HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >

Discussion

SAN MARZANO (DOP) TOMATOES. What's the big deal?

Hello Italian Tomato 'Hounds

I remember hearing once about the problem with DOP tomatoes, in that there are restrictions requiring imported tomatoes to be packed in cooked puree, rather than juice.

Puree is apparently made with inferior tomatoes (the ones that don't make the grade for whole tomatoes). So what happens abroad is that superior tomatoes are packed in the inferior puree, and the the beautiful flavor of the San Marzano DOPs becomes tainted with a muddy, cooked flavor.

American tomatoes can be packed in either puree or juice.

I decided to test out this theory. I dropped $4-6 on several cans of DOP tomatoes (reputable brands such as La Valle DOP, A-1, Nina's, etc.) and a can of Hunt's packed in juice.

Tasted straight from the can, there's simply no contest.

Tasted side by side, it's readily apparent that Hunt's tastes MUCH fresher. Bright, clean, crisp. The tomatoes were firm and didn't immediately dissolve apart (which admittedly is not a desirable trait when cooking a sauce). All of the brands of puree packed San Marzanos had that same cooked, muddy flavor and couldn't hold a candle to the fresh flavor of the domestic, juice-packed brand.

I hate to say it, but I think we're being duped. I'd be curious to hear from people who have cooked with canned San Marzano DOP in Italy. Are they packed in juice there?

Were you aware of this drastic difference?

Looking forward to reading your responses.

Mr Taster

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
Delete
  1. Hunt's--when I have been forced to use them (full disclosure: once in the past ten years, and that was two years ago) were disgusting to my palate (acidic, overly hard fruit.) Obviously, your sense of "cooked muddy flavor" distinguishes your response -- it's just not how I would respond...

    15 Replies
    1. re: penthouse pup

      I believe everybody in this forum is missing the point all together.

      San Marzano Tomatoes can only grow in one place on Earth, that's Naples, near and around the volcano Vesuvius. Anything else grown anywhere else are NOT San Marzano tomatoes. The reason is the following: the soil around the volcano Vesuvius has a unique mineral rich composition that gives the San Marzano Tomatoes a unique flavor that simply cannot be replicated. That's why the European Community has given the San Marzano Tomato the D.O.P. seal (Protected Designation Of Origin). Moreover, the European Community designated little towns near the Vesuvius adhere to centuries old growing techniques: tomatoes trees and therefore its fruits raised from the ground, plus hand-picking. These two last factors alone are enough to justify the 4-5 dollar price tag.

      Let me tackle the argument about the puree. All expert cooks know that the puree is not to be used for cooking. A real Italian tomato sauce uses only tomato pulp, not the puree. When making a tomato sauce, lift the whole tomato from the can and let all of the puree drip away, then, and only then, add the tomato to the sauce pan. Hence, he/she who argues about the puree knows nothing about tomato sauce. The puree is in the tin can only to preserve the whole tomato. Try to believe it.

      Let's tackle the issue about D.O.P. Any tin can that does not bear the the European Community Seal is not a San Marzano Tomato. Period. End Of Story. In this forum I have seen mentioned brands like "la valle" "Cento," Those do not have the D.O.P. seal; hence, they are not San Marzano Tomatoes (maybe the seed is a San Marzano seed; but, that doesn't matter. You can take a San Marzano seed, plant it in Florida, and still not have a San Marzano Tomato).

      For years Americans have been duped by many unscrupulous American Companies that have written on the labels "san Marzano". The Italian government complained for years. But no action was ever taken. Under pressure, some of these american companies started writing: "San Marzano Type - with the word "type" in small characters.

      Of course one can make a tomato sauce with tomatoes grown in Siberia; but then one has that particular tomato sauce, good or bad as it may be. One thing is certain siberian tomatoes will not produce the unmistakable flavor of a Neapolitan tomato sauce made with genuine San Marzano Tomatoes.

      A good reputable brand for real San Marzano Tomatoes is "Rega" They are so reputable that they have two lines of products: "Rega D.O.P." and just "Rega," the second are san marzano seeds planted mostly in Sicily and Apulia and hence do not qualify as "San Marzano D.O.P." I called this honesty....

      1. re: enzocapone

        I believe everybody in this forum is missing the point all together.
        =======================
        It's clear you didn't read the entire forum because some have already made that point. See my reply

        "Porthos Jul 27, 2011 07:20 AM

        It's also important to point out, that though you can get seeds to the same strain of tomatoes, that supposedly it's the volcanic soil and growing climate that make San Marzano DOP so special and tasty."

        ===============================
        End Of Story. In this forum I have seen mentioned brands like "la valle" "Cento," Those do not have the D.O.P. seal;
        ===============================
        That in incorrect. Cento has both DOP and non DOP certified San Marzanos. See link below for Cento DOP certified.

        http://www.worldsfoods.com/shop/pc/Ce...

        1. re: Porthos

          Incredible but true only a few hours ago an italian newspaper "corriere della sera" published 80 photos with worldwide counterfeits of italian products. Cento San Marzano DOP is one of those photos. Here is the link to the photos:

          http://www.corriere.it/cronache/foto/...

          You'll have to scroll through the photos to see the "cento" tomato can.

          Understand that it's not enough to declare "Certified DOP" on a can. The can has to have the European Community Seal. Go to wikipedia to look for an image of the seal. The European seal is the only guarantee for authentic San Marzano. Here is the link to wikipedia:
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protecte...

          Although it may be declared on the can San Marzano DOP, Counterfeit San Marzano Cans don't have the seal. I assume that's because such a seal on a can of tomatoes to market a bootleg product is a serious crime with serious legal consequences.

          Regarding soil and climate I say that microclimatic conditions are essential in determining characteristics and quality of an agricultural product. That's why one cannot grow San Giovese grapes in Sweden or England or maybe even Napa Valley. San Giovese (chianti), the true San Giovese grape, is from Tuscany. End of story.

          I think it's ludicrous to even entertain the idea that one could make "mozzarella di bufala" campana in Canada or Newark new jersey.

          Why is that no one can copy the ipad software (not even the round corners of the encasing) without a legal suit, but it's totally legitimate to copy italian products and then denigrate the very original italian product without breaking moral and legal laws?

          Regarding the puree contaminating the tomato pulp the argument for or against it is readily defeated by the old axiom: "what you put is in is what you get out"

          1. re: enzocapone

            Was there an article to go with the slideshow in Corriere? Some of the pix looked just silly, obvious copycats but not with fraudulent intent. Important point about the European seal.

            1. re: enzocapone

              Re: puree and "what you put is [sic] in is what you get out", it sounds like you are agreeing with me that if you pack good tomatoes in shitty puree, and cook them further in pasteurization process, you're going to get shitty product out.

              Crap in, crap out, that's your argument, right? Unless you're making the argument that the puree is also of equally high quality as the tomatoes? If so, then we are arguing the wrong point.

              Mr Taster

              1. re: enzocapone

                enzocapone,

                You're misrepresenting again. These tomatoes don't say "Certified DOP" as you state. They merely say "Certified", which means absolutely nothing. (Even those products "Certified" with an Italian flag, which is more deceptive, also means absolutely nothing.) Anyone can "certify" anything. I can certify "enzocapone" is a Chowhound. In fact, I'll do it now.

