Freaky Fruits: Seeds Sprouting Inside Tomato

This article by Tammy Clayton, Senior Editor of Garden Culture Magazine is republished here from Issue 4 where it appeared under the title, “Freaky Tomatoes”.

In almost every case, the tomatoes were store-bought. One woman found the seeds inside a cherry tomato all germinated. She planted one in a pot out of curiosity.

The thing grew 10 individual main stems! I had this happen with homegrown tomatoes a couple of years ago. There was no cold storage. The fresh-picked tomatoes got tossed within days. Other gardeners have had this happen too, but not with heirloom varieties, to my knowledge.

Are they Frankenmatoes with fish or frog genes in them? Nope. Sources report transgenic genetically engineered (GE) tomato varieties are history. In fact, no new GE tomatoes have been released since 2000 due to regulation difficulties, among other complexities. It does, however, have to do with genetics… and mutants.

A number of hybridized crops suffer from this precocious germination or ‘viviparous’ tendency. An occasional oddball seed that defies the status quo sounds reasonable. But a whole fruit full? Several tomatoes on a stem cluster? How about most or all of your harvest! That ain’t natural. It’s defective.

Seeds Sprouting Inside Tomato – Not From Cold Storage!

Where did the natural germination inhibitors go? (Courtesy of Chris & Christina Currie)

The cause is hormonal imbalance. Low levels of ABA (abscisic acid), a phytohormone that regulates seed development. Some tomato varieties are more prone to this viviparous activity. Which ones are they? The pretty ones that stay edible in lengthy cold storage, and then in your fridge for weeks after purchase. Bred to stay ripe without aging – a.k.a. Long Shelf Life.

Vivipary was very common with early processing tomatoes bred for one-time destructive machine harvesting. Truss, or cluster types, and cherry tomatoes you buy at the grocery store out of season will all be long shelf life varieties. Long shelf life tomatoes, if picked at the right semi-mature stage and gassed, can remain ‘fresh’ 3-4 months after harvest. Ripened on the plant, they have one month of shelf life – max.


While the skin and meat don’t age, the seed continues to mature using the sugars available inside the fruit. The most extreme viviparous tendencies are seen in rin mutant tomatoes that mature, but don’t ripen or rot.

What’s a rin mutant? A salad ornament. It’s bright red and looks good, but has crunch and no flavor. Sound familiar? It has to do with a mutant gene. One that inhibits ripening. Rin mutant hybrids ship better. The store has less loss. They like them. Eaters… not so much.

The rin gene controls the ripening process. In 2002 Cornell University located the gene in tomato DNA. Scientists are working on building a juicy GE tomato. Garden fresh tomato flavor that will ship thousands of miles, and store for months. Fat chance. Juiciness, soft garden fresh texture, and flavor is what makes a real tomato unshippable.

If you cut open a tomato – store-bought or homegrown – and find seeds that are germinating inside… do not eat germinating seeds! Tomatoes are a member of the nightshade family. The fruits are edible, the plant is not, no matter how small it is.

Were the tomatoes out of your garden or some you bought at the store? If you did grow them, it might be in your best interests as a gardener not to grow that variety again. It might also be wise to pay closer attention to the seed’s catalog listing. A firm tomato with great storage isn’t something you want from a homegrown tomato. Breeding that commercial growers find beneficial is known to find it’s way into home gardening seeds too. Just one more reason that heirloom varieties are preferable.

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  • Anne Waters says:

    I currently have three of these Franken Tomato’s all from the same batch, I have grown tomato’s for many years and when I was a kid my Mom grew Tomato’s I have never seen anything like this I wonder what would happen if you planted them?

  • Anthony says:

    I look ahead to more similar postings like this one. For my level the examples are very useful. Thank you for sharing this information !!!

  • Kay says:

    Loved your article! So glad someone sent it to me after Posting photos of plants growing right through the skin! It is so freaky! Of course I potted up the seedlings, can’t wait to see what kind of mutants will grow from them. DO NOT EAT these tomatos, no one knows what they could do to your health in the future. You do not want to be an agriculture industry guinea pig. I know I don’t .

  • Jeff says:

    I have found sprouts in tomatoes from time to time. I ate them anyway. No negative effects on my digestive system or anything else. I kinda like them that way. The sprouts tasted more like a tomato than the tomato.

  • Shirley says:

    So Tammy, I’m kinda confused here! When this happens to your tomato, the sprouts are “not” good? Right? So if you did plant them would they grow tomatoes? Would they be edible? Poisonous or nutritious?
    Thank you extremely interesting

  • N johns says:

    This is crazy! I just had three tomatoes this happened with! I thought they were worms growing along the surface. Sliced it in half a poof, a garden inside. They were labeled organic from a very large natural super market that will remain unnamed.

