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What exactly is San Marzano "style"?

Saw these at BJ's recently, Contadina brand canned tomatoes that were labeled with big letters SAN MARZANO and under that, in much smaller script, "style".

San Marzano tomatoes are grown in a specific region in Italy. Many believe they are best canned tomatoes you can buy. There a blogs about them. Chefs speak of them in rapturous tones.They have their own official seal meant to protect people from "fake" ones.

I get "italian style" but this seems like a marketing ploy that is hoping the average consumer won't look too closely.

What am I missing? What makes a tomato San Marzano "style"?

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  1. In addition to being a DOP in Italy, San Marzano is a specific type of tomato. I'm guessing San Marzano style means that the tomatoes were grown from San Marzano seeds, outside of the DOP, perhaps somewhere in the US.

    1 Reply
    1. re: ohmyyum

      ETA, For the real thing, look for the DOP seal and Product of Italy or imported from Italy on the label.

    2. It is a variety of tomato. We bought plants at a garden center last year and were very happy with them. They are significantly meatier and have less juice and seeds than romas, and are high producers. You can find seeds at several seed companies.



      2 Replies
      1. re: junescook

        We also grew San Marzano tomatoes last year, and they were just okay--nothing special, and I wouldn't grow them again. Could well be our soil (San Diego, very alkaline).

        The most common cans of "San Marzano" tomatoes in the grocery store here are also grown in the U.S.--they are expensive; I tried them once and was disappointed. Look for the DOP label if you want the real thing.

        1. re: pine time

          Perhaps it was your soil, whether the pH, watering issues or nutrients. It's advisable to do a soil test every three years.

          We wound up canning 35 quarts of sauce and freezing several others, and I found that it got to that nice thick stage while still maintaining nice, fresh flavor, because it was ready in less time than with the romas. We will definitely grown them again this summer.

      2. You get it completely, it's a marketing ploy. Real San Marzano's will at a DOP marking on the can.

        1 Reply
        1. re: treb

          It's not a "ploy" if the San Marzano cultivar is used.

        2. There's nothing "fake" about San Marzanos which are not from San Marzano unless they are fraudulently marked "D. O. P." I use the "San Marzano" brand of US-grown tomato for sauce. It is a San-Marzano variety, and it is correctly marked as to its origin. Nothing "fake" about it.

          But I don't know what San Marzano "style" means.

          1. As others have said, San Marzano tomatoes have a DOP designation, but the seeds are grown elsewhere and the tomatoes are called San Marzano. The DOP exists to differentiate the tomatoes grown in the original place and, I assume but haven't checked, by specified methods. So San Marzano "style" would have to be a rung (at least) lower on the ladder than San Marzano grown elsewhere. I would guess the can contains plum tomatoes of unspecified varieties, possibly several, of which some may be San Marzano. Either that or the company needs an editor to help them write labels that say what they mean.

            3 Replies
            1. re: mbfant

              San Marzano is a true heirloom variety (i.e. it can be grown from its own seeds) which, if it is grown in the Sarno Valley in Italy, may be labeled as DOP. While terroire is going to affect anything you grow in your garden, I think anyone who regularly who grows and uses plum tomatoes might want to give these a try in their garden next to their usuals.


              1. re: junescook

                I think there is something to DOP San Marzano tomatoes. But when you deviate from that the results can start to get uneven. Although the cultivar is a good one other factors start to play a role.

                I actually think Muir Glen (which is not San Marzano) has better canned tomatoes than the one from the "San Marzano" company (white can with the red tomato on it, and with Italian writing on it even though it is a completely domestic company selling only to US consumers).

                1. re: calumin

                  IIRC, that white can to which you refer, is, as you said domestic and is NOT DOP. And they sell it locally for over $4. a can--outrageous, in my opinion.

            2. There's a fairly detailed set of regulations covering the production of DOP San Marzano in selected areas in the provinces around Naples, including varieties (2), harvest dates and methods, etc. Most canned Italian tomatoes or pelati are not, obviously, San Marzano DOP but can be any from any number of plum tomato varieties grown in Puglia, Emilia-Romagna, Basilicata, and other regions. As others have noted, the DOP seal assures authenticity, but does not always guarantee high quality or even enjoyment--you might well favor other types of peeled, canned tomatoes, and there are excellent (and cheaper) brands from Italy available. Here's a link to the San Marzano Consortium:http://www.consorziopomodorosanmarzan...

