The juiciness of a ripe summer tomato is part of its glory—and also its bane. These juices can flood a dish, ruining texture. That's why many recipes try to cut back on liquid by removing the tomato’s gel (and the seeds suspended in it).
There’s just one problem: When you scoop out the gel, you're tossing the most flavorful part of your perfect tomato in the trash.
Why Tomato Gel Tastes So Good
Tomato gel is packed with acids, sugars, and amino acids. Most importantly, the substance actually contains three times the amount of flavor-enhancing glutamic acid as the fruit’s flesh. Glutamic acid is the compound responsible for the savory quality known as umami. When these glutamates are removed from the tomato, the fruit tastes flatter and less dynamic.
What Happens When You Take Out the Gel
To get a better understanding of tomato gel’s impact on flavor, we set up a quick experiment. We prepared two summer vegetable gratins, one with intact tomatoes and another with tomatoes from which the seeds and gel had been removed.
The results were clear: The gratin with the intact tomatoes had a decidedly richer, deeper flavor than its stripped-down counterpart.
For Peak Tomato Flavor in Tomato Sauce, Keep the Skin Too
Many recipes for homemade tomato sauce call for removing the fruit’s skins for a smoother consistency. But we found that keeping the skins, in conjunction with preserving the gel, made a significant difference, delivering fresh tomato sauce with an optimal balance of bright, savory-sweet flavors.
Eliminating the skins, on the other hand, led to a sauce so sweet and one dimensional that tasters likened it to “tomato candy.” That’s because the skins are full of aromatic compounds that lend complexity. (The seeds didn’t contribute any noticeable flavor, but their texture was distracting, so we strained them out.)
Here’s a breakdown of the dominant flavor and aroma compounds in tomato flesh, skins, and gel.
Of course, it’s not always possible to retain all of the elements of the tomato—but if your recipe can work with the extra texture and moisture the skin and gel provide, by all means, skip the extra prep step keep them in.
And if you do have to excavate that gel (to ensure the crust on your upside-down tomato tart is crisp, for example), don’t toss it: It makes for a refreshing, summery snack spooned over crusty bread and sprinkled with sea salt.