                "Enzocapone is a certified Chowhound"

                Does that mean anything? Of course not. It's bullshit, plain and simple.

                It's like putting "Natural" on a package of chicken. It's a marketing term that has no legal definition, but marketers use it to boost sales. "Organic" means something legally. "DOP" means something legally. But "certified" or "natural"? Nope.

                Anyone who is even casually familiar with how American product marketing works can tell it's a bullshit term.

                Now, if the label actually said "Certified DOP", there'd be a problem because that's crossed the line from immoral marketing to fraud, and they'd probably be sued for making such claims. That false "Parma" brand seems like a pretty blatant example of outright fraud. It's no longer crafty marketing once a protected logo is stolen.

                Mr Taster

              2. re: Porthos

                And La Valle the same. You have to look for the DOP seal if you want real San Marzano. That's all they used to make but as they got popular over here, they added the non DOP.

              3. re: enzocapone

                enzocapone,

                I'm not sure who or what you're attempting to clarify here.

                La Valle sells both a DOP and a non-DOP. You can see the two different cans below.

                http://www.ilmercatoitaliano.net/La-V...

                So does Cento, as porthos clarified just minutes before me... (stole my thunder!)

                As for the muddy tasting problem, I never cook with the puree, but the muddy tasting problem persists. Unless you're asserting that DOP San Marzanos have some sort of barrier that protects them from the months or years of being cooked (pasteurized) in terrible tasting puree and then marinating for months or years on shipping vessels and store shelves, I don't see how there's any way a DOP San Marzano is going to emerge untainted by that violent process.

                Mr Taster

                1. re: enzocapone

                  You are quibbling about terminology. There are aspects of the tomato varieties used for "San Marzano" tomatoes which distinguish them from other plum tomatoes, and when those varieties are grown elsewhere is is perfectly legitimate to identify them in some way as being of the same variety as "San Marzano D.O.P." "San Marzano Style" is one way, which should mean the same type of tomato packed in the same way. The designation "D.O.P." suffices to identify the genuine article, for those who care.

                  Whether the soil makes a difference in the taste or not is arguable. The climate is likely as important as the soil. In order to prove that the soil mattered, you would have to do a controlled study, growing the identical variety of tomato at the same latitude in San Marzano and somewhere else with a nearly identical climate. The growing, packing, and storing would have to be controlled as well. Finally, you would need a blind test. I think it's just marketing hype, myself, but if there is an objective scientific study showing the superiority of tomatoes grown in San Marzano soil, I'd like to see it.

                  1. re: GH1618

                    GH1618,

                    The closest thing to what you describe (that I know of) was a lab test and tasting done by Cooks Illustrated in March 2012.

                    They taste tested 10 cans of whole tomatoes:

                    Italian DOP
                    Italian non-DOP
                    Canadian
                    American

                    They used lab tests to measure both pH and the sweetness on the Brix scale, which is a measure of the sugar (per 100g) in liquid. Lastly, they caliper measured the ratio of jelly to skin ("pericarp").

                    They tasted the tomatoes straight out of the can, as well as simmered in both quick- and long-cooked tomato sauces.

                    Although a tasting panel is by definition subjective, trends emerged that correlated with empirical data.

                    Tasters preferred brands that had a good balance of acidity and sweetness (these preferences were backed up by the lab numbers- tasters of course didn't know the lab numbers going into the tasting panel). Brands that were not acidic enough fell to the bottom of the list. Acidic tomatoes were described as having “fresh,” “fruity” flavors.

                    What they also found is that tasters preferred a good balance between sweetness and acidity. And the panel actually found the DOP San Marzano was near the bottom of the list. The reason? Low sweetness. (again, backed up by lab data). They tasted "weak" and "washed out". I can personally vouch for having exactly this experience with the expensive DOPs.

                    Lastly, they measured the ratio of jelly (where most of the tomato flavor comes from) to skin (or "pericarp"). Turns out, tomatoes with the thinnest skin (and therefore the largest amount of jelly) were at the top of the list. (Thick-skinned tomatoes are a recent invention, meant to withstand modern mechanical harvesting.)

                    And there was a mention of firmness, as the American brands used calcium chloride which kept the tomatoes intact during pasteurization and shipping, etc. They acknowledged perhaps an American cultural bias towards firm tomatoes, whereas an Italian person might prefer the non-treated ones as they will dissolve more evenly into the sauce. I can understand this.

                    Interesting that they did not mention the juice vs. puree debate, which they had done in one of their prior canned tomato tastings.

                    It's an interesting article. The winner of the tasting was Muir Glen Organic Whole Peeled Tomatoes (which had both high acidity and high sweetness). 2nd place was Hunt's Whole Plum Tomatoes (which had moderately high acidity and moderate sweetness).

                    Pastene DOP was near the bottom of the list, having moderate acidity and low sweetness.

                    I still would love to know if anyone has actually eaten canned DOP tomatoes IN Italy. I'd be very curious to know whether an Italian domestic product is superior to their exports. I highly suspect it would be.

                    Mr Taster

                    1. re: Mr Taster

                      I'm sure if the lab test was carried out in Italy by Italian testers, the result will be different??!!!

                      1. re: Charles Yu

                        Well, the lab test wouldn't be different, but perhaps the tasting panel would have preferred different levels of acidity and sweetness, etc.

                        Also, they might well be tasting better quality San Marzanos, packed in juice, pasteurized at lower temps, etc. Who knows? I'd love someone with actual knowledge of this to chime in.

                        Mr Taster

                        1. re: Mr Taster

                          Thanks for the report. I've also been disappointed in some DOP San Marzanos, which goes to show that seals and certificates aren't everything. There are good packers and not. But some general notes: packing anything in a puree muddles acidity and even sweetness: I've enjoyed Rienzi and Cento non-DOP whole tomatoes packed in juice over a number of DOPs packed in puree. Alsdo, the thin-skinned San Marzanos show best when cooked briefly, even, alas, with a touch of wine vinegar/sugar (very traditionally Italian American) to achieve the sweetness-acid balance desired. Many years ago, my mom would buy Luigi Vitelli "San Marzanos" (before DOP) packed in juice; they were indeed that--not the plump, somewhat stodgy romas and other varieties more commonly found and redolent of acid and sweetness. I must say I've never developed a taste for the sharply flavored Muir Glens.

                          1. re: bob96

                            Well, as I've noted before, we are all assuming the the tomatoes from a given maker are the same season to season. They are not. The fields are not lab-controlled conditions. While a given maker may have better or worse processing, the most fundamental ingredient is variable in quality.

                      2. re: Mr Taster

                        Mr. Taster, many of us would be grateful if you reported the order of finish of the tomato cans tested.

                2. Do people actually eat canned tomatoes directly out of the can without cooking? If so, why? If not, why does it matter what they taste like out of the can if the finished product is to your liking?

                  I have no dog in this fight, as I don't often use whole canned tomatoes in my cooking. It just seems an odd criterion, unless this is actually something people do.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                    I always taste them first--that's not very odd is it? But Hunt's--yeecch...had to use them and regretted it. End product sauce lacked flavor...medicinal in taste (despite olive oil, herbs etc.)

