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How does fresh and canned tomatoes compare in indian cooking?

I usually see recipes call for pureed or finely chopped tomatoes, which are added after the initial stage of frying the spices and onion. As I cook ALOT of Indian food, buying canned pureed tomato would save me loads of work, though I'm wondering if this would lead to a compromise in taste. (Or perhaps an enhancement of taste as canned tomatoes are riper? I read that Italian cooking usually is better with canned tomatoes...). Also, as canned tomatoes are usually peeled, I would get the added value of not having tomato peels swimming in my curry.

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After reading more on the net, and the answers here, I think that there isn't really a definitive answer. On the one hand most people here seem to have an anti-canned food bias (which was my initial instinct too), but I'm not entirely convinced this is an objective bias which would be shared with top chefs when it comes to canned tomato. I guess that the only real possible answer would be to try out different canned tomatoes in my curries, and decide if that's the taste I'm looking for or not. –  dan12345 Feb 22 at 16:08

5 Answers 5

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These are the factors to consider when using tomatoes in Indian cooking:-

1) Does the recipe need pureed or chunky tomatoes to contribute bulk to the gravy? >> if puree then canned is fine or even tetrapak puree. But stick to fresh tomatoes if you need to increase the gravy's volume. E.g.: Paneer Butter Masala where tomato puree is better vs. Matar Paneer where diced tomatoes bring out more tangy spicy flavor.

2) Do you need to keep the peel on or lose it completely? If you need to lose the peel, peeled & canned tomatoes can save much time over having to boil or microwaving the tomatoes.

3) What is the cutting style required in the recipe? finely chopped, coarsely chopped? This point is relevant in case the recipe needs only semi cooked tomatoes.

4) Are the tomatoes being used to add bulk or for flavor? Canned tomatoes do have a slightly different flavor specially if a preservative brine solution has been added.

5) In salads or Indian dishes like bhel puri, the way tomato pieces are added also contribute to aesthetics and make food more appetizing. so canned tomatoes are a stric no-no for such dishes.

And overall- Use Fresh Tomatoes >> tomato is one of the veggies which can be chopped fast & painlessly. To save time, turn your tomato over when chopping (fleshy side up, peel side down)

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Generally speaking, I'm talking about recipes that call for pureed tomatoes - such as paneer butter masala, aloo gobi, malai kofta, dal tadka, etc... As such, and from all your points, I actually think that canned tomatoes would be my better option, though your last comment about overall using fresh tomatoes a bit contradicted that. –  dan12345 Feb 22 at 7:55
    
For aaloo Gobi and Dal tadka use fresh chopped tomatoes, not puree. Once you prepare the oil and cumin seed seasoning and fry your onions to brown, add in fresh chopped tomatoes and cook on high for 4-5 minutes until tomatoes turn pulpy. Be sure to add salt, turmeric and spices while cooking tomatoes to build flavour in the onion-tomato masala. Personally I feel Using fresh tomatoes is always better- I don't know how when where it was canned and tomatoes in a can just doesn't sound ok to me. But this is a personal opinion. Not neutral. –  vagabond Feb 22 at 13:54
    
That was my personal feeling as well. But then I read that in Italian restaurants they use canned tomato, even in top restaurants - As those are usually more ripe, and usually consistently good quality, especially if they were canned in Italy where there are strict regulations on tomato canning. After abit more thought, I realized that perhaps my initial anti-canned bias wasn't necessarily justified. That with the realization of the possible time saving it will lead to (I have a catering business, so even a little time is a lot), led me to ask this question. –  dan12345 Feb 22 at 16:05
    
See my comment to my question to see my conclusion. –  dan12345 Feb 22 at 16:08

I would imagine that cooking with tomatoes in Indian cuisine is no different than in any other cuisine: use the best product you can get.

For much of the year where I live, canned tomatoes are of a consistently higher quality than those at the grocery store. Since I don't grow my own tomatoes, I always use canned in almost any dish except salads.

You need to look at the availability where you live.

If the canned product is a higher quality (which it may well be off-season, or maybe even year round), use it. If the labor savings is significant, use it.

One thing to watch for is tomatoes packed with calcium chloride to hold their shape better don't break down as much. This is fine if you would like to see chunks of tomato in the final dish; if you prefer to have the tomato break down into the dish, losing its distinct identity, look for a product packed without the calcium chloride.

The one place, in my opinion, where fresh tomatoes shine is in salads and on sandwiches, where you want that very fresh, uncooked flavor, and can enjoy the color and texture of the fresh product. Here, locally grown fresh tomatoes, or even some of the exciting heirloom tomatoes, may be a better choice.

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I make curries quite a lot at home and am keen on a recipe book by Anjum Anand. She recommends using cheap, fresh tomatoes that are either finely chopped or blitzed in a blender. The reasoning behind this is that you are often looking for the tomatoes to form the basis of the gravy, and this shouldn't be over tomatoey. Personally, I look for the meat and the spices to shine through, and the onions and tomatoes play backseat role in the dish as a whole. Tinned tomatoes are often very tomatoey (I know how stupid this sounds) which is great in mediterranean cooking but less so in Indian cuisine.

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If your main concern is tomato skins floating in your curry you can fix that. Get some water up to a boil, take the tomatoes and cut out the stem flip the tomato over and make shallow cuts into the bottom, usually an X type of cut. Drop them into the boiling water for just a minute and drop them into cold water with some ice. After a minute or two they should be ready to handle and you can just peel off the skin.

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I know that's a possibility, but I'm looking to be able to cut down on the time it takes me to cook curries. –  dan12345 Feb 22 at 7:54

I think all curries can be prepared with tomato puree except aloo gobi. Its color is always bright yellow but tomato puree will change its color to brown which will not look pleasant.

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