22 Ingredients That Will Give Fresh Tomatoes Unexpected Flavor

Tomatoes are quite simply an incredible fruit and they come in so many varieties. There are cute grape and cherry tomatoes, Roma, Beefsteak, and vine-on ones, as well as heirlooms and hybrids. In a fresh salad, they bring juicy sweetness to the table. And they make a great base for so many different dishes, with so many fantastic tomato recipes to try. A simple tomato sauce is divine, while a slice of tomato can transform a sandwich. 

Sometimes you might want to liven up the best of a tomato's flavor if it lacks some of its naturally sweet and savory notes. When you want to improve the taste of tomatoes, here are a few ideas on how to use ingredients that will give fresh tomatoes an unexpected flavor. You might be surprised at some of them, and the good news is that most of these ingredients you probably already have in your cupboard or fridge. 

1. Mozzarella and basil

Thick, juicy slices of tomatoes, layered with soft slabs of mozzarella and large, fresh basil leaves are insanely delicious. Does a Caprese salad really need any introduction? These ingredients are a terrific trio with the fragrant herb lifting the acidity of the tomatoes, and the cheese cutting through the flavors with a mild creaminess that's so good. Heirloom tomatoes, with plenty of flavor, are perfect for this simple summer's day recipe. This dish is an amazing appetizer that evokes images of al fresco lunches in Italy. 

Going for a picnic? You could turn this salad into Caprese skewers by threading grape or cherry tomatoes onto sticks. Marinated mini mozzarella balls are cute and easier to use, too. Let the cheese first marinate in olive oil with herbs, and drizzle the skewers with balsamic glaze. If you want to add some carbs, turn this into a ciabatta sandwich.

2. Balsamic vinegar

So often tomatoes are one of many ingredients added to a dish. It means that they don't really stand out, tastewise. This amazing fruit deserves to be celebrated in its own right, and the best way to do that is simply with just a few ingredients. Imagine tomatoes cut or sliced with a sour yet sweet and fruity splash of balsamic vinegar over the top. You might want to add some olive oil, along with salt and pepper, and even some fresh herbs, but the key pairing is the tomatoes and the vinegar. 

The result is only as good as your tomatoes are, and you might want to splurge on gourmet balsamic vinegar that is aged and has a deeper flavor. You can also marinate tomatoes in balsamic vinegar, with olive oil and some seasoning, too. Leave for at least an hour to bring out the taste of the tomatoes. 

3. Oysters

Tomatoes and oysters might not be a pairing that you've ever thought of. But if ketchup goes with fried fish, then it's only a step into a more luxurious culinary realm. A classic way to eat oysters is with a squirt of lemon juice, so an acidic tomato taste isn't a huge leap. And the salty taste of the oysters enhances the taste of tomatoes, too. You could try making a tomato and oyster stew for a rich and hearty dish.

However, if you love oysters broiled in their shells, then why not top with roasted tomato butter? The blended tomato is sublime with the hot oyster boosting the flavor. Cherry tomatoes pair well with oysters, and a great combination is fried oysters in a batter with tomato confit. You could take the tomato taste to the next level with a tomato and vermouth granita served with fresh oysters.

4. Sugar

Sugar might not be the first condiment you reach for to season tomatoes and bring out their flavor. However, the two are tremendous together. The sweetness balances out the acidity of tomatoes, making it an ideal ingredient to add to a pasta sauce. As the tomatoes simmer, add white or brown sugar a pinch at a time. How much you need depends on how acidic the tomatoes are. As the sugar dissolves, the flavor deepens and becomes richer. Give the sauce time to develop and for the sugar to work its magic before adding more. 

Make a homemade tomato sauce with a can of whole peeled tomatoes, and wait until the sauce is just about ready before deciding how much sugar to add. Or try a fast marinara sauce recipe with a can of crushed tomatoes, and combat any bitterness with a little sugar. Sweetening tomato sauce is a must when you're making it at home.

5. Bacon

One of the best must-try hot sandwiches has to be a BLT, which is an acronym for bacon, lettuce, and tomato. To make sure the meat complements the tomato, make sure the bacon slices are thick enough that they aren't going to be overpowered by the tomato slices. And make sure the tomato isn't too meager either so that it holds its own. You want to taste every element of this toasted sandwich. 

Vine-ripened tomatoes offer the most flavor, and thin slices taste best as they soak up the bacon taste. As far as the bacon goes, British rashers are best as they are less fatty, or you can use Canadian bacon. Try turning this combo into tomato bacon jam and using it as a tasty relish. Use a variety of tomatoes such as cherry, grape, and Roma. Since cheese and tomatoes taste great together, serve with grilled cheese. 