              1. Basically, the name "San Marzano" has been appropriated by people that sell tomatoes. This appropriation has been going on for so long that Americans commonly recognize San Marzano as a variety of tomato, regardless of place of origin. The fact is that according to EU Law, a tomato may bear the name "San Marzano" only if it is grown in the Agro Sarnese Nocerino area of Campania (outside Naples), along with other requirements. Unfortunately this EU law is not upheld at all in the USA and something like 95% of all "San Marzano tomatoes" sold in the US are not actually San Marzano.

                It is really difficult to know by reading a label if tomatoes are real San Marzano. One thing you should look for, as bob96, mentioned is the Consorzio San Marzano. This is what the consortium's seal looks like and it should be displayed on the label. This is my guide to understanding if a can of San Marzano Tomatoes are real: http://gustiamo.typepad.com/gustiblog...

                Once you eat a #RealSanMarzano tomato though, the difference will be obvious!

                4 Replies
                1. re: ela_tarantella

                  I use both D.O.P. San Marzanos and California "San Marzanos." I don't think the supposed differences matter much. There clearly are not enough tomatoes from San Marzano to supply the entire world market for high quality canned tomatoes, and North America is capable of producing perfectly good tomatoes.

                  1. re: GH1618

                    I also use both DOP San Marzano and other Italian grown peeled tomatoes. With a long cooked ragu, it makes little difference, and many Italians will use bottles of passato for their Sunday ragu with no harm. For a quick sugo (including a plain sauce or puttanesca and similar quick sauces), however, there is a difference, not just in varietal taste (San Marzanos tend to have a better acid balance and break down more quickly, keeping the sugo fresher tasting, than other plum varietals. The other difference is packing--I always try to use tomatoes of any kind packed in juice, not puree, which makes everything murky and dull. Many DOPs are packed in puree, alas, due, I've read to some EU reg or trade incentive or whatever. Still, I'd advise checking the label. It makes a difference.

                  2. re: ela_tarantella

                    I am so happy so many have responded with their knowledge on the subject of canned tomatoes. Where pray tell might you ever find such tomatoes that you write about? This Consorzio Branded with the seal and number. Are they available online? Because friend, you final statement made me say,"okay, now I have to taste one of these". If I could just get to Italy, I guess it might be easier.

                    1. re: Momsgot3

                      Hi Momsgot! Danicoop Gustarosso tomatoes are real with the Consorzio seal. You can get them online, in the USA. These are the tomatoes that Edoardo Ruggiero, the president of the Consorzio actually produces. Edoardo says that something like 1% of tomatoes in the USA label asSan Marzano are real San Marzano. It's crazy!

                  3. Real San Marzano tomatoes are grown in the volcanic ash of Mount Vesuvius in Sicily, Italy. You can buy heirloom seeds and grow them anywhere but they will not be like the sweet meaty tomatoes from Italy.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: chefirish

                      That is unsubstantiated by any objective measure, and IMO, is a contrived marketing gimmick to get people halfway around the world to buy expensive imported tomatoes. Since the invention of agriculture people have been making up reasons why whatever product grown/made where they're from is better than the one grown/made somewhere else.

                      I've grown hundreds of different varieties of tomatoes and from my experience it really practically all comes down to genetics. Volcanic ash doesn't provide any minerals or nutrients you can't find in other soils. And IMO San Marzanos are a little above average as far as heirloom paste varieties go. They're miles better than those terrible romas they sell in grocery stores, but other than that I don't know what all the hyperbolic praise is about. I'll take Opalka, Polish Linguisa, Amish paste, Heidi, and others over them. Or better yet, a meaty oxhart low in seeds, since the paste varieties aren't the best for flavor to begin with.

                      A few blind taste tests...