                    1. re: penthouse pup

                      I taste the tomatoes from each can before using in sauce. Even if each can was bought at the same time, same place. I used to buy Tuttorosso all the time, but I've found that their quality seems to be diminishing and I've taken to buying a case at time of the SM just to have them on hand.

                    2. Well, calcium chloride makes for firmness in canned tomatoes. It's not desirable for anything that you don't want to keep chunky.

                      As you may know, Italian tomatoes, even SM DOP brands, can be packed in a puree that does not help. POMI is, at least, just tomatoes, period.

                      Finally, taste test reviews of tomatoes are only as good as the crop from which they were packed and your liminal benchmarks of goodness for tomatoes. So results can vary.....

                      2 Replies
                        1. re: Karl S

                          I have just tried Pomi for the first time and the difference was so apparent that for most things I will be purchasing it instead of canned.

                          To the OP, Hunts is vey much a last resort due to the hard acidic tomatoes.

                        2. We're not in Italy to see production, but their tomato industry has very high standards, especially with DOP designation. My guess is the puree is made from ripe but blemished tomatoes that won't look good as whole fruit, but the sunny Italian flavor is still there.

                          The OP has raised an interesting questiom, and I'm sure many of us will do a little more tasting out of the cans.

                          1. Sorry, I hated the flavor, artificial texture and green butts of Hunt's tomatoes so much I wrote a letter of complaint to the company. One of less than a handful of times I've done that in my whole life.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Melanie Wong

                              Of the garden variety grocery variety, Hunt's is the worst, IMO. In the past, I've used Redpack (I notice Ina Garten does, too) and Progresso, then Progresso got very bitter years ago and I tried Muir Glen for a while, but their tomato products all seem too bitter to me, just an off taste. Del Monte diced are good, haven't bought whole ones in a long time from them. I love Pomi and San Marzano in juice the best.

                              1. re: Melanie Wong

                                They are not consistent, for sure! Try to find a brand by looking at ratings. Ratings will and can change from time to time.

                              2. My understanding is that Hunts processes local tomatoes. So someone in Florida or California may get really good tomatoes because their climate allows for better tomatoe production.

                                Canadian summers can be iffy at times and tomato production varies from year to year. As another poster noted tomatoes can vary from crop to crop. I think tomato flavour is also influenced by where they were grown and how ripe they were when canned.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: lyndak

                                  So are you saying that Hunts packs local tomatoes and then only sells them locally? I would think they'd have a wide distribution area where the more flavorful tomatoes near their plants could be sold anywhere.

                                2. I recently tried a can of San Marzano tomatoes because of reading about them on CH. I could not believe the difference in the resulting flavor of my marinara sauce. I didn't tell my family I had done anything different when I served them dinner but they definitely noticed and commented. Apparently I will be needing to use SM all the time now.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: jlhinwa

                                    Eden organic and Thomas Utopia are produced in S.W. Ontario from the Kerr farm in Chatham-Kent, and are excellent in a good year. I get them at Loblaw, and I'm not sure if Loblaw's P.C. Organic is sourced the same way.

                                    1. re: jayt90

                                      The only brand of tomatoes that I ever buy is Muir Glen organic; their crop comes from the San Joaquin Valley in California, and they are sweet and delicious. I especially love the fire-roasted kinds.

                                      www.muirglen.com

                                      1. re: SmartCookie

                                        The one time I bought Muir Glen tomatoes, I opened the can and it all looked fine. When I poured it into the pan, I flipped out because I thought a dead mouse had come out. It was an extremely unripe tomato.

                                        You can have all mine.

                                  2. We now use the canned Plum Tomatoes packed in juice from Trader Joes. I don't find them to be as good as the best San Marzano packed in juice, but at about a buck fifty, they do just fine for our pizza and pasta sauces. In general, I look for tomatoes that are very ripe and soft since I feel they offer the best flavor and I'm not looking for a firm texture.

                                    7 Replies
                                    1. re: escondido123

                                      I agree completely; just tried both, found the TJ variety to be rather sour and that sauce it's canned with is pretty tastless, but it is a bargain that can't be passed up. Same for their 'Greek Kalamata Olives' pretty much a steal.

                                      1. re: escondido123

                                        Several years ago, I tried the TJ's variety after using Progresso for a long time. I tasted them from the can and-- WOW. A punch of SALT. Then I looked on the nutritional label, and that data corroborated my tasting experience. They dump salt in the can, which is kind of ridiculous since it's an ingredent, not a snack food, which will ostensibly be adjusted for seasoning once you've made whatever it is you're making with it.

                                        Mr Taster

                                        1. re: Mr Taster

                                          I can't see how you can seriously object to this. As you noted, the tomatoes aren't a snack food, so whether they have salt in the can or not is irrelevant - just add less salt to the finished dish. Or, if that's a problem, just buy the TJ's unsalted tomatoes; they're on the same shelf, one can over. I've been using them for 15 years, and they are consistently superior to most supermarket brands at a significantly lower cost.

                                          1. re: alanbarnes

                                            Overly salted certainly is a problem! But of course buying the unsalted (or low sodium) variety and seasoning to your taste is the solution.

                                            I didn't know TJ's offered an unsalted version, so thanks for that. And I've got nothing against salt-- but I do prefer to maintain control over my ingredients. I look to my tomatoes to add, primarily, tomato to my dish, not salt, not sugar, not acid (though it does add those three). I have a problem when the salty flavor is pronounced enough so that I am able to taste it side by side with the tomato, which is what happened the one time I tried the TJ's tomatoes. That's a problem, and that's why I never bought them again. (But clearly others do not have the same problem, or TJ's wouldn't have had these overly salted tomatoes on their shelves for so many years now.)

                                            But I would like to illustrate my point with empirical evidence... notice how much sodium in the TJ's whole tomatoes... 1/2 c of tomatoes contains 360mg
                                            http://www.myfitnesspal.com/food/calo...

                                            Compare that with a 1/2 c of Hunts' 190mg
                                            http://www.myfitnesspal.com/food/calo...

                                            TJ's contains nearly double, and I'm not sure why. (Again, I'm using Hunt's only as a representative example, but I recall Progresso Italian whole tomatoes also had drastically lower sodium content than the TJ's tomatoes).

                                            To my mind, 360mg of sodium is approaching processed food territory, like a prepared pasta sauce. Very strange for what is supposed to be a raw ingredient.

                                            But as you said Alan, the easy workaround is to buy the unsalted version (or buy another brand), and season to your taste, so to my mind it's more of an odd quandary rather than a real problem.

                                            Mr Taster

                                            1. re: Mr Taster

                                              Anything that's canned has been cooked to a fairtheewell. Tomatoes are a "raw ingredient" when they're harvested. Once they've been processed - not so much.

                                              Which makes me wonder about your objection to a "cooked" flavor. Canning cooks food, and there's no way around it. IMO looking for "fresh" tasting canned tomatoes is like looking for "warm" snow.