6. Honey

Have you ever tried honey with tomatoes? It's not an obvious pairing, but when used in the right way, honey can bring out the sweetness of tomatoes beautifully, and you don't need to cook with it either. Thick slices of tomato are a bit ordinary when served alone. But add a drizzle of honey whisked together with some balsamic vinegar and it cuts through the sweet taste to create balance. 

Instead of adding sugar to tomato sauce, add honey instead to elevate the flavor. And don't forget that honey is full of nutrients, and there are so many different types of honey to choose from. What about making a pasta dish with tomato and honey sauce? You can make it with a variety of tomatoes, including sweet cherry ones, so that the honey can accentuate the sweetness. Meanwhile, lemon adds restraint so that the sauce isn't too sweet, but also isn't sour either. 

7. Feta

If you don't know that tomatoes and feta and a dynamic duo, then you quite clearly aren't a TikTok fan. Why? A recipe whereby you add a block of feta to an ovenproof dish and surround it with olive-oil-coated cherry tomatoes went viral on the platform. The dish is roasted in the oven so that the tomatoes caramelize and the cheese melts. 

When you swirl around the sweet and salty flavors, you've got a creamy tomato sauce that's beyond moreish. It's perfect with velvety pasta tubes such as rigatoni. Try it yourself with our TikTok feta pasta recipe and prepare to be wowed. Or, what about easy feta-stuffed tomatoes? Roasted in the oven with a cheesy filling, they make a great side dish. Meanwhile, if you prefer a cold dish, you can't beat a grape tomato and crumbly feta cheese salad with a balsamic vinegar and olive oil dressing. 

8. Salt and pepper with olive oil

You don't need any fancy ingredients to give tomatoes unexpected flavor. All you really need is some salt, pepper, and olive oil. Tomatoes are wonderful when thrown into a salad or turned into a sauce, but they are also incredible when they are eaten just as they are. Slice some heirloom or Roma tomatoes, add a glug of olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. You've now got a sensational snack or vibrantly colorful side. If you want a more carby dish, then serve your tomatoes with crackers. 

You can also add the seasoning before the olive oil. Try marinating thick tomato slices in olive oil, salt, and pepper, with other ingredients such as balsamic vinegar and garlic, for a moreish taste. For a hot dish, roast heritage tomatoes with freshly ground black pepper, sea salt, sugar, and olive oil until the skins brown. 

9. Pesto

Basil pesto is an herby, cheesy, nutty flavor bomb that expresses the taste of Italian cuisine with gusto. And there's nothing like it to bring out the true flavor of tomatoes. Pair these two together and it makes tomatoes taste like they have never tasted before. It's like falling in love and everything tastes bolder, brighter, and better. Mamma mia! The simplest way to present these two flavors is on a round of toasted bread, or chop up the tomatoes and combine them with olive oil for a bruschetta. You can even make your own tomato pesto. 

Roast tomato slices with pesto for a hot, savory side. Or follow an intensely flavorful summer pesto pasta salad recipe made with pesto, grape tomatoes, and fusilli. Fresh basil and Parmesan, both of which are in pesto, are also added to enhance the ingredients and contrast with the juiciness of the tomatoes. 

10. Everything bagel seasoning

Everything bagel seasoning combines poppy seeds, sesame seeds, onion, garlic, and salt. On a homemade bagel, it's spectacular, and it's one of the best savory items you should add to monkey bread. But have you ever thought about adding it to tomatoes to bring out some unexpected flavor in the fruit? Possibly not. A great way to enjoy this combo is with an everything bagel tomato tart, and it's super easy to make with a pre-baked pie crust. To give this dish some creaminess, you can also add some goat cheese. 

How delicious does a sweet cherry tomato pizza sound with an everything bagel seasoning crust? You can really combine tomato and seasonings how you like as the contrast in taste and texture is fantastic. What about buying a jar of everything bagel seasoning made with sun-dried tomatoes? It's perfect for adding to frittatas and even popcorn!

11. Parmesan

Tomatoes are versatile, and Parmesan is so tangy and salty that it's pretty much a "yes" with anything. There are plenty of recipes elevated by Parmesan cheese, including tomatoey ones such as creamy tomato risotto. Parmesan on chopped tomatoes served on crispy toasted bread is a must. The cheese enriches the flavor of the tomatoes, and a great way to pair them is to roast tomato halves with Parmesan. When the cheese has browned and softened, they are ready to serve. Roma tomato slices are sublime with Parmesan shavings on a bagel, especially with cream cheese and everything bagel seasoning. 

