Canned Tomatoes

Thursday, 20 March 2008 | Tags: ,

Canned tomatoes can be a flavourful and juicy addition to a variety of sauces, soups, stews, curries, casseroles, and braised dishes. We test a few products to find out how they compare.

The Basics

  • Canned tomatoes can be bought in many forms: whole, diced, crushed, paste, and as sauce.

    • Canned whole tomatoes are usually peeled, but left whole.

    • Canned crushed tomatoes break down nicely for quick sauce-making.

    • Canned diced tomatoes keep their firm texture for longer, which makes them good for some applications (wherever a bit of bite to the tomato is desirable), though not as much for sauce-making.

    • Canned tomato paste is made from tomatoes that are cooked down for a very long time, then strained. This concentrates their natural sugars.

    • Canned tomato sauce is a finished product and can be applied directly to pasta and pizza. It’s thicker than regular canned tomatoes, though not as concentrated as tomato paste. Garlic, oregano, basil, and other ingredients are often added for flavour.

  • The variety of tomatoes most often used for canning is plum tomatoes such as Romas for their higher solid-to-liquid ratio.

  • The most famous Italian sauce tomatoes are San Marzano, which refers to the variety of tomato. It’s similar to a Roma but sweeter and pointier in shape. They’re grown at the foot of Mt. Vesuvius (in San Marzano) and some say that these volcanic soils filter impurities, leading to the sweetest, most flavorful, non-acidic tomatoes money can buy.

    • To make sure you’re getting San Marzano tomatoes grown in San Marzano, Italy, look for the DOP mark on the label. There are many clever fakes.

  • Look for canned tomatoes packed in juice, rather than puree, which can give them an overly “cooked” flavour.

  • Avoid brands that are very salty, as this will make it more difficult for you to control the saltiness of your finished recipe.

  • Many processors add citric acid to ensure that each can of tomatoes has an equally appealing level of tartness. Tomatoes processed without it can often be a bit bland.

Other Considerations

  • The reason some recipes call for whole canned tomatoes and then ask you to cut them up is that canned diced tomatoes have more calcium chloride added during the canning process, which keeps them firm. This is good if you want chunks in the final product, but it makes them much harder to cook down into a sauce.


We gathered a group of Italian-Canadian senior citizens to help us test these brands of canned whole tomatoes:

  • Italissima San Marzano: $3.25 for 976 ml can
  • Whole Foods 365 brand: $3.99 for 796 ml can
  • Unico: $1.75 for 796 ml can
  • Safeway brand: $1.89 for 796 ml can

Taste Test

  • The Italissima lost points for being a bit misshapen, and had a somewhat watery flavour compared to the others.

  • The Whole Foods brand tasted the sweetest.

  • Unico was quite quite flavourless. None of the testers liked it.

  • The Safeway brand was a solid runner-up, although wasn’t as sweet as the Whole Foods brand.


Most of our testers preferred the sweetest canned tomato product, which was the Whole Foods brand. If you don’t have a Whole Foods near you, the Safeway brand was a close runner up.


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