                                              1. re: alanbarnes

                                                Oy Alan, I'm currently fighting a 101 fever so give me a little leeway... I've canned my own goods before so I am well aware of the process, but I selected my words imprecisely, so I understand your confusion.

                                                Let's start over. By "raw ingredient" I meant "fundamental, staple pantry item which is used as the foundation for any number of recipes." I never meant to imply "uncooked". Yes, I know "raw" means uncooked. See reference to 101 degree fever, above.

                                                But canned goods *can* taste less cooked or more cooked depending on how they're processed, and that is the *only* distinction I am making here.

                                                Can we get back to the remaining 95% of my last post that you didn't address? ;-)

                                                Mr Taster

                                                1. re: Mr Taster

                                                  Sorry to hear about the fever; hope it subsides soonest.

                                                  My take on the salt is that we're just talking about a pinch; the TJ's tomatoes have significantly less than a quarter-teaspoon of salt added per serving. Sure, the Hunt's has less than an eighth of a teaspoon, but any the finished dish the tomatoes are going into is likely to have more salt than that, so I can just add less later on.

                                                  As far as a quarter-teaspoon of salt "approaching processed food territory," I'm not sure I agree. There are plenty of fairly simple foods that have moderate to high amounts of salt. This thread has me thinking pasta, so let's go with a puttanesca - the anchovies, olives, capers, and cheese (if you roll that way) are all saltier than the tomatoes, but I wouldn't call any of them "processed foods."

                                                  When it comes right down to it I use the unsalted tomatoes because it's always easier to put a little salt in than to take it out (and because I've taken to using fish sauce instead of salt in tomato dishes to increase depth of flavor). But it just doesn't seem like that big a deal to me. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

                                      2. I'd like to point out that 'San Marzano' tomatoes don't necessarily refer to a brand name, or DOP designation but also to a specific heirloom tomato plant variant. They are not just your typical Roma/plum tomatos, but rather longish, indeterminate (meaning: spreading out rather than a bush) tomatoes that were said to be a gift to the king of Naples from the Kingdom of Peru a few centuries ago. Try obtaing some readily available seeds of this variety for your garden, thus avoiding the over-priced commercial imports.

                                        10 Replies
                                        1. re: arktos

                                          Yes, SM as a variety is a particularly dry plum tomato, best for cooking.

                                          However, if you don't live in an area where the conditions are consistently perfect for tomato cultivation, your own results will vary season to season. Case in point: Northeast USA in summer 2009 (probably the most awful season in memory; even SM's came out rather soggy and flavorless) vs summer 2010 (a great season for many). You takes your chance wit da weddah...

                                          1. re: Karl S

                                            Ever try 'Johnny's Select Seeds'?? Great customer service. I've ordered from them many times before, they're located in Maine and produce cultivars that are specifically suited to a NE type climate. There's also the 'New England Seed Company', have yet to order from them so can't vouch, but they also do what Johnny's does.

                                            1. re: arktos

                                              Yes, I use Johnny's. No seed provider can deal with weather, only climate....

                                          2. re: arktos

                                            Arktos (or others): I'm now harvesting my bright red San Marzanos (first year growing this variety). They're only about 2-3 inches long--is that normal?? Maybe I should ask over on the gardening board. Taste is great, but much smaller than I expected.

                                            1. re: pine time

                                              Well, if you are in a relatively dry area or having a relatively dry season, fruit will be smaller - and better tasting for it.

                                              Lots of water means bigger fruits with more diluted flavor. Good for vendors who sell by weight but not for the consumer or eater.

                                              1. re: Karl S

                                                They're getting regular, consistent watering, so that's not their issue.

                                                I just wasn't sure what the "normal" size is, especially since the canned ones I buy are chopped up.

                                                While they're S.M., guess the "terroir," or it's veggie equivalent, is the distinctive quality in the DOP ones??

                                            2. re: arktos

                                              It's also important to point out, that though you can get seeds to the same strain of tomatoes, that supposedly it's the volcanic soil and growing climate that make San Marzano DOP so special and tasty.

                                              1. re: Porthos

                                                I'm convinced that this belief that San Marzanos won't taste the same if they're not grown in volcanic soil in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius next to a statue of Ceres is a myth and possibly a marketing ploy to get people to buy their expensive imported tomatoes. It's human nature for people to think their products are the best and try to come up with reasons why. Volcanic soil, Florida sunshine, cool mountain air, etc. People used to think that olives couldn't be grown more than ~100 miles inland from the coast too. Volcanic soil is very fertile and has good structure and drainage, but so do many soils. I don't see any reason why growing them in volcanic soil would provide any benefit beyond growing them in say, clay soil that has been improved with added compost every year.

                                                From my experience growing tomatoes and a lot of other fruits and vegetables it's mostly the genetics. I fairly recently bought some type of oxheart tomatoes at the grocery store just labeled as "heirloom tomatoes" that were product of Canada, and they were probably the best tomatoes I've ever had that I didn't grow myself. Not at all hard and insipid like normal grocery store tomatoes By far the best Meyer lemons I've ever had were the ones I grew in pine bark fines/peat/perlite potting mix in a pot in Indiana, ripened inside next to a window while there was snow on the ground outside.

                                                I find all canned tomatoes to have a very noticeable metal taste, because of that and the presence of BPA in the lining, I try to avoid using them very much. If I do I usually use Muir Glenn which have good flavor, no BPA in the lining, and minimal metal taste. Hunt's have a very prominent metal taste and really awful flavor. As much as I hate wasting food, I don't even think I would use these if someone gave them to me.

                                                I try to jar as much as possible from what I grow. Personally I don't think paste varieties are the best for sauce though. From my experience meaty oxhearts and beefsteaks make the best sauce, their flavor is generally superior to paste varieties. Opalka and Amish paste have excellent flavor for paste varieties though, San Marzano is also very good. I like to use a mix of some opalkas or Amish paste, some oxhearts, and some beafsteaks.

                                                1. re: StringerBell

                                                  I tend to agree with your comments about the volcanic soil mythos. Years ago, I asked a friend of mine in Bologna to send me a variety of garden tomato seeds, and he mailed me several packages from what was basically his corner garden store. At the time, I lived in central Wisconsin. I started the plants indoors in the spring on our covered porch. Then as the soil warmed, I used red mulch and planted my seedlings. I ended up with about a dozen plants bursting with beautiful, delicious plum and San Marzano-type tomatoes. They were the best tomatoes I've ever tasted, and they canned beautifully. I've spent a fair amount of time in Italy since then, and I'd still say the tomatoes I harvested in Wisconsin from the Italian seeds were the best tasting. I believe the seeds did 95% of the work for the taste, because I can tell you my central Wisconsin garden soil was not volcanic. :)

                                                  I have the original seed packets somewhere in a box, but I couldn't tell you the tomato types offhand -- this was a good dozen summers ago. I do know my friend went out of his way to pick up the seeds for me, but he did not spend a lot of money or research getting any special heirloom or hard-to-find varieties because gardening is not his thing and I didn't want to task him with a wild goose chase for specific varieties; he just picked a few his mother recommended, and they were awesome. Mama knows best!

