Despite being summer when fresh tomatoes are at their best, I suspect every one of us has canned tomatoes and tomato products in our pantry right now. If you don’t, email me and let me know why not. For the rest of us, we probably have at least some (if not all) of the following: whole tomatoes, diced tomatoes, fire-roasted tomatoes, tomato puree, tomato paste and tomato sauce. These products are the subject of this Cooking Tip.
- You can turn whole tomatoes into almost any other tomato product whereas diced tomatoes cannot be magically transformed into whole tomatoes.
- Whole tomatoes come packed either in juice or puree, giving you more choice. She recommends packed in juice if you want a fresher tomato flavor and packed in puree for a deeper tomato flavor.
- Diced tomatoes have calcium chloride added, which helps the diced tomatoes retain their shape. This may be what you want in a salsa but whole tomatoes will cook down better. Most American whole tomatoes also have calcium chloride added but Cooks Illustrated found that it mostly acts near the surface, leaving the interior very tender. You can find whole tomatoes without calcium chloride but you will need to look at the Italian imports. I looked at the whole tomato products at my normal market. They carried their own store brands, Muir Glen, Hunts and Kuner’s. The only one that did not have calcium chloride was a higher-end store brand. Although my store didn’t carry them, the Cento brand does not have calcium chloride listed as an ingredient. A quick perusal of Amazon showed that if you want to stay away from calcium chloride, imported is going to be your choice.
- No seasoning is added, thus giving you more control over the seasoning in your dish. Tomato sauce and stewed tomatoes are going to have a number of things added to them. If you have looked on your grocer’s tomato shelf, it is getting even harder to find any diced tomatoes without some added seasoning.
What about substituting one type of canned tomatoes for another? For example, if your recipe calls for diced, will your can of whole tomatoes work? It depends – if you want the tomatoes to hold their shape, whole tomatoes will not do this well. If you do not care about the shape/texture, feel free to substitute. Another caution about substituting is to remember that some of these canned products contain added seasonings, which you may or may not want in your dish.
I’m sure most of you have heard that the best tomatoes are San Marzano, the name coming from the region of Italy where they are grown from specific seeds. Today, you can find tomatoes grown elsewhere from the same seeds. Cooks Illustrated did a taste test and found they did not live up to the hype. If you want to read their entire results, here is a link although you will need a membership to view it. For purposes of this Cooking Tip, I will tell you that they preferred Muir Glen, an American brand that was very acidic with a high sugar content. Their runner-up was Hunt’s. Serious Eats agreed that the San Marzano designation wasn’t necessarily a winner. Their preference was for Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. Finally, just to show you how much an individual’s taste matters, a taste test from TheKitchn put Cento at the top, Muir Glen at #3 and Trader Joe’s last at #9. Who do you agree with? San Marzano or not? Let me know.
Tomato products are one of those pantry staples that are a boon to a cook. With this Cooking Tip, I hope you will take a minute to read labels to ensure you get the right product for your dish. Happy Tomato Cooking!