Canned Tomato Taste Test


Everything you need to throw your own tomato party!

Every month I assemble TEAM SPT for some extreme pizza excitement. Last month’s mission was all about the tomato. We talked some tomato history and genetics along with a tasting of several grocery store brand canned plum tomatoes. Pizzerias need the consistency of tomatoes that are canned in season. They use plum tomatoes because they contain less water than the big round guys. That’s why we need to stay on top of the tomato product universe and all that it offers.


Here are two fresh tomatoes, one from my local grocery store (left) and the other from the Union Square Green Market (right). My grocery store carries Canadian tomatoes that are picked green and gassed with ethylene to redden the skin. It was hard, mealy and off-color. The lovely red tomato on the right is from a farm in Pennsylvania. It was picked when ripe and brought to market within 48 hours. It tasted WAY better! Too bad you can only get these in season, otherwise the canned tomato wouldn’t be such a big deal.


We tried a few different tomato brands in a blind tasting similar to the massive ones I did in 2010. I put different products from the same company against each other. These two products from La Valle are different. The can on the left is DOP San Marzano tomatoes and the can on the right is straight peeled plum tomatoes. The DOP tomatoes are more expensive, but is the taste really that different?


Miriam and Joe did the tasting, I prepared the test. They were given a series of white cups, each holding a whole plum tomato straight from the can. I labeled the cups A-E and hid the original cans in the kitchen. These tomatoes were right from the can with no rinsing or anything. I wanted Miriam and Joe to taste everything about the product. 

The results were similar to those we found in 2010, with the expensive DOP San Marzano tomatoes coming in last place and the California tomatoes coming in on top. Miriam loved the Trader Joe’s tomato and Joe suspected foul play because it seemed almost too perfect. Pastene was up there with a more neutral tone and less sweetness.


We then baked pizzas using each tomato crushed only with a fork and a colander (tomato on top of cheese) and assessed each on the pizza. My favorite was Pastene but Trader Joe’s was a close second. 

Again, the coveted DOP San Marzano tomatoes didn’t perform as well as their hype would suggest.

Here’s a breakdown of our findings:

Nina : too sweet, overpowering
La Valle San Marzano: Odd tart flavor, light in color
Pastene: Nice neutrality of flavor lightly sweet
Trader Joe’s: Lovely texture and fruity flavor. Actually tastes like a tomato!
Sclafani: Mellow taste but nothing special
Strianese San Marzano DOP: Overly acidic

Here are some shots of the best pies of the night:



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