                                              2. re: arktos

                                                Replying to Arktos, somewhere above: "I'd like to point out that 'San Marzano' tomatoes don't necessarily refer to a brand name, or DOP designation but also to a specific heirloom tomato plant variant. They are not just your typical Roma/plum tomatos, but rather longish, indeterminate (meaning: spreading out rather than a bush) tomatoes that were said to be a gift to the king of Naples from the Kingdom of Peru a few centuries ago. Try obtaing some readily available seeds of this variety for your garden, thus avoiding the over-priced commercial imports."

                                                San Marzano is not a brand name at all. It IS a DOP (Pomodoro S. Marzano dell'Agro Sarnese-Nocerino), though the name San Marzano, without the DOP, is widely used in Italy for the same tomatoes grown elsewhere. They are about one hundred years old, a cross of three varieties. The consortium site is interesting: http://www.consorziopomodorosanmarzan...

                                              3. I am looking at a can of San Marzano DOP tomatoes that I bought in NY two weeks ago; they are packed in juice. I've not tried this particular brand yet.

                                                9 Replies
                                                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                    Hm, interesting... I found this.

                                                    "Our tomatoes are peeled then fresh packed in tomato juice, not purée, and contain a basil leaf."
                                                    http://www.pastene.com/eng_san_marzan...

                                                    Mr Taster

                                                    1. re: Mr Taster

                                                      Pastene is a local (North East) manufacturer and their crushed tomatoes are inexpensive and excellent. I have never seen their S.M. in NYC stores although I read about them on the website. By the way, Mr. Taster, do you still believe that Hunts is the ne plus ultra of canned tomatoes?

                                                      1. re: penthouse pup

                                                        Ah pup, you have been drawing inaccurate assumptions and consequently making incorrect conclusions about my humble tasting experiment.

                                                        My goal was to pit a random American brand packed in juice against several highly regarded, expensive DOPs packed in puree. It could have just as easily been Contadina, Progresso, Muir Glen, etc. but I picked Hunt's. And my experinment was not intended to be a comprehensive tasting of all DOPs and domestics available in my market.

                                                        I did not taste any American brands other than Hunt's, so I certainly am not claiming (nor did I ever intend to claim) that Hunt's was the ultimate canned tomato, domestic or otherwise. I don't have enough practical data to make that conclusion with any degree of certainty.

                                                        What I did find (which I already stated, but I'll repeat again here for emphasis) is that the expensive DOPs packed in puree, in general, had a darker, muddier, cooked appearance and flavor whereas the one American brand I tried appeared bright red, and tasted crisp, clean, acidic and bright. As I said originally, the tomatoes were too firm, so if you're making a sauce this is actually less desirable (bit more desirable if you're making a hearty stew or ratatouille, for example).

                                                        That's the only point I ever made (or intended to make). Nary a ne plus ultra crossed my keyboard.

                                                        If you doubt my findings, try the experiment yourself. Open two cans side by side. The DOPs have a muddy, rusty, brown appearance whereas Hunt's is a gorgeous bright red. It's not at all difficult to see. Taste them. The muted, muddy, cooked flavor I describe in the DOPs is obvious, and made all the more so when tasted next to the domestic.

                                                        Mr Taster

                                                        1. re: Mr Taster

                                                          Mr. Taster. Retest with Strianese and Cento San Marzano DOP. La Valle is not as good as the other 2 IMO. I usually pass on La Valle even when it's on sale.

                                                          I find that Strianese and Cento are sweeter and have a wonderful acidic/mineral balance to them. When I can't find them, I use Pomi chopped tomatoes as substitute. All 3 I find superior to Hunt's.

                                                          In fact, I usually have to limit myself to eating just 2 or 3 when I cook with Strianese whole San Marzano DOPs because they are so delicious straight out of the can. You can find Strianese at Bay Cities if I remember correctly.

                                                          1. re: Porthos

                                                            Thanks for the suggestion Porthos. I will check it out.

                                                            Mr Taster

                                                    2. re: Melanie Wong

                                                      Melanie, the can I am looking at is packed for ShopRite supermarket. The label reads, "Imported San Marzano Tomato of Sarnese-Nocerino area, in juice with basil." It has the DOP stamp. The price was under $3 per can at a ShopRite in the NYC northern suburbs. There is no actual brand listed on the label; distributor is Wakefern in New Jersey. All writing is in English.

                                                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                        I just went to check my pantry, which always contains san marzano tomatoes. Right now I have Paese Mio which lists the ingredients as:sanmarzano tomatoes, sanmarzano tomato juice and basil and is DOP. There are many places here in Toronto that sell theses kinds of canned tomatoes. I get these and other DOP from Grande Cheese on Orfus Rd. The brands vary but I have never gotten a below standard product. The are around $3

                                                        1. re: faijay

                                                          "Cooks' Illustrated" (CI) had an article testing the various brands of tomatoes maybe a year ago. CI's conclusion was similar to Mr. Taster's in that the packed in tomato juice canned tomatoes consistently outperformed the packed in tomato puree canned tomatoes. The reason that Italian packers (usually, but not always) pack in tomato puree instead of tomato juice has something to do with avoiding a tariff on packed in tomato juice tomatoes. If the tomatoes are packed in puree, they fall into a different category which is not subject to the tariff. Therefore, packed in tomato juice canned tomatoes imported from Italy are much more expensive.

                                                    3. I buy whatever is on sale.

                                                      And many times I stock up at 99 Cents Only stores.

                                                      4 Replies
                                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                                        wow, you've found DOP ones at the 99 cent store?? (how come there's no "cent sign" on the keyboard?). I have a hard time finding 'em even at the $5 a can grocery store--they're still domestically grown, which I've taken to doing myself (see up-thread).

                                                        1. re: pine time

                                                          On a Mac:
                                                          option + 4
                                                          gives you
                                                          ¢

                                                          1. re: huiray

                                                            Huiray: how 'bout on a non-Mac? Keyboarding idiot here.

                                                      2. No tomato makes a better sauce than a DOP certified San Marzano. I usually use Cento. The closest domestic product I have found is the organically grown Muir Glenn brand. Red Pack is not bad either. Yet, most of the domestic brands are inconsistent and have that stewy taste. I have compared the SM's many times right out of the can to domestic tomatoes and there is no comparison. San Marzanos are sweeter, richer, firmer and fresher tasting. They also melt and integrate much better into sauces. I can assure you that as soon as a better, and more consistent sauce tomato becomes available, all of your top chefs and top Italian restaurants will switch over.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: IDavis

                                                          Posting this in light of the new Cook's Illustrated report on canned tomatoes, in the current issue.

                                                          Muir Glen is their top pick and the San Marzanos (DOP and not) fell far below the Muir Glen.

                                                          http://www.cooksillustrated.com/taste...

                                                        2. Here's an interesting comparison I found online:

                                                          http://www.pasta-recipes-by-italians....

                                                          I use the Nina brand San Marzanos that are available at Costco - they're something like $6 for a 6.5lb can. Unbelievably good for the price, IMO. They are packed in puree, but I actually prefer that as the puree is just as delicious for making sauce as the tomatoes themselves.