    • Tammy Clayton says:

      I have to agree with you on it being crazy. I don’t think it matters what store you buy tomatoes from. It has to do with the breeding of the cultivars preferred by commercial tomato growers. If you look, you’ll find that no matter who grew them, your options in the produce department is limited to less than a dozen tomato types. They finish fast, ship well, and have a long shelf life… viviparous tendencies aren’t important. However, looking great in the store and your fridge for longer than is normal is of big interest to distributors and retailers.

    • emily says:

      I’ve had this happen in several varieties of heirloom tomatoes that were grown together (maybe a result of cross breeding?) and not only tomatoes. Viviparous behavior can also be seen in other plants in the tomato/potato/nightshade family, such as peppers and eggplant, though it is not as common. Other plants that are in completely different families, such as apple and citrus, have been known to do this on occasion as well. Although I can understand where you are coming from on this, seed germination inside the fruit does necessarily mean that there is anything wrong with the seeds or the fruit. It could simply be due to the longer shelf life of the fruit giving the appearance that the seeds have germinated early, when in fact it is normal given the conditions the seeds are in. Say you took a plant from a time before they were mass produced and compared it to the varieties grown today, with both plants being grown in the same conditions. The seeds would have the same hormones and would mature at similar rates. By the the time the seeds mature, the flesh of the fruit of the older variety would be long gone, while on the modern variety, it would still seem relatively fresh. In addition to that, the warm moist interior of the fruit is providing the perfect conditions to trigger the germination process.

    • Emily says:

      Forgot to mention:
      The tomatoes that this happened to for me were ones that had been knocked off the vine while still green.
      In response to an earlier comment, even organic tomatoes will sometimes have a longer shelf life because they are picked while still green. (this is why most store bought produce tastes much more bland than garden picked; they are no longer able to receive nutrients from the plant)

    • Tammy Clayton says:

      Standard commercially grown tomatoes available in stores don’t just taste bland because they were picked green. Think about it. Tomatoes that fell of the vine in your garden or get harvested to save them from frost have far more flavor than the retail version. The reason for this is your garden tomatoes are bred for flavor and commercial varieties are bred for fast fruit set and development, longer shelf life, and better firmness for transport. They only care about less loss in storage and longer quality in the cooler – not flavor.

      Yes, any tomato picked green has a longer shelf life – it hasn’t ripened yet. They do so more slowly not attached to the plant, which is why they have a longer shelf life. However, once they ripen, they jump into going bad rapidly. And yes, you could have a good point that picking them green triggers this, because the length of time detached from the mother is already X amount of days. Vegetables do track time even after harvest, scientific studies recently discovered this.

    • Tammy Clayton says:

      I’ve grown a lot of different tomatoes in my garden over the years. Both modern hybrids and heirlooms. This only happened once from fruits I grew – hybrid Lemon Boys. The odd genetic flub-up in any life form is possible, yes, but this isn’t that kind of thing. It’s becoming rampant in retail tomatoes.

      Additionally, there is something wrong with such a tomato – it’s filled with non-edible seedlings! A bit toxic, not to mention that after you’ve scooped out all the seeds, there’s not much left of the tomato.

  • Igor says:

    They don’t taste good – tossed. And they look weird, never seen anything like this in my life although I ate tomatoes sitting for very long time on numerous occasions, now and many years before GMO.

    • Tammy Clayton says:

      I have to agree with you, Igor, the flavor of the tomato is destroyed when this happens. Though I didn’t discover this but by accident, biting into one full of sprouts unaware of the alien behavior happening beneath the skin. But it’s not connected to GMOs – there are no genetically modified tomatoes on the market… at least not last time I checked!

  • Brittany says:

    I bought organic tomatoes (always do) and they had these tiny sprouts in them. In fact, they usually do. I eat them every time and have yet to have a problem. I think you are making a bigger deal of this than necessary.

    • Tammy Clayton says:

      It never occurred to you that there was something wrong with your tomatoes? If the abnormality doesn’t bother you, enjoy your weird fruits. Do, however, keep in mind that the plant parts of the tomato are not edible and poisonous. And those seeds sprouting inside your tomatoes are definitely tomato roots.

  • Barbara says:

    Yes, this just happened to me today. I freaked out and immediately took pictures and described them the same way. They look like bean sprouts. This is not normal. If it lacks a hormone, as you say, then what replaced it, as in the halide stack, iodine is replaced with fluorine, bromine, etc because of the count? Does that make sense? Also, what happens if I did put a slice on my BLT today and ate it. I picked a part that didn’t have as many sprouts in it, nonetheless, I did eat it. I’m curious Also, same reactions with reference to experienced cooks..had never seen it before. I purchased this on April 5 and they’ve been on my counter for appx a month. Also, this is in Alaska, if that makes any difference. Most of the produce comes from the Northwest states, I believe.

    • Tammy Clayton says:

      Hello Barbara,

      It’s highly unsettling isn’t it? I love how some ‘experts’ on different sites tell concerned people that it’s from cold storage or totally normal… it’s anything but normal!

