What Is Tomato Relish?

Caitlynn Lowe

Tomato relish is a chunky, mild condiment made from garden tomatoes, herbs, spices, and small amounts of diced vegetables. The texture is similar to salsa, but the taste is generally milder and closer to that of ketchup. This condiment is not commonly found in stores, but homemade versions are popular among gardeners and home cooks. Green tomato relish, also called "chow chow," is a specific type of this relish usually made toward the end of a tomato harvest.

Hot dogs, which are often served with tomato relish.
Hot dogs, which are often served with tomato relish.

The taste of tomato relish ranges from sweet to savory to tangy depending on the recipe used. Every recipe starts with a tomato base, but some cooks may use small cherry tomatoes, which have a naturally sweet flavor, while others prefer less sweet varieties, such as plum or beefsteak tomatoes. The type of tomato not only influences the taste of the relish, but the texture of the relish, as well. A juicier variety of tomato will create a relish with more liquid, while a meatier type will produce a chunkier, less runny condiment.

Jalapeno peppers can give a spicy kick to tomato relish.
Jalapeno peppers can give a spicy kick to tomato relish.

Other ingredients used for the tomato relish also determine the final taste and texture of the condiment. Onions and bell peppers are among the most commonly used garden vegetables found in tomato relish recipes. Some cooks may even use jalapenos or other chili peppers if they desire a little heat in their relish. Most cooks also use some type of vinegar, but the amount of vinegar helps to determine how tangy and runny the condiment will be. White or brown sugar are common additions, as well.

Tomato relish is a chunky condiment made from tomatoes and herbs.
Tomato relish is a chunky condiment made from tomatoes and herbs.

Cooks vary the spices and herbs they use based on how they want the relish to taste. Garlic, bay leaves, parsley, salt, and pepper are popular in tomato relishes that have a savory to spicy taste. Individuals who prefer sweeter relishes may instead use ginger, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and nutmeg.

Red bell peppers can be included when making chow chow.
Red bell peppers can be included when making chow chow.

Personal preference usually determines the desired taste and texture, but some cooks may alter the recipe depending on what they plan to use the relish for. This condiment is commonly substituted in place of ketchup on hot dogs, hamburgers, and other sandwiches. In these instances, a thicker relish with less liquid helps reduce the sogginess of the bread. Sogginess is less of a factor when using the condiment as a topping for meatloaf, steak, roasted poultry, or cooked potatoes.

Green tomatoes can be used to make a sour tasting tomato relish.
Green tomatoes can be used to make a sour tasting tomato relish.

Green tomato relish is a specific variation of this condiment typically made at the start of autumn, toward the end of tomato harvest. As the weather gets colder, some tomatoes will never fully ripen. Gardeners who do not wish to let these green tomatoes go to waste often use them in "chow chow," a chunky relish flavored with onions, bell peppers, brown sugar, vinegar, and salt. Green tomatoes have a more sour taste than ripe red tomatoes, so green tomato relish is among the tangier varieties.

Robust tomato salsa is a very popular type of tomato relish.
Robust tomato salsa is a very popular type of tomato relish.

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Discussion Comments

serenesurface

I think that sweet tomatoes work much better for tomato relish and sweet red onions instead of white. I actually like keeping my tomato relish fairly simple without too many ingredients or spices. In my opinion, if the tomatoes and onions are flavorful, there isn't much else needed.

SteamLouis

@fBoyle-- Actually, I've kept tomato relish for a week before and it didn't go bad. I'm not sure how long it can ultimately last, but if it is vinegar based, then it should be fine for some time, especially when it's refrigerated. In fact, I think that keeping the relish for a few days in the fridge actually makes it taste better. The flavors really come together and the relish thickens. I prefer to have mine a few days after I make it.

If you are leaving out the vinegar for some reason and don't use any sugar, then it might not last as long. These two ingredients help preserve the rest.

fBoyle

I like my tomato relish spicy. So I always make it with jalapeno peppers. It makes an excellent dip when combined with cream cheese or another type of soft cheese. I serve it with crackers or tortilla chips for house events all the time. It's so good that it's always the first appetizer finished.

It doesn't take too long to make it but it does require some preparation and planning with the ingredients. I like making my own relish but I only make enough for an event because it doesn't last too long.

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