color in tomato is the most important external characteristic to assess ripeness and postharvest life, and is a major factor in the consumer's purchase decision. degree of ripening is usually estimated by color charts. colorimeters, on the other hand, express colors in numerical terms along the l*, a* and b* axes (from white to black, green to red and blue to yellow, respectively) within the cielab color sphere which are usually mathematically combined to calculate the color indexes. color indexes and their relationship to the visual color classification of tomato fruits vine ripened were compared. l*, a* and b* data (175 observations from eleven cultivars) from visually classified fruits at harvest in six ripening stages according to the usda were used to calculate hue, chroma, color index, color difference with pure red, a*/b* and (a*/b*)2. anova analysis were performed and means compared by duncan's mrt. color changes throughout tomato ripening were the result of significant changes in the values of l*, a* and b*. under the conditions of this study, hue, color index, color difference and a*/b* expressed essentially the same, and the color categories were significantly different in terms of human perception, with hue showing higher range of values. chroma was not a good parameter to express tomato ripeness, but could be used as a good indicator of consumer acceptance when tomatoes are fully ripened. the (a*/b*)2 relationship had the same limitations as chroma. for vine ripened fruits, hue, color index, color difference and a*/b* could be used as objective ripening indexes. it would be interesting to find out what the best index would be if ripening took place under inadequate conditions of temperature and ilumination.