                                                          5 Replies
                                                          1. re: biondanonima

                                                            Canned tomatoes are shizola, all of them organic or not. Glass container preservation is hard to find on market shelves, and the price is up there. Buy them when they are in season, and jar them yourself. It is quite easy..
                                                            The problem with canned tomatoes: The resin linings of tin cans contain bisphenol-A, a synthetic estrogen that has been linked to ailments ranging from reproductive problems to heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Unfortunately, acidity (a prominent characteristic of tomatoes) causes BPA to leach into your food. Studies show that the BPA in most people's body exceeds the amount that suppresses sperm production or causes chromosomal damage to the eggs of animals. As the tomato season comes to a close, I bid farewell to one of my favorite fruits and covet the few jars I have saved...

                                                            1. re: chancepoe

                                                              That problem does not happen in tetrapak tomatoes, like Pomi....

                                                              1. re: Karl S

                                                                In North America only 20% of Tetrapack (the highest percentage in the world) is recycled. The downside being that the packaging goes in into landfills so while the product may be BPA free, the cartons end up in a landfill.

                                                              2. re: biondanonima

                                                                Edit: I am responding to Erica, above. For some reason this post went to the bottom.

                                                                I read that Cooks Illustrated article, too. I'm not sure I can accept their methods or assumptions.

                                                                They seemed to favor firmness, a calcium chloride effect, to a degree that lacked clear justification. They also noted that the American packagings tend to have more salt, but then they said they didn't think it needful to factor salt differences into their assessment of the cooked sauces.

                                                                My own experience has been that canned tomatoes vary annually. Part of life is trying to find out what's good at the present time.

                                                              3. Another factor in whole tomatos
                                                                Is the fact that a domestic brand like hunts has quick turn around.
                                                                From production to the stove can be very short,
                                                                Hunts stock/inventory doesn't stay on the shelf very long,
                                                                While a higher priced imported dop may have been stored for months,
                                                                When I had a store brands like hunts was restocked almost weelky, while imported brands may take 1-2 months to move.
                                                                Raises another question, what's better a fresher inferior brand?
                                                                Or an older high quality brand?

                                                                4 Replies
                                                                1. re: terasec

                                                                  Interesting question! I wonder if the imported tomatoes are packed all year round or just after summer harvest season....

                                                                  1. re: erica

                                                                    Rienzi's "normal" (nonDOP) plum tomatoes have a packed date, and other Italian brands indicate packer source. The CI test (like any of their tests) only goes so far--Muir Glens have for me a very different taste and feel from the best Italian true San Marzanos. That said, consistency across years and brands is spotty, and I keep trying around, and look for tomatoes packed not in puree but in juice. I think some Cento packings have this, and the Teitel Bros. house brand. Gives a fresher, lighter, less cooked flavor. But each to his or her own taste--just shop around and don;t assume that you can stick with the same brand for a long time.

                                                                    1. re: bob96

                                                                      Very interesting, Bob.

                                                                      Are the Teitel tomatoes packed under their name? I've seen the stacks outside the store, for very good prices per can, but did not remember seeing any labeled
                                                                      "Teitel."

                                                                      1. re: erica

                                                                        They're labelled Callisto and Francesconi--with a DOP adn non-DOP version. The brand name is a very old one for (refined) olive oil packed in Lucca, which I think Teitel sells.

                                                                2. Tastes and preferences vary widely, but with that said, I find a couple of flaws in your statements and conclusions. First off, define "inferior tomatoes." *IF* the tomatoes used forr the stock for packing San Marzanos are "inferior," that label most likely applies to the cosmetics. Are the tomatoes blemished or misshapen? Those flaws will have NO impact on flavor.

                                                                  Second, you really can't judge a canned tomatoes impact on the end result of a sauce based on it's straight-from-the-can flavor. Cooking is, after all, a layering and marrying of flavors. To my way of thinking, you comparisons would have had a lot more validity if you had tasted the canned tomatoes in both the "before" and "after" stage of sauce making.

                                                                  20 Replies
                                                                  1. re: Caroline1

                                                                    "Second, you really can't judge a canned tomatoes impact on the end result of a sauce based on it's straight-from-the-can flavor."
                                                                    I’m sorry, but I don’t think I could disagree with a statement any more than this.

                                                                    If I open a can of tomatoes and taste one and it tastes even slightly bitter, I know that the bitterness is only going to concentrate when I cook it, and no amount of correction will fix the flavor of the sauce

                                                                    If open a can of tomatoes and it has that ‘stewed’ flavor, tasting already over cooked or boiled, then I know that the end result is going to be even more flat

                                                                    Cooking tomatoes for any length of time changes the flavor to the extent that it concentrates it, so if you’re starting off with a product that’s “off” to begin with, you’re only going to end up with a worse end result.

                                                                    1. re: cgarner

                                                                      The problem with what you write, especially in that last paragraph, is that the tomato flavor will only intensify if you're just cooking tomatoes. Let's talk about classic Italian sauces (gravies if you prefer) such as a marinara or Bolognese, which I do believe is one of the prime, if not THE prime reason San Marzano tomatoes are sold. In most cases, a classic recipe starts with sauteeing onions and garlic in olive oil (or in the north of Italy, probably butter), then you add tomatoes, whether whole, paste, sauce or fresh. Some wine (often red) will come in somewhere. Some add it before the tomato ingredient(s) to cook out the alcohol, some add it after the tomatoes. Spices are added at some point. And then comes the simmering, sometimes for hours to mel and marry and transform the ingredients into the great final sauce. NOBODY makes a classic Italian sauce with ONLY tomatoes! So how is all of this going to concentrate the tomato flavor? Plus, I do not believe that the tomato sauce the Italian tomatoes are packed in are inferior beyond cosmetic blemishes. Their flavor is still prime.

                                                                      I feel you have missed my point. Or maybe you just want to argue? '-)

                                                                      1. re: Caroline1

                                                                        cgarner isn't being argumentative.

                                                                        Concentration and evaporation is the very foundation of the great European cuisines.

                                                                        Water has no flavor. Heat makes water evaporate. Therefore, once you cook off most of the water, all that is left is a more concentrated, intense version of the original ingredient.

                                                                        Great recipes (and great cooks) capitalize upon this by using excellent ingredients and building upon them in reduction layers.

                                                                        I can use your sauce as an example of this. When you cook the onions down, you evaporate the water inside the onions, which reduces to super concentrated, flavorful, caramelized solids. That's layer #1.

                                                                        Then you add tomatos and wine, cook out the water in those leaving a second layer of concentrated, flavorful solids. That's layer #2, which combines and compliments layer #1.

                                                                        When you deglaze the browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pot with the wine, you are adding a third layer.

                                                                        So of course when you make a sauce (or any other complex reduction) you always layer other flavors on top of each other. But it doesn't change the fact that the essence of whatever flavors inherent in each ingredient are concentrated-- become stronger-- when the water leaves the party.

                                                                        Therefore, a bitter, off-tasting tomato-- once the water leaves-- will concentrate into an even more bitter, off-tasting concentrated tomato. This is not to say that you couldn't cover it up with other ingredients, which is what you're describing.

                                                                        But the best practice for me is to use clean, bright tasting ingredients from the start.

