Tomatoes are the fruits that nutritionists and chefs alike consider a vegetable. Either way, they are delicious and can be eaten by themselves or included in an endless number of dishes. They are the base of one of the five mother sauces and the focal point of many different cuisines.
Sometimes you don’t always have access to fresh tomatoes and need to sub in the canned variety. There are also recipes that turn out better when using canned tomatoes because of the way they are processed. If you’re shopping for canned tomatoes, you need some that are made from quality ingredients and maybe something a little extra. Our favorite canned tomatoes range from just the basics to flavored options that make cooking more simple. Let’s take a look at this versatile pantry staple to find one or all to suit your next meal.
Best Overall: Muir Glenn Organic Diced Tomatoes
Using just tomatoes and sea salt, this simple option brings out the flavor of the tomato while reducing some of the acidity thanks to sea salt. They’re grown in California and USDA certified organic, using non-GMO seeds. The picked tomatoes are canned within eight hours of harvest, making the flavor great for any dish you have.
Best Budget: Good and Gather Petite Diced Tomatoes
These U.S.A.-grown tomatoes use no artificial preservatives or flavors and feature a naturally sweet taste with balanced acidity. They’re great for use in all-purpose dishes, soups, stews, and even your brunch Bloody Mary.
Best Lightly Flavored Choice: Bianco DiNapoli Whole Peeled Tomatoes
This whole tomato comes from petite plum tomatoes and features mild sea salt and basil flavoring. It’s excellent for blending into soups and sauces or draining to use as an appetizer on its own. The organic ingredients include California-grown tomatoes.
Best Italian Tomato: Mutti Crushed Tomatoes
Grown on a four-generation family farm in Italy, these sun-ripened tomatoes are a slightly sweet choice with excellent acidity. The low BPA can help preserve freshness, and the farm does not use artificial preservatives.
Best For Spicy Dishes: Rotel Original Diced Tomatoes and Green Chilis
This option uses both vine-ripened tomatoes and zesty green chilis to give a flavor kick to soups, stews, and dips. This choice works best with a hearty dish where you need a bold flavor to pull through. The ingredients are natural and feature a conveniently sized can.
Best Fire Roasted Option: Muir Glenn Fire Roasted Tomatoes
Fire-roasted tomatoes bring out the cooked flavor of tomatoes before canning them. This option features small green chilis for adding a smoky depth of flavor to your dishes. They’re organic and use non-GMO tomatoes.
Best for Sauces: Cento San Marzano Organic Peeled Tomatoes
The delicate and earthy texture of these tomatoes makes them suitable for blending into sauces. Both the tomatoes and the liquid have good flavor and are best together. Use this for dishes that don’t need draining. They’re USDA organic and non-GMO, and the can is BPA-free.
Best No Salt Added: Hunt’s Stewed Tomatoes
These steam-peeled tomatoes are lightly stewed and contain no artificial ingredients. Hunt’s uses non-GMO tomatoes and no added salt. These are a good choice for making a variety of dishes for those on a low-sodium diet.
Best for Italian Dishes: Muir Glenn’s Tomatoes with Basil and Garlic
Taking their great-tasting tomatoes and adding classic Italian ingredients, Muir Glenn makes cooking simple — at least the ingredients part. They’ve added basil and garlic for an Italian-style tomato flavor. They’re canned in B.P.A.-free lining to help preserve the flavor and your health.
How to Choose Canned Tomatoes
There are a few things to keep in mind when choosing your go-to canned tomato.
What Does D.O.P. Mean?
San Marzano tomatoes are considered to be some of the best in the world. This marking tells you that the tomatoes were grown in a small region in Italy and adhere to growers’ strict quality standards in that area.
While this used to be the gold standard for canned tomatoes, there are a few modern brands that successfully can a quality tomato from other regions of the world. However, this marking could be a good tool to begin your exploration.
Are Canned Tomatoes Cooked?
All tomatoes cook during the canning process, which involves heat. Options like fire-roasted tomatoes are charred over a flame to deepen the flavor and impart a distinctive smokiness, but no canned tomato will ever be raw. Don’t let this deter you. Cooked tomatoes often have a complex flavor that their raw counterparts don’t.
Where Do I Start?
Begin your search by tossing out any canned tomatoes with a long list of ingredients. Tomatoes with fewer ingredients make for better overall cooking, so look for just the basics: tomatoes, salt, tomato puree, etc.
You can add fresh herbs and flavorings to this, such as garlic or basil, but stick to fewer ingredients. You’ll get fewer preservatives and a healthier canned tomato. Some companies use calcium chloride to help diced or crushed tomatoes keep their shape. It’s up to you if you want to find something more natural or if you’re OK with this ingredient. There are no major health risks, but your tomatoes won’t puree or break down in your sauces like those without it.
Make sure you check the expiration date (yes, canned tomatoes can expire) and that the can has no major dents. Dented cans put you at risk of a rare but serious form of food poisoning, botulism. Cans with minor dents are fine, but if you can lay your finger in the dent, toss it.
Choosing the Right Pantry Staple
Canned tomatoes should be in everyone’s pantry. They’re versatile, have a great flavor, and give you the ingredients you need to cook everything from rice to pasta to casserole and everything in between.
Our favorite canned tomatoes offer excellent flavor and minimal ingredients. No matter what dish you have in mind, there’s a canned tomato choice on our list that would transform it from so-so to outstanding. Make sure you stock a few different kinds, and you’re on your way to home-chef greatness.
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