The can says the ingredients are tomato puree, garlic, etc. I suspect that cooking turns puree into sauce. But then why does it change again when simmered for half an hour with ground meat and chili seasonings?

The meat's already browned prior to adding the tomato sauce, so I was thinking that we wait until the tomato is cooked. But my wife says the tomato is already cooked. So what is happening, and what do we call this when cooking?

To reiterate, suppose the components are not “raw”. But you still have to simmer it all together for 30 minutes. What do you call that, since you’re not moving from a state of being uncooked to being cooked?

  • All canned foods are indeed cooked because they have to go through the high temperatures of the canning process. What do you mean by "why does it change again"? There is no rigid definition distinguishing sauce from puree (or sauce from soup). A puree is just an extremely finely cut form of the original food, liquidised. It is common to make a sauce from puree by adding or diluting it with water but this is not necessarily always done. – user110084 Jun 4 '17 at 4:39
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    Heating for canning does not have to cook the contents — it can be held for a short time to kill germs but nowhere near a “cooking time”. – JDługosz Jun 4 '17 at 8:44
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    “change again“ — you pour it all in the pan and it's clearly not done yet, by how it looks and tastes. The meat is already browned. Cook it for half an hour and it comes together, no longer tasking like raw tomato sauce. How can I explain that better? – JDługosz Jun 4 '17 at 8:49
  • It's all about water content. Less water means higher concentration of flavour. – Doug Jun 4 '17 at 8:51
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    Also agree that you mixing everything pre-cooked together is not going to get the same result as holding them at elevated temperatures for a period of time for flavours to develop together. – user110084 Jun 4 '17 at 9:34

Yes, in some sense, the contents of a can of tomato sauce are already cooked. But "cooked" is a pretty vague term, and we know that there are different degrees of it. Did you cook your onion on a low heat until it was soft, or until golden, or until caramelised? Did you cook your steak until it was rare, or medium, or well done?

Likewise with tomatoes, if you blend them up and then cook them for ten minutes they're not going to taste the same as when you've cooked them for three hours in a low oven with the lid off. Lots of chemical reactions are going on inside the food as it's cooking, and some of them only happen over rather long time periods.

So what you're doing when you're putting the "cooked" canned tomato sauce in with your "cooked" meat and leaving it for a while is... cooking. The combination of ingredients plus more heat and more time will cause further changes and different flavours to emerge.

Also, canned tomato sauce will only be cooked enough to preserve it in the can - it's not been cooked to the point where it's going to be at its best for eating. That part's up to you.


Did you first brown your meat before adding tomato sauce? If you did, there's a chemical reaction called the Maillard reaction between the sugars and protein in the meat. The byproducts would mix with the tomato sauce altering the flavour. If you used onions and browned them, they too would change the flavour. Even spices will mingle to make a new combined taste. Don't forget that tomato sauce is acidic and acids de-nature protein (break them down) in meat, some which dissolve into the sauce enriching its flavour.

If you were to pre-cook sauce and meat separately, then mix them (as Megha mentioned), it wouldn't taste the same as if cooked together. Heat speeds chemical reactions up and cooking is a chemical reaction between different foodstuffs. If you were to mix them pre-cooked, it's conceivable that it may taste similar to cooked together if you allowed enough time for the reaction to occur. But it would proceed so slowly at refrigerator temperature (or even room temperature) that the food would spoil first.

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    « you first brown your meat before adding tomato sauce?» yes, that's what I meant by “the meat's already browned”. – JDługosz Jun 5 '17 at 3:42
  • Missed that trying to keep track of comments. My answer stands though. – Jude Jun 5 '17 at 3:47
  • Ok; I wondered if it wasn’t clear as written. – JDługosz Jun 5 '17 at 3:48

The term 'cooked' is being used subjectively here. Canned tomatoes are 'pasteurized' which is a process similar to cooking. The contents are held at a slightly elevated temperature for a short period to kill the germs. The temperature and time used are not enough to significantly change the structure of the contents, however it may slightly change the flavor. This step of the canning process is necessary to avoid botulism and other bacterial growth while the canned goods are waiting to be used. You can use the tomatoes straight out of the can if you wish, provided that the canning process was performed correctly and the container is not breached(dented, rusted through, punctured, etc). However if you choose to cook them further you will most likely be using temperatures much higher than the temperature used to 'pasteurize' them and the structure and flavor will change significantly. Tomatoes are rich in nutrients. Cooking the tomatoes further changes the nutrient content and effectiveness. Lycopene for instance is activated by cooking the tomatoes. Vitamin C however is destroyed by the cooking process and possibly by the canning process. i.e. Fruit juice that is pasteurized has to have Vitamin C reintroduced. (sorry for the sideline but I feel it helps to understand the difference between cooking and pasteurization).

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