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Canned Tomatoes are Fine


Naftal
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Yes, it is true. If vine-rippened tomatos are not available, everyone says canned are good. But which brand do you like, and why?

"As life's pleasures go, food is second only to sex.Except for salami and eggs...Now that's better than sex, but only if the salami is thickly sliced"--Alan King (1927-2004)

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I honestly like the cheapest generic product I can find. They aren't as pretty as the brand names but I don't buy them for visual appeal.

SB (plus, they're cheap!) :wink:

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i'm pretty picky. i really like progresso crushed--they cook up into a nice thick sauce pretty quickly. i'm not so thrilled with their whole tomatoes. and to tell the truth, after tasting a lot of different "san marzano" canned tomatoes, i haven't found one that has better flavor or texture than the progresso.

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I agree with Russ on the San Marzanos being hit and miss (even the DOP's). They are a lot more expensive for questionable improvement in taste.

I prefer to buy the whole plum (usually italian) from my local Italian deli. Like wine or any seasonal product they tend to change a lot from one year to the next so I ask what they are liking at the moment.

Right now the Angelo brand of Plum Tomatoes are very nice and not too pricy but they may be hard to find in every market. For the price (always well under $2-28oz. can) I like to buy two or three brands and try them out and then stock up on the one I like best.

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When I'm loading up on provisions at Restaurant Depot, I often toss in big can of "Full Red/Stanislaus" Filetto di Pomodoro. Those do the trick in probably 90% recipes in my repertoire - including, amazingly, gazpacho.

Rich Westerfield

Mt. Lebanon, PA

Drinking great coffee makes you a better lover.

There is no scientific data to support this conclusion, but try to prove otherwise. Go on. Try it. Right now.

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S&W brand is my choice. Either the pre-diced, or the whole ones that I crush up by hand. They may be a regional brand to the West Coast, though. I do know that they are a California-based grower's cooperative.

Totally agree that the San Marzanos aren't worth the cost & hassle of finding them. IIRC, America's Test Kitchen said basically the same thing in one of the episodes I saw over this last weekend.

--Roberta--

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Ahhhh, S&W! Makes me miss California all over again. I never got a stinker can of those. Here, I've started using Master's Choice (the A&P brand), and like them almost as much as Progresso.

I used to do a lot of work for Combi-Bloc, and used their Pomi's for years and years. Not canned, of course, but I wonder if anyone else could taste the difference.

"Oh, tuna. Tuna, tuna, tuna." -Andy Bernard, The Office
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I prefer the Pomi chopped tomatoes to anything else. I've gone through a learning curve with them, starting from a point where I didn't like them at all, then buying them occasionally, then mostly, and now exclusively. When you're accustomed to the taste of canned tomatoes, Pomi tomatoes taste wrong. A lot of people perceive them as flavorless by comparison, as I did at first. But the reason for that is the lack of salt. It's not until you season the Pomi tomatoes properly that you really start to see their superiority. You need to use a generous amount of salt, not just a few shakes from a salt shaker, because first you have to get them to the level of salt that canned tomatoes have (yeah, they have a lot), and then you have to get them to the level of salt that canned tomatoes have after you'd season them for cooking. That's when the Pomi tomatoes reveal all their fresh, sweet, clean flavor. You also have to cook the Pomi tomatoes less than you'd cook canned tomatoes, in order to preserve that freshness, and you want to make sure not to junk up your sauce with tons of dried herbs, tomato paste, etc. After awhile, once you get used to having very fresh tasting tomato sauce all year round, it's hard to go back to canned.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I have been using the bionaturae organic tomatoes that I get at Whole Foods. They are not cheap ($2/14 oz. can). However, every month or two they seem to go on-sale at $1/14 oz. can. That's when I stock up.

"the only thing we knew for sure about henry porter was that his name wasn't henry porter" : bob

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I'm a fan of Progresso whole peeled tomatoes - but the ingredients have to show tomato juice, not the ones with tomato puree...I used to seed them and still do for certain uses, but lately I've been just crushing them up in my hands and haven't noticed much of a difference.

FG - thanks for that tip - I've always thought the Pomi just didn't quite get the flavor profile I liked, but I'll give them another try.