                                                                        Mr Taster

                                                                        1. re: Mr Taster

                                                                          Mr. Taster, did you ever get a chance to try Strianese or Cento?

                                                                          1. re: Porthos

                                                                            It was a while back, but I think I did pick up Strianese at Roma Deli in Pasadena. I don't recall there being much difference. Still the same muddled, cooked, stewed flavor that the other DOPs had, and a stark contrast with the crisp, sharp acidity and sweetness of their American counterpart.

                                                                            There may well be marked differences among Strianese and other DOP imports, but it's easy to determine the difference when compared to the American brands.

                                                                            Grab a friend and do a blind tasting out of the can. I don't have a crystal palate and, texture aside, it's super easy even for me to tell the difference.

                                                                            Mr Taster

                                                                            1. re: Mr Taster

                                                                              For the life of me I don't see how you get muddy from Strianese San Marzano. Its's as bright and fresh with sweetness and minerality as you can get. For me domestic (eg Hunts) is stewed and lacking. Go figure.

                                                                              It's a win win situation. You pay less for the brands you like and I have a better chance of my preferred brands not running out due to high demand.

                                                                          2. re: Mr Taster

                                                                            Thank you Mr. Taster I was truly not trying to be argumentative and not to beat the proverbial dead horse, but a "marinara" sauce is olive oil, garlic tomatoes and basil and is not cooked for a very long time, so again if you're starting out with tomatoes which are too bitter, or acidic then your final product is only going to be a reflection on what your ingredients are.
                                                                            if you were cooking something in oil and the oil smelled off or rancid would you use it anyway? Probably not, right?
                                                                            ********************************************************************************
                                                                            "Great recipes (and great cooks) capitalize upon this by using excellent ingredients and building upon them in reduction layers. "
                                                                            ********************************************************************************
                                                                            So many great Italian recipes are simple and based on this statement that Mr. Taster made.

                                                                          3. re: Caroline1

                                                                            For what it's worth a classic Bolognese uses hardly any tomato product at all, often some paste or a small quantity of puree to brighten the vegetable/herb/wine/meat /mushroom flavors. Check any standard cookbook. Gravies, or those sauces long-cooked slowly with meat(s), usually in chunks or large pieces, often use a predominantly tomato base, usually from Naples south. Yet, the classic Neapolitan Sunday meat gravy, genovese, is almost always a big hunk of meat stewed for hours with a big pile of onion and some cured pork, maybe wine, but no tomato. Here,a bottled puree (passato) is often quite commonly used. Quicker sauces, such a puttanesca or marinara, really do depend on quality whole tomatoes, most often peeled and canned, most often DOP San Marzanos--but not always. Home canned whole, peeled plum tomatoes of different varieties are still very common in Italy.

                                                                            1. re: bob96

                                                                              #1 You're preaching to the choir.

                                                                              #2. I have never ever seen a Balognese sauce that does not use tomatoes. A LOT of tomatoes! Often both canned tomatoes and tomato paste.

                                                                              But bravo for you for knowing all of those italian dishes.

                                                                              1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                Well, thanks, but every classic Bolognese recipe I've seen calls for at most a sparing use of tomato, depending on the slow meld of meat and flavorings--versions called "bolognese" made farther south, are mostly tomato based. I once asked a trattoria owner/chef in Campania about the "ragu bolognese" on her menu and it was carne macinata (ground beef) in tomato. This is indeed why my mother made when she made a "bolognese" sauce. But variations can be delightful surprises, too.

                                                                                1. re: bob96

                                                                                  Well, here are a whole bunch of Balognese recipes, and none of them use tomatoes in a way I would classify as "sparingly." But Italian food (actually in Italy) is not only a regional thing but can even be a neighborhood thing, so there may be recipes that use tiny bits of tomatoes or even none at al, but I've never seen those recipes. I don't even think I've seen a recipe that uses less or equal amounts of tomatoes to meat. I've only seen more. Such s in these puppies:

                                                                                  http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/an...

                                                                                  http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/em...

                                                                                  http://allrecipes.com/recipe/bolognes...

                                                                                  http://allrecipes.com/recipe/ragu-bol...

                                                                                  http://allrecipes.com/recipe/ragu-bol...

                                                                                  http://www.food.com/recipe/mario-bata...

                                                                                  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/foo...

                                                                                  http://www.epicureantable.com/recipes...

                                                                                  http://www.theworldwidegourmet.com/re...

                                                                                    1. re: huiray

                                                                                      What is your point? Did you read those recipes? Not ONE of them does not use tomatoes. Do you understand what triple strength tomato paste means? I've looked at all of those recipes and the final one uses the least amount of tomatoes, but it uses tomatoes. You've only helped make my point. :-)

                                                                                      Just for tthe reocrd, if the OP likes Hunts better than Italian made canned tomatoes, then that's what he should use. But don't waste time by trying to convince the rest of the world that Italian canned tomatoes are not good. Do not try to convince the rest of the world that the tomato puree used in Italian tomatoes is made with spoiled tomatoes. Eat what you like but don't try to force the rest of the world to see things your way.

                                                                                      1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                        "What is your point? Did you read those recipes? Not ONE of them does not use tomatoes. Do you understand what triple strength tomato paste means? I've looked at all of those recipes and the final one uses the least amount of tomatoes, but it uses tomatoes. You've only helped make my point. :-)"
                                                                                        ----------
                                                                                        Uh, I said they "use less tomato", NOT "use no tomato" as you huffily accuse me of saying. (You indicated previously that you had seen only recipes that used either more than, or as much as, tomato as meat: "I don't even think I've seen a recipe that uses less or equal amounts of tomatoes to meat. I've only seen more"). Yes, I understand what that tomato paste is, but the previous poster had also mentioned the use of some tomato paste, rather than whole canned tomatoes, without specifying the strength. :-) Would you like a Gin & Tonic?

                                                                                        1. re: huiray

                                                                                          I too have become awfully confused by the shifting goalposts of this discussion.

                                                                                          My intent in posting this was to have people question things they take for granted. Challenging ourselves is the way we grow.

                                                                                          So far it sounds like nobody has actually done a side-by-side taste test. I'd be quite curious to hear others opinions-- not based on memory, but rather on a recent experience. And when you're done, you can whip them all up into a marinara anyway, so no harm no foul.

                                                                                          For what it's worth, I do wish that the American packers would leave out the calcium chloride, so the tomatoes would dissolve like the DOPs. To my mind that's really the greatest benefit to using them.

                                                                                          Mr Taster

                                                                                    2. re: Caroline1

                                                                                      Life is surprisingly complicated alas-- Marcella Hazan does call for 1-1/2 to 2c of chopped peeled tomato for about 2 cups of finished sauce. Not an overwhelming amount, but not a trace, either. Ada Boni and others use a few tbs of paste or concentrate, and there is still much discussion about the quantity of tomato (among other ingredients). Italians cannot live without these debates.
                                                                                      http://www.itchefs-gvci.com/?option=c...

