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The best canned tomatoes

  • d

The all-out best, in my opinion, are Muir Glen Organic whole peeled tomatoes in juice (w/ a little salt added). I know that many people swear by imported Italian tomatoes (esp. San Marzano), but I've never found anything that's even HALF as good as the Muir Glen (which come from California, and are thankfully becoming more and more widely available). They make all the difference in the world in any recipe using canned tomatoes (and fresh tomatoes only taste better when their in absolute top season).

Curious what others think.

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  1. c
    Caitlin Wheeler

    There's an article on the Cook's Illustrated Website doing a taste test. I think Progresso came out well -- better than Italian brands.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Caitlin Wheeler

      I'm a big fan of Muir Glen. I find their tomatoes redder, sweeter, and meatier than other brands (local or imported). Their fire-roasted tomatoes are nice for a change, too.

      I wish tomato manufacturers would stop putting basil in their cans by default. Sometimes it's hard to find a can of plain tomatoes because they all have basil leaves in them.

      1. re: Caitlin Wheeler

        as far as i can recall, cooks illustrated did not test the italian brands.
        after trying the italian brands, packed in juice, no salt added, i cannot go back. jmo.

      2. I like Nina. COSCO sells the big can with lots of basil in it.

        1. I've tried the Muir Glen tomatoes and was not impressed. The problem with Italian tomatoes is that there are so many brands of differing quality. Oddly enough, I find Redpack to produce a good and widely available product.

          Joe Moryl

          1 Reply
          1. re: Joe Moryl
            Caitlin McGrath

            IIRC, Muir Glen and Redpack took the top honors in the Cook's Illustrated ratings.

          2. t
            TR (formally T)

            I use either Red Pack or Progresso, when using canned, which isn't often. But both of those offer, I think, great quality.

            My little Italian grandmother swears by Red Pack and won't touch Progresso. So who knows. Since using Red Pack a few years ago, she has never made sauce from scratch again.

            1. I'm not one of those "I eat it only if it's in season" people, (the proof being my unfortunate love of canned green beans) but I don't like any canned tomatoes. They always taste metallic, or citric, or something strange. I never really had a problem with them until I started eating fresh tomatoes from a local farmers market and finally understood what they should taste like. Now I'm sad all the time because except for Son of Italy pizza sauce (another childhood holdover) I only get to eat tomato products 2 months out of the year.


              9 Replies
              1. re: ben f

                I agree, some can taste metallic and overly acidic...

                I have no choice however, and can't not make sauce year round -- My family would literally die.

                So I add a 'dash' of sugar to the canned when they have that smell to them. It seems to help.

                1. re: ben f

                  If you have a freezer, here's a way to enjoy cooked tomato goodies the rest of the year. We plant Roma tomatoes just so we can freeze them. Just wash, cut off stem end, and throw into ziplock bags. Freeze. When you use them, run under water and pull off skin. Great for chilli, soups, etc.

                  1. re: Plano Rose

                    I wonder if that would work with German Johnson's... makes my mouth water.

                    I totally understand needing to make tomato sauce out of season (It's much like my almost frightening urge for rich, creamy strawberry ice cream in the dead of winter). I probably wouldn't put sugar in the sauce though, I'd caramelize some onions and use them, after a bad run in with some too heavily sugarred sauce.

                    Now the real question, is there any way to make good gazpacho out of season?


                    1. re: ben f

                      I know people who sugar their sauce to sugar it, and it is terrible.

                      I should have said I use a 'pinch' per can. Not a dash. (I usually make a lot of sauce - more than a can.)

                      The caramelized onions are good too.

                  2. re: ben f

                    Have you tried the kind in a box? That's how they're typically sold in England. Not sure (haven't done a taste comparison), but I know with fruit juice, boxed tastes much less "metallic" than canned.

                    1. re: ben f

                      "the boxed" stuff is called pomi. i lived in my college dorm one semester with an italian exchange student who claimed pomi is the choice of italians (she was from milan, i don't know if she could speak for every region). ex-boyfriend's italian chef stepfather swore by pomi as well.

                      another thing to try (I haven't found them yet, but I haven't been trying very hard) is san marzano. I believe they are italian, and the cans are lined to keep them from getting tinny.

                      my biggest thing to look for is that the tomatoes (since i usually get puree) is to be sure the only ingredient is tomatoes. not reconstituted tomato paste (i'm amazed how many of the big cans are just paste & water). no salt or herbs or spices added.