And if you can figure out can coding, especially for products like the DOP San Marzanos, the ones packed later in the season are usually riper and sweeter than the ones packed earlier in the year.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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Cento whole Italian Plum Tomatoes (not the ones marked San Marzanos that are $2 more a can...but the regular ones)

I grew up in Providence RI these are the tomatoes my Italian food mentors swore by when I was a kid trying to figure out how these wonderful foods were made. all around me ..one time I went into my favorite bakery in North Providence and begged the woman who's family owned it to tell me how to make her sauce that she sold in tontainers in the fridg and put on her strips of Pizza ...I just could not get enough of them growing up

so after she yelled at me "what you think I want to give up all my good business you give me by giving you my secrets???" I argued and begged until finally she laughed and confided in me Cento was the only brand she would use and then told me exactly how to make her 15 min marinara ..drilled it into me that you must . "always crush the tomatoes with your hands never with that mechanical machine you hear me!!!!???? and never skimp on the olive oil ..when you think the pan has enough add some more! "

so to this day I only buy Cento ... buy it a case at a time.to make sure I never run out! .. and always crush the tomatoes with my hands never a "mechanical machine!" and never ever skimp on the olive oil!!!

it is a very nostalgic tomato for me!

Edited by hummingbirdkiss (log)
why am I always at the bottom and why is everything so high? 

why must there be so little me and so much sky?

Piglet 

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I tend to buy Le Valle DOP San Marzano tomatoes at Fairway, where I can get them fairly inexpensively. I find these to be sweeter and less acidic than most other brands.

I like to buy whole tomatoes rather than crushed. It gives me the option to decide what texture I would like, and I think they're higher quality than the tomatoes that go into the crushed product (which afaik is usually thickened with tomato paste).

How much difference the quality and nature of the tomatoes make depends tremendously on what you do with them. Using tomato sauce as an example, it makes a big difference in a simple sauce of tomato and butter but not so much differnce in a sauce that includes softened garlic, onion, carrot and celery plus some herbs.

--

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I have used just about everything that is readily available in grocery stores, the OutPost Coop and my local Italian grocery.

I have found a line of products put out by Pastene http://www.pastene.com/ that ranged from San Marzano w/basil to Calif w/basil to Calif crushed as well as paste. The quality has been excellent and has allowed me to evaluate San Marzano against other USA products from one producer. I can say that the San Marzano makes the best sauce, whether it is worth the $2 price increase per can is up to the individual. Usually the San Marzano is used for pasta dishes with the Calif w/basil for pizza and the regular for stews etc.

The cheap tomatoes I have used invariably are tart and without a lot of flavor.

-Dick

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Cento whole Italian Plum Tomatoes (not the ones marked San Marzanos  that are $2 more a can...but the regular ones)

I grew up in Providence RI these are the tomatoes my Italian food mentors swore by when I was a kid trying to figure out how these wonderful foods were made. all around me ..one time I went into my favorite  bakery in North Providence and begged the woman who's family owned it to tell me how to make her sauce that she sold in tontainers in the fridg and put on her strips of Pizza ...I just could not get enough of them growing up

so after she yelled at me "what you think I want to give up all my good business  you give me by giving you my secrets???" I argued and begged until finally she laughed and confided in me Cento was the only brand she would use and then told me exactly how to make her 15 min marinara ..drilled it into me that  you must . "always crush the tomatoes with your hands never with that mechanical machine you hear me!!!!???? and never skimp on the olive oil ..when you think the pan has enough add some more! " 

so to this day I only buy Cento ... buy it a case at a time.to make sure I never run out! .. and always crush the tomatoes with my hands never a "mechanical machine!" and never ever skimp on the olive oil!!!

it is a very nostalgic tomato for me!

you and slkinsey raise an interesting point: is it better to buy whole tomatos and then crush or dice them as required, or is it better to buy them crushed, etc? or do some of you think this really is a secondary issue? :hmmm:

"As life's pleasures go, food is second only to sex.Except for salami and eggs...Now that's better than sex, but only if the salami is thickly sliced"--Alan King (1927-2004)

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I have tried many different brands and have found the Red Gold whole tomatoes to be the most flavorful. They may only be sold in the midwest as they are from Indiana.

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I like my tomatoes acidic actually and I found the Cento San Marzano (along with other brands of San Marzano) to be favorful but really expensive and a bit too sweet...

I prefer whole ones because that lady at the bakery I love yelled at me to always buy them whole and because .I love what she makes so why question it? ..and really....I like to control my texture and thickness in my sauces

why am I always at the bottom and why is everything so high? 

why must there be so little me and so much sky?

