Are green tomatoes poisonous?

Published Categorized as Ingredients, Guide

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Have you ever heard the claims that green tomatoes are poisonous and that they can kill you? I’m sure you probably have at least once. To many, it is seen as perfectly common knowledge that you shouldn’t eat green tomatoes under any circumstances. This is because like many unripe fruit plants green tomatoes do contain some substances which can be toxic in high amounts. However, seemingly for every group saying that eating a green tomato will make you ill, there’s another who have entire delicacies based around them, whether in the form of fried green tomatoes, pickled green tomatoes or something entirely different. As such, you may naturally wonder, are green tomatoes poisonous? Along with, why so many people eat them if they actually are?

Table of Contents

Are Green Tomatoes Toxic?

Green tomatoes are potentially toxic to consume. When consumed in large quantities unripe tomato plants or other forms of immature tomatoes will be toxic to consume. This is the same with many other plants and fruits in the nightshade family that tomatoes come from which is a known group of poisonous plants.

Some other examples of foods from this family include:

  • Peppers
  • Potatoes
  • Eggplants/Aubergines

All of the above along with the leaves, stems, roots and fruits of these plants can cause some adverse effects when consumed in high enough doses. Additionally, the difference in toxicity between green raw tomatoes or cooked ones is negligible since the toxic aspects of nightshade plants is heat resistant natural poison.


Why Are Green Tomatoes Poisonous?

Green tomatoes like other nightshade plants like the green potato contain natural toxins. The main culprit is the high concentrations of the toxic alkaloid solanine which is common amongst a variety of unripe plants in this family. However, green tomatoes also contain a substance called tomatine. Both of these substances can be incredibly toxic in high enough concentrations with solanine poisoning in particular potentially having lethal consequences.


The Symptoms Of Green Tomato Or Solanine Poisoning

Depending on the amount of solanine ingested and the level of sensitivity you have to it, the effects can vary in intensity and severity. In a case of solanine poisoning the initial symptoms can include the following:

  • Dizzyness
  • Breathing Difficulties
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach Ache
  • Headaches

Typically these symptoms will manifest in someone who has ingested roughly 0.0071 ounces of solanine. If you notice these symptoms then you end up needing to go to the hospital. However, even after consuming a tenth as much solanine, you may start to feel some discomfort such as in the form of headaches or gastrointestinal pain.

If even more than 0.0071 ounces of solanine is consumed then things start to get even more dangerous as these more severe symptoms can include:

  • Central Nervous System Damage
  • Cramps
  • Paralysis

Potentially, ingestion of too much solanine could even lead to death. This is because a dosage of approximately 0.014 ounces is considered a lethal amount.

So why are red tomatoes safe to eat whilst unripe tomatoes are potentially toxic?

Simply the answer is that technically ripe tomatoes whilst being safe to eat could potentially be toxic. This is because like with completely green tomatoes, red tomatoes do have solanine content. However, during the ripening process, the concentration of both solanine and tomatine is drastically reduced to a point of barely being present. However, those who have a sensitivity to solanine may still experience some minor symptoms when eating even ripe tomatoes.

The reason for this reduction in toxicity is the same as the principle for why tomatoes eventually chance colour to be red instead of green. This is because when unripe, tomatoes will produce a chemical cocktail which makes them both hard to spot and be unappealing to animals. As a result unripe tomatoes will almost have a green camouflage, have a bitter taste and potentially make any animals that consume them ill. Although, the latter depends on how much poison is ingested.

As they ripen, however, the green parts become red and the taste changes to one that is sweeter, meanwhile the tomato itself loses most of its toxicity. The reason is that when ripe it is advantageous to the plant for the tomato to be eaten as this will ensure its seeds are dispersed around the local environment.


Is It Ok To Eat Green Tomatoes?

Whilst the above information does paint a somewhat ominous picture around the idea of consuming green tomatoes it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are completely inedible. Similarly to how predatory fish like barracuda and perch can be eaten in moderation and be completely harmless, the same is also true for green tomatoes. However, if you have a solanine sensitivity that is triggered even by ripe tomatoes, then green ones should be avoided altogether.

If you don’t suffer from a sensitivity to solanine, however, then you can enjoy fried green tomatoes, just like they do at the Whistle Stop Café along with a few other green tomato-based delicacies. Some examples of which include but certainly aren’t limited to:

  • Green Tomato Salsa
  • Pickled Green Tomatoes
  • Green Tomato Ketchup
  • Quiche With Green Tomaoes

Truly many of the dishes that use regular ripe tomatoes can be varied up somewhat by the inclusion of green tomatoes instead. Although, once again remember to eat in moderation or use semi-ripe tomatoes instead of fully green ones. The benefit of semi-ripe tomatoes is that they act as a nice middle ground between unripe and ripe tomatoes. However, they will still likely contain more solanine than their fully ripe counterparts.

How Many Green Tomatoes Can You Eat Safely?

To experience the negative effects of solanine consumption, you would likely have to eat a substantial amount of green tomatoes. This is because green tomatoes contain between roughly 0.00032 and 0.0011 ounces per 3.53 ounces of tomatoes. Whilst this is not an insignificant amount it is unlikely that you would ever consume enough to cause health issues in one go as 22.05 ounces is roughly the number of unripe tomatoes you’d need to consume in order to even give yourself minor poisoning. Eating this many is made even more unlikely since the bitter taste of green tomatoes will likely make you stop long before this if otherwise wouldn’t.

That said, however, you should be very cautious when eating something that uses green tomatoes as an ingredient since it can be very difficult to gauge how much solanine you will have consumed in such a context. This is especially true since the bitter taste of green tomatoes can sometimes be masked by the presence of other ingredients.


So Is It ok To Eat Green Tomatoes?

When eaten in moderation green tomatoes can be perfectly safe to eat, with some people even believing they can have beneficial effects on your health. However, when eaten in large enough quantities they can poison you due to containing high amounts of solanine.

As such, when eating green tomatoes you never eat more than 22.05 ounces of them which is unlikely to happen anyway due to their incredibly bitter taste. That said, however, if you have a solanine sensitivity that flairs up even when eating regular tomatoes then you should avoid green ones no matter what.


Are raw green tomatoes safe to eat?

Raw green tomatoes are safe to eat so long as you only eat them in moderation. This is because if you eat a lot of them then you may end up suffering the effects of solanine poisoning.

What can I do with unripened green tomatoes?

Unripened tomatoes can be placed in a bag, either by themselves or with other ripe fruit to allow them to ripen. However, they can also be used to make dishes such as fried green tomatoes.

Are Fried green tomatoes toxic?

Fried green tomatoes do contain the potentially toxic substances solanine and tomatine. However, as long as they are eaten in moderation you should be perfectly safe eating them. That said if you have a sensitivity caused by eating regular tomatoes then you should avoid eating green ones no matter what.

By James Clarke

James is an enthusiastic home-cooking hobbyist (being very modest) his taste-buds are tuned for flavor profiles that will have you salivating at the thought of what's cooking. As an occasional author at Alice's Kitchen he brings his own unique style to his articles and entertainment through them. You can always check out what he's up to over on his social profiles linked below.