                      "DOP. None of the top 4 (OVERALL) spots were won by DOP tomatoes. In fact, the top two spots aren't even San Marzanos. Looking at the OVERALL ratings, there is only one DOP in the top 11 spots. The top two rated tomatoes are grown in California's Central Valley."


                      "Let's address the buzzwords. Only one out of the top eight spots in the overall flavor category is a San Marzano tomato. The Bella Terra (I picked it up at a Shop Rite in Garwood, NJ) claims to be "Grown in the San Marzano Region." Fair enough. The highest rated DOP tomato appears at position #9 (Afeltra) with the remaining two DOP's landing in position 13 (Strianese) and 14 (Collucio & Sons) out of 15 total tomatoes tested."


                      "Our questions: Are San Marzanos really the ultimate canned whole tomatoes—that is, bright, sweet, and tangy, with meat that’s plush and soft enough to melt into a sauce but without completely dissolving? More important, would they taste noticeably better than regular tomatoes once they’d been cooked down in a sauce with aromatics and wine?

                      Surprisingly, the answer to both questions was a definitive “no.” Though each of the three San Marzano samples elicited a few lukewarm compliments here and there—“agreeable flavor”; “nice blank-slate tomatoes”—none of them delivered the bold, deeply fruity taste that we were expecting, nor did they hold their shape well. In fact, these tomatoes scored well below several of the domestic samples, the best of which were deemed “bright,” “complex,” “meaty,” and—as one taster noted in amazement—like “real” tomatoes.

                      Also remarkable: Whether or not the tomato was a true San Marzano didn’t matter. The DOP-certified brand was actually our least favorite of the three, which debunked the hype over the San Marzano pedigree once and for all. But now we had a more challenging question to answer: What made the other samples taste good?"


                      1. re: StringerBell

                        DOP and any other such certificates never guarantee quality or even appeal; same for DOC for wine. It only certifies authenticity of type and origin. I've had horrible, and overpriced, DOP San Marzanos and wonderful ordinary pomodori pelati from god knows where in Italy. It's always a matter of trial and taste. But the template for peeled, canned tomatoes bets suited for sauce as set by San Marzanos at their best remains--fresh, good acid balance, thin skins, easily cooked fruit, long lasting bright tomato (not, emphatically, tomato paste or soup) flavor. You can achieve this with other types of tomatoes, of course, and for a long-cooked ragu, it really matters little. But the template is a sound one, however it's achieved.

                    2. I searched out San Marzano DOP tomatoes as I wanted to try Marcella Hazans tomato sauce after reading so much hype about it online. It took a while to find the "real thing" as most San Marzano tomatoes on the shelves did not have the DOP on the label.
                      I don't know if that could be considered missleading advertising as both brands of San Marzano tomatoes, DOP and non DOP I purchased claim they're from the San Marzano region on the labels.
                      The DOP tomatoes I bought were on sale for $4.99 which I thought was quite dear compared to what I usually pay for canned tomatoes, but I wanted the real thing if I was going to make the famous Marcella Hazan tomato sauce so I reluctantly paid the 10 bucks minus 2 cents, for two tins of tomatoes.

                      I've made the sauce a few times since & although it is tasty, I wouldn't say it's spectacular or "the best" like I've read so many times online. I made the sauce with the expensive DOP San Marzanos and with less expensive San Marzanos that are not DOP, & to be perfectly honest, I/we found little or no difference in taste between the two. Which leaves me to wonder if the DOP San Marzano tomatoes are overhyped and we the consumers have been suckered into buying them?

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Joyfull

                        Hi Joyful, have you tasted the different tomatoes right from the can? I find the DOP tomatoes sweeter and a little heavier.

                      2. I saw these also at BJ"s, I bought them and I tried them and they are pretty decent. I too don't see much difference in San Marzano and other good quality canned tomatoes. When I made my sauce two days ago, I used one can of these BJ's Contadina San Marzano style, and 1 quart of my homegrown canned tomaotes( Which humbly I find not as good as you would think). I added a squirt of tubed tomato paste, salt, pepper, and dried oregano. It was FANTASTIC.. I even forgot the fresh Basil that i had purchased for finishing. Having said that, try the Contadina SM syle. You might just like them, and the price is right.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Momsgot3

                          I tried the Safeway brand "San Marzano Style" canned whole tomatoes and thought the were no different from their generic counterpart, even though they were about a $1.50 more per can. I went back to using Cento and Sun of Italy real San Marzanos as they were only $2 more per can.