                      1. re: cypressstylepie

                        I believe Whole Foods carries San Marzano.

                      2. re: ben f
                        Brandon Nelson


                        But those are 2 very special months aren't they?


                        1. re: Brandon Nelson


                          Actually, I was hoping this was another one of your inspiring "eat winter produce" post... I think we're all due for it.


                      3. Red Pack came out highest in Consumers Reports taste testing. After exhaustive taste testing myself I tend to agree. The plain whole ones with no basil or seasoning are the best. They tend to be firm and sweet with just the right amount of acidity. Amazingly they are also the cheapest brand.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: The Rogue

                          have you ever compared the results of a consumer reports taste test with your own taste? they gave goya olive oil top ranks. i and everyone i know hates that bitter, unbalanced oil. cooks illustrated agreed that goya was terrible. so my question is who's tasting this stuff for consumer reports?

                        2. my favorite so far is Red Gold, but I haven't tried Muir Glen yet.

                          My problem with San Marzano tomatoes is that the tomatoes on the bottom of the can tend to be kind of stringy and partially disintegrated. Is it because they are squashed down there (I've also only found them in larger quantities, like 28-oz)? Maybe they are a little old by the time I've gotten to them? The flavor doesn't seem that superior to me, either. Maybe I just haven't found the best brand. I also prefer diced, and I've only found San Marzano tomatoes in whole form.

                          1. I prefer Muir Glen also (whole or diced). Pomi used to be good but they now taste flat and/or sour to me.

                            1. r
                              russ parsons

                              i hate to admit it, but my standard canned tomatoes are the progresso "crushed" tomatoes. they've got great flavor and i can find them anyplace. i like them better than the puree or than the whole canned.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: russ parsons

                                Ditto, only I use Pastene, when I can find it. They used to sell it in 15-ounce cans. Nobody seems to package tomato products in anything smaller than 28-ounce units these days.

                                1. re: C. Fox

                                  i cant stand pastene, waaay too sweet

                              2. I like Cento's whole peeled tomatoes. I've tried the Muir Glen and the Pomi and Progresso was my go to tomato for years before Cento was available.

                                1. Canned tomatoes can have a lot of chemicals and preservatives. The more processed they are i.e. cut vs. whole, the more preservatives, salt and chemicals they have like calcium chloride they have which is a firming agent. This may explain the slightly chlorine flavor of some canned tomato brands.
                                  If you don't have fresh available, look for organic whole tomatoes, that are made without a BPA lining. Tin cans contain BPA which is an endcorine disruptor in the human body. Eden Foods is now making organic canned foods without the BPA in the can's liner.

                                  Laura Klein - OrganicAuthority.com

                                    1. Muir Glen. The fire roasted are really good. I use them often in my soups and sauces.

                                      1. I like Muir Glenn. I do like canned tomatoes from Italy, but I do think they're a bit over-hyped. The solution as far as I'm concerned, if your tomatoes don't taste tomatoey enough for you is to add some amount of tomato paste. My preference there is Contadina and local grocery's house brand (Haggen). S&W is also good.

                                        1. Canned tomatoes is a great discussion and it has to do with a lot of variables.
                                          Of primary importance is the ripeness and quality of tomato, but handling, picking method, can material, lining are all of great importance. DOC San Marzano are the flag bearers but are not singularly the best tomatoes available. Cento's San Marzano are a good standby, but side by side their "organic" non d.o.c. certified tomatoes are better. Take it a step up and go to Gustiamo.com, their tomatoes are processed by hand, for instance the "miracle of san Gennaro" are "The tomatoes long ripening period and the small amount of water used for irrigation in the last 15 days on the vine, make the flesh compact, pulpy, and perfectly attached to the skin." These tomatoes rebuke everything you know about canned tomatoes, at once sweet, acidic with toothsome bite. NYTIMEs just named the Casa Barone tomatoes a national treasure, benefit from the struggle in lava soil along Mount Vesuvius.