Piglet 

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Muir Glen-I get the fire roasted for some Mexican dishes, regular for most things.

Though I have been succumbing more and more to the Whole Foods brand. $1.09 for 32oz, $1.29 for organic.

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you and slkinsey raise an interesting point: is it better to buy whole tomatos and then crush or dice them as required, or is it better to buy them crushed, etc? or do some of you think this really is a secondary issue? :hmmm:

There are several factors here:

First, when you start with whole tomatoes, you can determine the texture of the finished product depending on how you want to treat the tomatoes. Significantly, you have the option of keeping out the seeds (just cut the tomatoes in half and squeeze out into a fine strainer).

Second, when you are in the business of making canned tomato products, you go through a selection process. It's not like the same tomatoes are going into the canned whole tomatoes and tomato paste. The best tomatoes are going to be kept whole, and the lesser-quality ones are going to find their way into the other products. I've never found a crushed tomato product that is comparable in quality to whole tomatoes I run through the coarse disk of my food mill (although, as I wrote above, this difference can be masked by the use of other strong flavors such as garlic, onion, herbs, sausage, etc.).

Third, it's not like canned crushed tomatoes are nothing more than whole tomatoes that are crushed. Rather, they take some ground tomato pulp and mix it into a base made of tomato paste. This is something I'd rather do myself.

--

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There's a lot to what Sam says. My take on it is slightly different. First, since I strain my tomatoes through a food mill, the seeds come out no matter whether they are chopped or whole. As to the best tomatoes going to whole, that's true but only in a cosmetic sense. And since only the firmest tomatoes are likely to remain whole after going through the picking/packing process, I think a lot of what is sorted out as damaged are the riper tomatoes. if you've ever seen a commercial tomato harvest, it's really something--picking a huge skip loader mounded with tomatoes (the way you tell the difference between fresh and canning is that the canning are the only ones that are red).

This isn't to say that if you prefer the flavor of the whole tomato brand you're buying, that you shouldn't stick with it. it's just the reasoning. Also, I think we can agree that both crushed and whole are better than tomato puree.

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Russ, I agree that a lot of what gets sorted out must be the softer/riper (and therefore better-flavored) tomatoes. But, of course, a lot of what gets sorted out must also be the not-ripe-enough tomatoes that aren't good enough for sale as fresh, etc. I have to believe that the average quality of tomatoes used for crushed tomatoes is lower than those used for whole by the same canner. But this may not be true 100% of the time or for 100% of tomato canners. I'd probably be a lot more up on using crushed tomatoes if they were actually mostly crushed tomato and didn't include a significant addition of tomato paste, which only serves to further lower the average quality of the tomatoes in the can.

--

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fair enough. but just for the record, there is no crossover between fresh and canning tomato markets. it's not a matter of a selection of which tomato will go to which, they are separate varieties grown, harvested, packed and shipped separately.

Also, my cans of Progresso crushed say there is puree added, which is raw juice, not paste, which has been cooked and reduced. You may well object to either. I obviously have no problem with added puree.

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I am especially fond of Trader Joe's store-brand whole peeled Roma tomatoes--especially the low-sodium variant. I like to be the one to decide both the texture and the salt content of the tomatoes in my recipes. And the price is excellent for the quality.

I also tend to stock up on "generic" whole canned tomatoes whenever I see them on special. For everyday long-simmered dishes they do just fine as far as I'm concerned. By the way, I'm intrigued to hear that DOP San Marzanos are not necessarily "all that." I keep looking at them in the store and being repelled by sticker shock. :laugh:

Speaking of which, I did not know that Pomi has a lower salt content than other canned/packaged/etc. tomatoes--that's a plus as far as I'm concerned. I'll start keeping an eye out for sales of them now.

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Pomi tomatoes have no salt added at all. There's only one ingredient: tomatoes. You can get them chopped (aka "Parmalat Pomi chopped tomatoes") or strained (aka "Parmalat Pomi strained tomatoes"). I imagine the strained product has no seeds but I've never used it. Many years ago, they also sold whole tomatoes in the same packaging, but today the only choice is chopped or strained. So at least within the brand there's no superior selection being made for a whole tomato product. I don't know if, when you list tomatoes as your only ingredient, you're allowed to add paste, juice or whatever -- I'm sure it's in the FDA regs somewhere -- but I was under the impression that Pomi simply chops the tomatoes and puts them through the aseptic packaging process.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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