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I have never used San Marzano tomatoes yet. I recently bought a cookbook and most of the recipes call for San Marzano Tomatoes. They are more expensive. Is it really worth paying the extra money for them?

USA Prices

$3.82 28 oz. can Centos brand D.O.P. Certified San Marzano tomatoes From my local market. D.O.P. Certified is guaranteed they are grown in the Mount Vesuvius Volcanic soil.

$1.44 28 oz. can Contadina brand tomatoes from local market.

What is so special about these? I get mixed reviews on the net. One person says it is a bunch of high brow people showing off and others say you can take a can of these and grind them in a food processor and drink it like tomato juice.

I would like a concrete answer from somebody that has used San Marzano tomatoes enough times to say definitely worth it or not. I will be making Pizza Sauce and Spaghetti Sauces.

  • The canned come skinned (good), but have seeds yet (bad). Seeds tend to make it bitter, remove them by hand, leaving only the meat of the tomato. Youtube "san marzano pizza sauce", a pizza winner. DOP Grown on the volcanic plains of Mount Vesuvius in Italy. The only tomato used in Neapolitan Pizza. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neapolitan_pizza – Optionparty May 10 '15 at 1:06
  • Save some of the chunks for a pizza topping "pizza pomodoro" (tomato). – Optionparty May 10 '15 at 1:14
  • Thank you for reminding me about the D.O.P. Certification. – Little Kobold May 10 '15 at 3:21
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    @Optionparty All whole canned tomatoes have seeds... not sure how that's an issue. – Catija May 11 '15 at 19:53
  • @Catija I was just trying to say to remove the seeds, as the skins had already been removed. – Optionparty May 11 '15 at 23:23
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San Marzano tomatoes are generally preferred for Italian tomato sauces because they are denser, fruitier, have a slightly lower acidity, and break down well when cooked. I've made both fresh and fresh-cooked tomato sauces from the San Marzanos my mother-in-law grows, and would prefer these over just about any other tomato variety for sauce-making (dry-farmed Early Girls are also pretty good).

However, in my personal experience trying several of the canned and boxed varieties of San Marzanos available to me, they're not worth paying more than double what more common varieties of tomatoes cost. For example, last week I made my standard "quick tomato pasta sauce" using boxed San Marzanos, and did not find it notably better than other high-quality boxed tomatoes (such as ones from Pomi) which cost $2 less. My judgement is that many of the qualities which make them a superior tomato when cooked fresh are destroyed in the canning process.

On the other hand, you're comparing them to Contadina, a rather low-quality brand. Given that specific comparison, I would expect the San Marzanos, even the mass-market Italian brands, to be notably superior in quality. So if that's your actual comparison, I would say go for the San Marzanos.

According to an article in Cook's Illustrated from several years ago (CI archives are behind a paywall, so no link), this is partly because San Marzanos, like other imported tomatoes, need to be canned at higher temperatures in tomato puree instead of at lower temperatures in tomato juice due to obscure US produce import restrictions. So it's also possible that canned San Marzanos can, in fact, be excellent, just not the ones commonly available in the USA.

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    My rule of thumb is this - the more a sauce relies on the taste of the tomatoes themselves the more likely I'll use the San Marzanos. What exactly do I mean? If the sauce only has few ingredients (say, tomatoes, garlic, butter, salt, pepper, parmesan) then I'll use the San Marzanos. If it's going to be a meat sauce with a lot of herbs, spices, etc added in then I'll use the cheaper tomatoes as the taste of the tomatoes is going to be hidden by the other ingredients anyways. – djmadscribbler May 11 '15 at 18:48
  • @djmadscribbler Agreed. In something like chili or marinara, I'll use cheap tomatoes, but for a pomodoro, I always use San Marzano. When I tried doing pomodoro with (even high end) regular canned tomatoes, it tasted sour and too earthy. – SourDoh May 11 '15 at 20:11
  • I prefer not to use American canned tomatoes because Americans use plastic liners in the can that may contain Bisphenol-A. BPA is banned in the EU and their canned tomatoes will not contain BPA. If you look at European brands, they will typically have copper or tinned liners where as American produced has plastic liners. BPA mimics the hormone estrogen and there's a mountain of evidence that it's bad for humans. I have a photo that illustrates this but it's too big for the stackexchange size limit. – user36802 Sep 11 '15 at 16:08
  • You may know the answer to my question here, @FuzzyChef. cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/86942/… . Happy new year all! – Fattie Jan 7 '18 at 16:38
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I think San Marzanos have more taste but that's subjective and also based on the season. Canned tomatoes are frozen in time. Right now, the supermarket Romas are probably at their peak.

I have had cow's milk mozzarella and buffalo mozzarella. They taste different and are both good but I am perfectly OK with cow's milk mozzarella. It's like wine. Is red wine better than white? Even if you pick one, what was best might not be next year...or next bottle.

Store bought fresh vs. canned.

I will say making sauce from fresh romas is a softer more subtle and fresher taste. It's also more work. You have to ripen them and then steam/boil them to remove the skins. I core out the stems and seeds. The chefs on TV seem to throw the whole thing in, stems and all. Canned Marzanos may still have skins as each can can vary in quality. I like to dice half of the fresh ones and puree the other half. When I buy my Romas, I know what I am getting. That said, I don't always know what I am getting because sometimes store bought romas have no taste.

A typically use La Valles which are DOP and Centos which are not. I came across another brand in the store which I need to try. I avoid American made canned goods due to the possibility of BPA in the can liners. The Euros have banned BPA.

To be honest I have used San Marzanos almost exclusively for so long that I can't even remember what "plain ol'" canned tomatoes taste like on pizza.

I make my own yeast dough from scratch with Antimo Caputo tipo 00* flour (blue bag) and I do a 3 day cold rise. My sauce also contains salt, pepper, basil, oregano, garlic and red wine vinegar. Caputo is an Italian company but some of its flours are actually American grown.

My toppings are usually pecorino-romano, mozzarella, mushrooms, red and green bell peppers and red onions...and of course tomato sauce. You have to go easy with the pecorino and it's very tart and can overwhelm the pizza if you use too much. And of course, you will have a nasty body odor if you use too much garlic. Garlic and onions are also prime instigators of IBS, irritable bowel syndrome.

So the answer: To me they are worth it. To somebody else, maybe not. To somebody else, the idea of eating pizza without buffalo mozzarella might be unthinkable.

  • Tipo 00 just means the flour is milled very finely...not coarse. You wouldn't use Tipo00 for say...Irish soda bread but the flour could be milled to Tipo 00.
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I can't speak to the canned variety, but my neighbor grows San Marzanos and gave me a big bag last fall. They were fantastic, much better for sauce than any of the other tomatoes I've grown. I'll be planting them myself this year.

  • What is supposed to make San Marzanos better is the volcanic soil and climate they are grown in (terroir). They are not simply a type of tomato. – user36802 Sep 11 '15 at 16:04

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