoes progressively change color as they ripen. Their peak color depends on the variety.
- A ripe tomato feels heavy and firm, but not hard.
- Black tomatoes are indeterminate so they may ripen at different points throughout the growing season.
- Most black tomato varieties take longer to ripen than other colored tomatoes.
- You can finish ripening your tomatoes indoors by placing them on a bright windowsill.
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