You can also turn tomatoes into chips. Dry out tomato slices in the oven for a few hours on low heat until nice and crispy. Top with Parmesan cheese and pop under the broiler for a couple of minutes. Let the chips cool and enjoy the cheesy tomato crunch.

12. Herbs

Herbs enhance plenty of different foods, and they certainly complement the savory flavor of tomatoes. They take them to a whole other level of tastiness. A simple tomato salad with basil is refreshingly great. And a homemade tomato sauce with oregano inspires Italian cuisine. What about pan-fried cherry tomatoes with oregano and thyme? 

You've no doubt heard of creamy tomato and basil soup, as it's a classic. But did you know that dill is also a powerful herb that brings out the best in tomato soup? And you can eat it hot or cold. You can even make a tomato and herb dessert. Combine tomato paste and juice with fresh basil to make a sorbet. If you want to make a quick bite for lunch then try a toasted tomato sandwich. Slice a tomato and add it to lightly broiled, buttered sourdough slices with sliced basil leaves and mayonnaise.

13. Pineapple

Salsa is the epitome of a tomato condiment, and it tastes fruitier and juicier when it's turned into a pineapple and tomato salsa. And since both types of fruit are wonderfully sweet, you can go with this flavor profile and add some sugar to make tomato and pineapple jam. A classic combination is the love-it-or-hate-it Hawaiian pizza that comes with cheese, tomato, and ham. If you've never tried a Hawaiian slice, then you're missing out, because the sweetness of the tomatoes is lifted by the tropical fruit. 

Some tomatoes can taste a little bland, perhaps because they aren't heirloom ones in the height of the season. A great tip to revive the sweet acidity of a ripe, tasty tomato is to douse them in some pineapple juice. Don't add too much of the juice though since you want the pineapple to brighten up the flavor of the tomato and not overpower it. 

14. Caramelized onions

You know how onions turn all jammy when they are caramelized? Well, if you add deseeded tomatoes into the mix then they will also turn soft and gooey. The sweetness of both the onion and tomato pairs well, and the jam is delicious when served with a cheese board or a platter of cold cuts. Yum. Caramelized onions with cherry tomatoes are wonderful in pastry cases served as canapes or on a buffet table.

If you'd like to try this combo in a hot dish, then there are lots of options. Caramelized sweet onions and whole cherry tomatoes that have exploded in a skillet are bursting with flavor — literally. Together they make a fabulous pasta dish with basil and Parmesan. Another way to combine cooked onions and tomatoes is to roast the tomatoes and add them to caramelized onions. Goat cheese is perfect to enjoy with this flavorful pairing. 

15. Garlic

It's not so much of a question of what garlic pairs with as much as what it doesn't. Have you ever tasted bread rubbed with garlic and topped with tomatoes? It's a common breakfast or mid-morning snack in Spain that's super popular. You'll know just how important garlic is in lifting the acidity of the tomatoes and making them taste wonderfully savory on the toasted bread. If you want to try to make this yourself, then beefsteak tomatoes are nice and hearty. And the key is to make sure they are ripe. 

Roast slices of tomato with garlic and seasoning, and the tomatoes take on less of a sweet taste while really coming into their own flavor-wise. Garlic is a true flavor enhancer, and that's why it complements so many dishes. Or what about marinating tomatoes in garlic-infused olive oil? This way you'll create savory tomato treats that are sensational.

16. Lemon juice

Tomatoes have a sweet flavor that can sometimes be a little bitter, and definitely acidic. However, they aren't citrus fruits. You might think that a citrus fruit such as lemon would make tomatoes taste sour, but actually, lemon juice gives fresh tomatoes an unexpected flavor. They both add a terrific tartness to a fruity homemade punch, for example. You only need a small amount of lemon juice added to blended tomatoes to transform a simple tomato juice into a thirst-quenching, lively-tasting drink that has just the right amount of tanginess. 

Grilled tomatoes are incredible, as are broiled, roasted, and pan-fried. However, as juicy as they are, they seem to need a citrus blast for the flavor to take off. A simple spritz over hot tomatoes works wonders. It mutes the sweetness so that there's a more balanced taste, and gives tomatoes a refreshing taste that's fresh and dynamic.

17. Strawberries

Out of all the ingredients that will give tomatoes unexpected flavor, strawberries aren't the most obvious. Okay, they are both fruits, and they can be the same size. And, of course, they are both red. They are also both sweet, while tomatoes are acidic and strawberries can be a little tart. It's this coming together of these opposing and complementary flavors that somehow enhances how tomatoes taste, quirky as this sounds.