      I’m not sure what replaces the hormone in the stack, though some diligent digging through scientific papers may answer that. Googling ‘rin mutant’ and ‘viviparous’ is a good way to start locating leads to specific information on this. Perhaps ‘ABA deficient tomatoes’ too.

      However, you had tomatoes already shipped long distance on your counter for a month?! Sounds like they fall into the rin mutant category, because its my experience that a ripe tomato will only last a week or two on the counter – even less in the heat of summer (without air conditioning).

      It’s interesting hearing that Alaska gets its produce from the NW states. Everything I’ve ever read on the state of fresh fruits and veggies in AK says they come from California and Mexico, taking up to 1 month to arrive after harvest.

      P.S… I was too afraid to eat those tomatoes! Every scrap hit the trash – wasn’t very comfortable about adding them to the compost pile either.

    • Debbie says:

      Hi Tammy and Barbara,

      I was reading your post and wanted to say, this has happened to me the last few times I have purchased tomatoes @ a certain grocery/superstore. I was telling someone yesterday that I don’t think I will be purchasing my maters at this store again since the last few times I have done this, my MATERS have long whitish squiggly things inside the fruit.

      I have never seen this before and it kinda freaked me out. Since these tasty ( most of the time ) little fruits cost so much I hated to throw them out, they looked pretty on the outside so I decided to dig all the little unwanted critters out and just eat the outer part. Well, that didn’t work at all, there was not much left and then what was left was not to the liking.

      I do know that this certain store gets most all of their produce from California and Mexico so this may be the same farmers that supply Alaska. Just worth considering if maybe the stores that are selling these are getting them from the same supplier.

      Tammy, I appreciate your info regarding this tomato injustice, and will be on the lookout for future “mater”critters. I am going to be watching to see if it keeps happening from the same supplier/ store. Maybe we can help put a stop to this by letting the stores that sell this variety know that this is happening way to often. They may or may not care about our future business.

      I want my tomato to be a tomato that I can eat, and I want the whole thing not just icky pieces of what looks like a tomato.

      Thanks again for helping me gain insight to my weird tomato experience.

    • Serena Sayers says:

      Hi Debbie,

      Thanks for sharing your story with us! 🙂

  • jim says:

    So i bought some tomatoes on the vine about a week ago. Planned on taco salad tonight sliced open my tomatoes which looked beautiful on the outside, however, on the inside it was an entire garden going on. Looked like bean sprouts and the tomato was completely full. I picked up the phone and called my mother who has been cooking for 50 years, her response was what the hell. She has never seen this or even heard about it. Now I am not a big conspiracy nut but common sense tells me that if a cook of 50 years has not seen or heard of this something is going on. They should have to label everything that is GMO in my opinion. I am going to follow this thread and i hope that there is some good comments to follow.

    • Garden Culture Team says:

      Hi Jim,

      It’s not a GMO thing – though like you and many others, that was my initial suspicion. As stated in the article, it’s caused by a hormonal imbalance, and/or a mutant gene. (Yes, plants have hormones too!) Perhaps the tired soil on commercial tomato farms is so depleted of natural biology that it makes this hormone issue increasingly common. It’s also possible that the determinate varieties (all ripening at once) are highly prone to this premature germination have become more pronounced through breeding for other desirable traits.

  • Bob says:

    This piece is unjustifiably alarmist. Of course tomatoes sprout from their fruit! That’s what a fruit does. An organic homegrown heirloom will certainly sprout. And given the right conditions, it will sprout before the fruit rots. Your anecdotal evidence of a recent change is unresearched and your conclusion is incorrect. What has changed is indoor humidity control and cleanliness. That allows people who know how to keep tomatoes tasty (i.e., not in the fridge) to leave them out on the counter for months without rotting. If the skin is intact, they take weeks to even show signs of drying. As for health effects, unless you are allergic, the quantity of tomatine in a few sprouts is negligibly small – at the sprout stage, little or no more than the tomato itself already contained.

    Relax, they’re not after you. There are three big reasons that our healthy lifespans have doubled in the last 200 years. Hygiene, vaccines, and food safety. No amount of paranoid nonsense can beat the proof in the pudding. 🙂

    • Garden Culture Team says:

      Actually, Bob, a vine ripened tomato will not last for months on the counter without spoiling unless the variety was bred to do so for shipping and storage purposes. And there is nothing in the article about ‘tomatine’ or it presenting the possibility of harm if eaten.

      This behavior in tomatoes is alarming to people. They think it is some GMO reaction. But as you know, if you read the whole article, vivapary is weird tomato behavior caused by natural mutation, though it is very common in tomatoes bred for the commercial food system’s world wide shipping and long storage preferences.


Tammy Clayton

Contributing Writer at Garden Culture Magazine

Tammy has been immersed in the world of plants and growing since her first job as an assistant weeder at the tender age of 8. Heavily influenced by a former life as a landscape designer and nursery owner, she swears good looking plants follow her home.