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San Marzano Tomatoes

Are they really that much better than other canned tomatoes??

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  1. I have no idea since they are nowhere to be found in grocery stores around here. But I would like to know also.

    1. They really are better. But before buying a can of something labeled "San Marzano Tomatoes", check where it was grown and/or packed. It should say SA (Salerno) province, Italy. If not, they're some domestic fraud.

      4 Replies
      1. re: mnosyne

        You are absolutely right. And all I have ever found are the domestic, grown in the USA, fraud packaging. It's kind of discouraging and I wonder if the professional chefs are getting the real stuff or just what we see in the markets.

        1. re: feelinpeckish

          like the other said, look for the DOP sign. its a yellow & darkblue sign/logo.
          our local farmers market carries different ones every time. I like the Italbrand. Just bought Flora as well, even saw that our local Publix has the Flora S. Marzano ones!!!! was very impressed!
          Also Williams Sonoma carries them...
          They are all DOP imported from Italy!

        2. re: mnosyne

          The San Marzano is simply one variety of heirloom plum tomato. The seeds are easily available to commercial growers and home gardeners all over Europe, in the US and the rest of the world. They can be saved from year to year.
          Here's one company from which S. Marzano seed can be purchased. http://www.growitalian.com/Qstore/Qst... along with other varieties from Italy. http://www.growitalian.com/Qstore/Qst...
          There is no fraud if the heirloom is grown from seed, packed and labeled as exactly what they are: S. Marzano heirloom tomatoes.

          1. re: MakingSense

            It's not just the seeds but the soil you will need from Napels I heard. Due to the rich Volcanic ash in the soil the San Marzano tomatoes are far more superior. If you want to grow them in the USA you will need the volcanic ash soil as well.

        3. There was a segment of a recent NPR Splendid Table episode on these tomatoes. You can listen to it on the ST web site.

          1. If you're making sugo (sauce), these are absolutely your best choice; if you can't find them, just be sure to stick with plum tomatoes as they make the best sauce--makes a huge difference if you're using fresh.

            These are also the ones you'll want to sun (or otherwise) dry if you're into that sort of thing.

            My blog on life in southern Italy: http://www.bleedingespresso-sognatric...
            All about tomatoes: http://www.tomatocasual.com

            1. Of true San Marzano tomatoes, the best brand in my experience is Strianese (much better than Italbrand). They're much sweeter and more vibrant tasting than other DOP San Marzano canned tomatoes. They harder to find too. If you do get one, taste it right when you open the can (careful or you'll eat the whole thing). It's much different from domestic canned tomatoes.

              You have to carefully read the labels as some will say "San Marzano Style"...whatever that means.

              Here's a picture of the can below:


              1. The brand of the can I have is Ninas, it says it's packed from the san marzano region, guess it's a scam??it also says produced in Italy for some NJ company....

                1 Reply
                1. re: mariekeac

                  Pretty clever. "Packed in" is not the same as "grown in". Easy to be taken in by the wording. I guess it may not necessarily mean they're not good tomatoes, but they're not 'authentic' for sure. The 'produced in Italy for an NJ company' could be just fine, if they'd been grown in the right place. But......... like the related wine issue......... I've had wines where the fruit was grown just outside a well-known specific California AVA and it was as good or better than wines from within the AVA. Give 'em a try. Could be a great value.

                2. Ah, that name game. There are two different issues of San Marzano nomenclature, which many people confuse:

                  1. The DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta) area called San Marzano: a protected name for a limited production area near Naples famed for its volcanic soil and quality of its tomatoes. This only applies to cans marked with the DOP. You pay for this.

                  2. A variety of paste (plum) tomato called San Marzano. Roma is, for example, a different variety of plum tomato. Plum tomatoes are better for making sauce because they have more flesh and less liquid (they generally are not as good for eating raw because the lack of liquid means they lack a certain flavor balance raw). Most cans of tomatoes that say San Marzano mean this - the way you can tell is if there is no DOP marking on the can.

                  But I have reason to believe that most people think they are buying #1 when they are in fact buying #2. And they shell out more money than they should.

                  Italian tomatoes are not necessarily superior. All tomatoes vary according to the weather (sun & moisture), even in our backyard gardens; many consumers assume (and producers prefer that they assume) more consistency than actually is the case... Canning processes vary, and many people prefer tomatoes that are in boxes or enameled cans to thos in unenameled cans.

                  12 Replies
                  1. re: Karl S

                    I was wondering about that. Is the DOP for San Marzano tomatoes something like the "DOCG" for wine? What about fresh San Marzanos grown at my local produce farm? Are they mislabled?

                    1. re: CindyJ

                      Yes Cindy, the idea is the same; this discusses it a bit:


                      More casual discussion in a forum here:


                      Reminds me of the recent battle over "parmigiano" as well:


                      This is serious stuff to Italians, as you might imagine!

                      My blog on life in southern Italy: http://www.bleedingespresso-sognatric...
                      All about tomatoes: http://www.tomatocasual.com

                      1. re: CindyJ

                        Fresh San Marzanos at your local farm are #2 - the variety, NOT #1, the famed product from a specific area. They are not mislabelled. But some marketers would love you to pay for #2 as if you were getting #1. It's up to you and every gullible consumer to understand the difference in usage of that term.