                        2. A common brand "San Marzano" tomatoes sold in the US are actually grown and produced in Florida. They're the cans with the all white label, with a red tomato stamped on them, and they have colored bands across the top and bottom. I actually prefer them over any of the "official" D.O.P. ones I've tried so far.

                          Our local grocery stores have also started carrying fresh baby San Marzano tomatoes, and they are incredible. Really deep rich red, and almost no seeds or juice.

                          I just stick with flavor first, and don't really care if something is "official" or not. There are even some discount brands of crushed tomatoes that I use in place of the San Marzano ones when making sauces because they are just as good and a fraction of the cost.

                          For fresh tomatoes though, it's definitely worth hunting down the San Marzano ones.

                          1. I wanted to take a minute to mention the difference between the real Genuine San Marzano tomatoes and the types out there labeled “San Marzano Style”, “San Marzano Seed” and the especially misleading “San Marzano Brand”
                            A designation for European food products that stands for "Denominazione d'Origine Protetta." It is a certification issued and guaranteed by the European Union to identify and guarantee that specific food and agricultural products are authentic or made by skilled artisans engaged in producing the designated items in specific regions. Foods such as cheese, fruit, meat, food oil, and vegetables are commonly labeled with DOP to designate they have been certified. Similarly, another designation used for this purpose in Europe is IGP to refer to "Indicazione Geographica Protetta" to certify they are as guaranteed to be from the region designated.
                            Note that the only true products will have the markings “DOP” and stamps on the label to prove they are the real thing.
                            Please note: By no means do I intend to say that the product in the “San Marzano Brand” are not good product, but just to make sure that you do not accidentally represent them to your gourmet customers as San Marzano’s. The “San Marzano Brand” is an American company and California tomatoes, and is often misidentified by the consumer who doesn’t know better. Being a California product they also should be substantially lower in cost than the genuine import. Actually the Italians are not happy at all with this but the US doesn’t have the same laws regarding this.
                            This is the same idea as Parmigiano Reggiano, Chianti, Tallegio and Fontina, Parma Prosciutto etc
                            We sell many kinds of tomatoes including of course awesome California ones and as I mentioned before-good is good, but genuine is a very big deal to Italians and Europeans!

                            1. If "San Marzano" tomatoes must come from San Marzano, do "Yukon Gold" potatoes have to come from Yukon Territority?

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: GH1618

                                No I don't think so, they are grown all over the place, just google it. Also, these tomatoes aPre not sold on amazon, so have no clue where to find them, but I did find a brand expensvie brand called Poma Rosa and they do indeed have the seal you spoke of and a number. Wondering if these are the real thing or I got ripped.

                                1. re: Momsgot3

                                  San Marzano refers to a specific variety of tomato, a town outside Naples, and a controlled designation that requires the variety San Marzano to be grown, according to certain guidelines, in an area that includes the town but which extends around it. The variety can, as has been noted, be grown anywhere, and is. And it can make for good stuff. And DOP San Marzano products can be poor--the controlled designation only certifies type, place, and method, not quality.

                                1. re: jpr54_1

                                  They are certified only in Italy, but many countries recognize this designation.

                                2. Are Cento brand san marzano marked certified and product of Italy, DOP? I've bought these more than once, from different sources and I just can't stand them.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: rasputina

                                    Cento has a product labelled "certified" San Marzano, but without the official seals of DOP. The company, whose products I generally like, claims that they're the same as DOP tomatoes, but because of annoying, small, and ultimately irrelevant EU legal details have not been labelled as such. They also sell, or used to, a DOP product. I don' get this ploy at all, and don't like these certified tomatoes, either. Their plain Italian-grown plum tomatoes are just fine, however, and cheaper.

                                    1. re: bob96

                                      All I know is every can I've tried has had a horrid earthy smell and taste. I've thrown them out both times. I don't like Pomi either though so.