                                                                                      1. re: bob96

                                                                                        Interesting (and amusing) article. Thanks! Italian American cooks are pretty argumentative too. I guess they brought it from the old country! '-)

                                                                                        1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                          One other check--Elizabeth David, in Italian Coking, has what she says is a "genuine" recipe with a few tbs of concentrate. From the 1950s.

                                                                                          1. re: bob96

                                                                                            Does ANYBODY have a recipe that is not "genuine"? LOL! I guess the best answer is to go with what you think tastes good.

                                                                          4. re: Caroline1

                                                                            I completely agree with your remark about so-called "inferior" tomatoes. I don't know what the OP means by that. I buy Strianese whole, peeled San Marzano tomatoes, packed in San Marzano tomato puree. I use these for a few Italian dishes I make because they give me a good, consistent result. I don't use them for everything.

                                                                          5. I would just like to add that there is an American _brand name_ of "San Marzano." it is a near-fraud. They are stocked to the shelves at pricey, oh-so -real and looking-out-for-you Whole Foods here in NYC. (I guess I didn't mention I don't like Whole Foods :) .)

                                                                            The tomatoes are not half-bad, and the units are cheap, but are not San Marzano. It's the nasty deception that make me boycott them anyway.

                                                                            I have not found much difference between imported San Marzano tomatoes whether D.O.P. or not.

                                                                            As opposed to olive oil and wine.

                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                            1. re: rbraham

                                                                              Yup, I saw the imposter San Marzanos at my local Whole Foods in Los Angeles, and they had the gall to put them in the "From Italy" section of the market, near the specialty foods like olives and mozzarella cheese.

                                                                              Mr Taster

                                                                            2. I just used the second can of my imported La Valle San Marzano's DOP lastnight and thought the same thing. Paid close to $5 per can and will never do it again. The taste was not only bland, but also tinny from the can.

                                                                              8 Replies
                                                                              1. re: Phoebe

                                                                                It's shockingly obvious, isn't it? Dull tasting and tinny-- that's exactly right. I've tasted it across many different brands of San Marzanos. At $5-6 a tin, I want fireworks. Instead, I get duds.

                                                                                I've been buying 6-in-1 brand lately (ground tomatoes) and it's my new favorite.

                                                                                http://www.escalon.net/products/6in1-...

                                                                                Bright and sweet from the can, and inexpensive when compared with the DOPs. Since the Hunt's tomatoes don't break down well (see calcium chloride discussion earlier) 6-in-1 has become my standard for sauces (and saucy applications.)

                                                                                Mr Taster

                                                                                1. re: Mr Taster

                                                                                  Do you buy these online or locally?

                                                                                  1. re: Leepa

                                                                                    I buy them at local Italian delis around Los Angeles. 6-in-1 is not generally stocked at the big supermarkets.

                                                                                    Mr Taster

                                                                                    1. re: Mr Taster

                                                                                      Thanks. I've never seen them here (NC).

                                                                                      1. re: Leepa

                                                                                        I'm on the coast in NC and have never seen them either. Will have to start looking for them. Thanks Mr Taster!!!

                                                                                  2. re: Mr Taster

                                                                                    It can be hit or miss with DOP San Marzanos; many brands are actually packed by 1 or 2 big growers, often not very well, and many stocks are old. That said, at their best, San Marzanos are anything buy bland, with a delicious acid-sweetness balance and the ability to break down quickly into sauce. However, I've had good luck acheiving a bright flavor with Rienzi whole Italian plum (not San Marzano) tomatoes (from Basilicata), packed in juice, not thick puree which deadens flavor, and harvest dated. They cook down beautifully.In NY, Fairway has them for about $2.50/can. Cento's whole plum non DOP tomatoes are also a good alternative. And about that Vesuvian soil: the fresh San Marzanos now at the NYC Greenmarket, which I buy for sauce out of tradition, mostly lack that bright, acid fruit, too.

                                                                                    1. re: bob96

                                                                                      Bob thanks for the tips on the Rienzi from Fairway.

                                                                                      After reading the prices charged for the genuine San Marzanos in other cities, I am doubly thankful that we have access to them in the NYC area, often for less than $3 per 28oz can!

                                                                                      1. re: erica

                                                                                        Excellent Italian San Marzano type 28 oz cans are around $1 a can at Costco, non DOP but sweet. When I have the real DOP's, they taste the same.

                                                                                2. In the March 2012 Cook's Illustrated, they rated whole canned tomatoes. The Muir Glen Organic Whole Peeled Tomatoes and Hunt's Whole Plum Tomatoes were they only brands that were "recommended".

                                                                                  1. Why can't I buy fresh San Marzano tomatoes at the super markets or farmer's markets. Aren't they grown in the U.S.?
                                                                                    I can purchase seeds of this variety at many seed companies. Doesn't make sense.

                                                                                    7 Replies
                                                                                    1. re: JWK13

                                                                                      Don't know about fresh commercially grown, but you can buy plants and grow your own. I did, for 2 years, and didn't think they were any great shakes. May well be the terroir thing--different conditions/soils here, however.

                                                                                        1. re: JWK13

                                                                                          Sure, we buy domestically grown San Marzano variety tomatoes every season for canning from local farms in Northern California. Here's a batch taking a bath in the sink.
                                                                                          http://www.flickr.com/photos/melaniew...

                                                                                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                                                            I have never found them available in San Diego County. I went ahead and sent for seeds. I hope they are worth my while. Do you think they are worth the effort. JWK13

                                                                                            1. re: JWK13

                                                                                              Also in S.D. County, and Anderson's nurseries sells the 4" pots every year. They grew beautifully and produced like crazy, but I just didn't think the taste was anything special.

                                                                                              1. re: pine time

                                                                                                Pulpy tomatoes like these and other plum types come into their own when cooked and broken down in the canning process. I wouldn't grow or buy them for table use.

                                                                                                Has anyone here tasted San Marzano's fresh, on site? What are they like there?

                                                                                                1. re: jayt90

                                                                                                  Yeah, that's why I wanted them. I really don't much care for eating tomatoes but do like to make my own homemade sauces, chili, etc. I guess I will find out if they are worth the trouble. JWK13

                                                                                        2. Only packed in juice never puree.

                                                                                          1. Cento claims that a change in DOP labelling regulations made it impossibly difficult for them to use that DOP seal; the CH thread below contains much info on this. Cento also claims that its "certified" is some kind of 3rd party assurance that the products are san marzano varietals grown in the DOP area, but without an official seal. Like some kind of declassfied wine. They do not show the DOP product on their website, but other sellers offer them: Cento always had a DOP certified line, along with non DOP. They may be right, and they may be wrong about provenance and quality, but I think they've made a huge mistake in confusing the issue--especially when there's so much attention to "authenticity" claims. I use their products, and find their basic, non DOP peeled tomatoes to be fine. But this new labelling is not a smart move.http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/773281

                                                                                            1. My experience is different, as long as you get the certified tomatoes. San M tomatoes are sweeter and firmer than many of the other brands. I use Red Pack or Hunts diced tomatoes when I can't find san Marzano's. When I make a S.M. sauce, many folk can tell the difference, but aren't always sure what makes the difference. Often is the S.M. dop and other certifications that make a difference...I don't buy crushed, and i look for a good tomato paste to go with it.