                      2. re: Karl S

                        Karl -I heard recently on a cooking show that cans of tomatoes labeled San Marzano may contain other tomatoes all the way up to 100% non San Marzano. Is this what you're referring to in #2 ? Evidently calling both 1 & 2 San Marzano is accurate but #2 is deceptive. Also, evidently, there are canned tomatoes labeled San Marzano style.*

                        Also, America's Test Kitchen did 2 taste tests of canned tomatoes (a year apart) including 4 San Marzano, 2 *San Marzano style. However from the photos of the cans on results by brand page, all the Italian brands appear to be plum tomatoes (#2?) and they did not discuss DOP
                        The winner both times was Progresso packed in tomato juice (not their's packed in tomato paste).

                        Also America's

                        1. re: burger

                          Wasn't there something on the Test Kitchen tasting about imported tomatoes either having just juice, or added puree, to meet some sort of import restrictions. That may have been part of why the Progresso won over the imports.

                          If I recall the Splendid Table segment, true San Marzanos (#1 type) have a thin skin, and are canned with the skin still on.


                          1. re: burger

                            There is only one way to be in category #1: to have the DOP explicitly stated on the label. Look for DOP if what you want is the famed product.

                            Without the DOP, everything else is in category #2, in which case "San Marzano" is merely of many varieties of plum tomato (like Brandywine is a variety of beefsteak tomato) - it's a variety named for the region that was famed for its quality plum tomatoes.

                            It's that simple. The burden is on the consumer to get educated about this, not on producers or marketers. It's not a deceptive marketing practice because the term "San Marzano" is an equivocal one.

                            What do you think you are getting when you buy a can labelled San Marzano? A plum tomato? Or a tomato grown in the volcano soil of the DOP region? If the latter, you have a simple task: look for the DOP mark. Anything without it is simply a certain variety of plum tomato that could be grown anywhere.

                            If every American who bought cans of San Marzano tomatoes decided they really want the DOP, there would not be enough to go around - it's a small region. There are limits to production of limited region items (Champagne, Parma ham, San Marzano tomatoes). When American foodies decide en masse to get the real deal, it drives up the prices and invites adulteration (look at the recent articles on how frequently bottles labelled as Extra Virgin Olive Oil as Products of Italy are in fact very frequently adulterated because there is simply not enough local supply to meet the swelled demand.

                            So I am happy if people don't understand the deal with San Marzano tomatoes, I guess. Perhaps I should erase my comments after all....

                            1. re: Karl S

                              The 'Napoletano' brand 28 oz. can 3-pack that I purchased at my local Costco store has the DENOMINAZIONE D'ORIGINE PROTETTA mark along with the other 2 shown in a sognatrice reply above. I have not tried them yet. Don't recall how much they were.


                              1. re: sel

                                I bought the same stuff last year...excellent product...if I remember it correctly they were $5.99 for a pack of 3 cans....

                              2. re: Karl S

                                Considering how many people are buying DOP San Marzanos, it is remarkable that they could be the real thing considering that production of San Ms is actually declining in some areas such as Campania. "In the 1980s, this region was the number one for peeled tomatoes production in Italy. Now, Campania is the 4th or 5th produced with 35% of the peeled tomatoes grown in Italy. Production of typical S.Marzano variety in Campania is declining at a rate of about 12-16% a year. The concern is that the San Marzano tomato will disappear from the Campania region." It's being replaced by F1 hybrid plums. http://www.sgn.cornell.edu/documents/...

                                Does the DOP signify where they come from rather than the San Marzano variety?

                                1. re: MakingSense

                                  Correct. It is a specific growing area. Like Champagne. It's not the variety that counts as much as the terroir.

                                  1. re: Karl S

                                    I also like the La Valle DOP San Marzano tomatoes.
                                    I was a little distressed at the recent America's Test Kitchen show on making "marinara" and their testing of tomato brands, especially since I'm a fan of the show, books, magazine, etc. The sauce they made was a relatively quick marinara, not a long cooking sugo that I think the Italian DOP San Marzano tomatoes are unequaled for. The type of sauce they made only cooked about 20 minutes or so, if I recall-usually the type of sauce that would be made with fresh tomatoes in season-so I found this episode a little misleading or confusing of this issue, not being what I thought was a fair comparison.

                                    1. re: markabauman

                                      What might be more "distressing" than ATK's study is whether consumers are getting what they expect from DOP designation? Market demand has exceeded the ability of a small region to produce, and fewer of the tomatoes grown are true heirloom S. Marzanos.
                                      Take the time to read the Cornell study http://www.sgn.cornell.edu/documents/...

                                      If it's necessary to do genetic testing to tell the difference in the tomatoes themselves, do you really think you can tell the difference after they've been simmered for hours in a sauce with many other ingredients?
                                      You might do just as well paying less for S. Marzanos grown and packed in California. Many good cooks happily do.

                                      The Italian DOP designation is "branding." Think of it as a brand of tomatoes among many. In the US, we have Vidalia Onions, but we also have Walla Walla Sweets and Maui Onions, all of which are justly famous and supposedly owe their distinctive taste to their "terroir." But we use other sweet onions as we choose in recipes all the time.

                          2. I just made some sauce with canned San Marzano tomatoes, meaty and very red with no bad preservatives etc.... For several years now, 10-15, I've made sauce straight from summer tomatoes and frozen it for use over the year, so using canned again was a bit of an experiment. It produced a heavier sauce vs my fresh tomato based, I'm still a slightly edgy about using canned but feel more open to this than I have been over the past few years.