If you're looking for a recipe idea, then what about making a tomato and strawberry tart? And instead of a bruschetta with pesto, try topping toasted bread with diced grape tomatoes and strawberries. You'll also need other ingredients that pair well, such as garlic, balsamic vinegar, and basil.  A super refreshing dish to make is a tomato and strawberry salad. You can also make tomato and strawberry jam, as well as chilled gazpacho using both of these ingredients.

18. Avocado

It's not just a matter of good taste to serve tomatoes with avocados. Tomatoes contain lycopene which is linked to various well-being benefits such as cardiovascular health and reducing cholesterol (via Well and Good). The high-fat content of avocados allows for better absorption of this antioxidant, and they are also rich in fiber. A delicious and simple way to enjoy the two is a serving of avocado on hot toast with chunky segments cut lengthways. 

Keep the taste fabulously fresh with a tomato and avocado salad. It's bright, bold, and beautiful to look at and packed with flavor. The richness and creaminess of avocado are the perfect contrast to the higher acidic notes of tomatoes creating sweet harmony. Make an avocado salsa or enjoy making a quick and easy guacamole recipe. Because there's less tomato than avocado in this dip, it really pops, and the lime juice and red onion only bring out the flavors even more. 

19. Red wine vinegar

An underripe tomato can taste bland, which isn't great if you want to use them in a dish as they are, or even if you want to cook them and make a tomato sauce. One great tip to know about is adding an ingredient that will give fresh tomatoes an unexpected flavor: red wine vinegar. You don't need a lot, just a little drizzle on your tomatoes, and a pinch of sugar helps, too. This won't ripen the tomatoes, but it will improve the taste no end by enhancing the sweetness. 

Create spicy, sweet tomatoes by marinating wedges in red wine vinegar. You'll need some herbs, spices, and other seasonings, but it's the sour vinegary quality that turns them into a sweet snack or side. However you make a tomato sauce, add a dash of red wine vinegar as it adds a tantalizing zing that's incredibly tasty.

20. Salt and sugar

If you buy heirloom tomatoes or some gorgeous-looking vine-on tomatoes from a farmers market in the summer, you are probably in for a treat. The tomatoes likely taste juicy and burst with tomatoey flavor. Out of season, or if a tomato just isn't quite ripe enough, there might only be a subtle hint of a tomato's full flavor potential. If tomatoes lack some oomph, one of the best ways you can tease out the taste is also one of the simplest: all you need is a sprinkling of salt and sugar.

Salt is a natural flavor enhancer, so it makes sense to use it with tomatoes. With cut tomatoes, it draws out the juices, which is perfect if a tomato isn't ripe and is a bit hard. The sugar adds to this by giving the fruit some much-needed sweetness. Together they create a juicy, sweet taste that wouldn't have been there naturally. 

21. Hot water

The USDA has reported findings that dunking not-quite-ripe tomatoes in warm water can help better the flavor. The advice was aimed at tomato suppliers to heat-treat the fruit before storing them at chilled temperatures. However, if you've got some green tomatoes, you could try this yourself as it seems the heat helps enhance the flavor as they ripen. This also works on tomatoes that are just changing color.

For already-ripe tomatoes, dropping them in boiling water to help remove the skins can also make them tastier.  While tomatoes are naturally sweet, they can taste bitter, and this taste is found in the skin. By getting rid of these you're also discarding the toughness of a tomato, which means you can create tomatoey dishes which don't have this harder texture in them. Cut a cross on top of a tomato before dunking it so that the heat can penetrate. 

22. Worcestershire Sauce

Sweet, salty, tangy Worcestershire sauce gives food an umami hit, and it tastes as if it always was meant to be paired with tomatoes. They go so well that Lea & Perrins even brought out a Tomato & Worcester Table Sauce. Blended Roma tomatoes with Worcestershire sauce makes a mean smoky ketchup that is way more flavorful than what you buy at the store. You can also turn grape tomatoes into a pan-fried toast topping with the help of a Worcestershire sauce-flavored chutney.

Perhaps the most well-known combination of tomatoes and Worcestershire sauce has to be a cocktail classic: the Bloody Mary. What makes this iconic brunchtime drink so different is that it's full of salty, spicy tomatoey flavors. You can also make your own juice for your cocktail from fresh tomatoes. While Worcestershire sauce isn't the only ingredient — there's vodka, Sriracha, and horseradish, too — this celery-stalk adorned tomato concoction wouldn't be the same without it.