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Mar 9, 2013 06:07 AM

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.