It was cold in Florida this past winter, and tomato crops suffered. Seventy percent of the state’s tomato crop was lost during the extended cold weather. Supply is down; prices are up.

Personally, I eat few fresh tomatoes out of season because they aren’t very good. Tomatoes grown in Florida, picked before they are ripened, and shipped to New Jersey weeks later are poor in quality compared to what I pull from my own garden or buy at the farmers market in summer. So I’ve learned to do mostly without fresh in the winter.

But think about all the tomatoes that do get bought and served in the winter. Tomatoes are staples on sandwiches, burgers, salads, and tacos. Besides doing without, what can you do if there are no tomatoes or the price for tomatoes gets higher than you’re willing to pay?

There’s no real substitute for a tomato, but there are a few things you can try.

  • Canned tomatoes – You can’t put canned tomatoes on a hoagie, but they work as well, sometimes better than off-season tomatoes, in sauces.
  • The Cook’s Thesaurus has these suggestions: sun-dried tomatoes (reconstitute first in water) OR tomato paste (1 medium tomato, peeled, seeded, and chopped = 1 tablespoon tomato paste ) OR roasted red peppers OR tomatillos OR mangos (in salsas) OR papayas (in salsas) 
  • Food & Wine has a slideshow with great alternatives to tomatoes – five salads that are flavorful without them
  • In place of a tomato salsa for Mexican dishes, try a salsa verde made from tomatillos instead of tomatoes. Simply Recipes has a recipe that’s worth a look.

That’s about all I could find on substitutions. I do have one more suggestion. Get growing. Grab an inexpensive packet of tomato seeds and plant some seedlings that you can transplant in six to eight weeks in your yard or in containers. You’ll have a great supply of really inexpensive tomatoes that may be the best ones you’ve ever tasted. 

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

What can you do about the tomato shortage?
A cold winter has damaged tomato crops. How can you make do in a shortage?