Cooked tomatoes are a staple in my pantry. Next to olive oil, garlic, and apple cider vinegar, I use them constantly. And when it comes to that super secret family red sauce recipe, flavor matters. Here’s how to choose the best organic tomatoes--from whole and crushed to tomato paste--all without the chemical-laden cans. Plus, if you happen to have them growing in your garden, here’s how to can your own (in glass, of course).
Aluminum cans, most often how you can find pre-cooked tomatoes, contain BPA (bisphenol-A) or BPS (bisphenol-S), two endocrine disrupters that can cause reproductive and developmental problems as well as others health issues. Glass jars do not contain these chemicals (although the lids may). Paper cartons, like the ones commonly used for nondairy milks or broths are another excellent choice for avoiding BPA or BPS. Pomi is best known for its boxed tomatoes, but they're not organic.
How Jarred Tomatoes are Made
Tomatoes used for canning (or jarring) tend to have thicker skin so that when they’re sorted by machinery, the skin isn’t damaged in the process. Tomatoes specially grown for canning are picked with large scale machinery. Under ripe tomatoes are separated from the pack and the vines are shaken from the crop. Next, the tomatoes are sprayed with water to remove residual dirt and the smaller tomatoes are separated to be used in tomato juice.
The tomatoes then take a hot bath to loosen their skins and go through a machine process which removes them. Next, if the tomatoes are to be chopped, they go through a process which slices and dices them. Factory workers remove any discolored pieces or cores from the remaining tomatoes as they rapidly slide by on a conveyer belt. The tomatoes are then canned and topped with tomato juice. Finally, the cans and jars are sealed and heat treated to kill any bacteria.
What to Look for in Store-Bought Tomatoes
When choosing the tastiest pre-cooked tomatoes, choose whole tomatoes. Cut out one major step in processing by choosing whole tomatoes rather than the diced variety. When you’re using them in recipes, you can simply dice them yourself. The flavor of whole tomatoes also tends to be better.
San Marzano tomatoes are tastier. They come from Italy where they’re grown in rich volcanic soils. They can also be grown in the U.S., but in both cases they have a sweet flavor that’s less acidic and truly the perfect centerpiece to your red sauce recipe.
The Best Brands of Pre-Cooked Tomatoes
1. Muir Glen: The best brand of canned tomatoes in terms of flavor and quality is Muir Glen Organic San Marzano Whole Peeled Tomatoes. They’re organic and canned without BPA. But the taste is the real standout. The flavor is rich with the perfect amount of acid to balance it out. Muir Glen is also offering tomato products in jars now, too.
2. Jovial: Organic and in glass, Jovial tomatoes hail from Italy and deliver superior taste and performance.
3. Bionaturae: World class flavor, Bionaturae offers a range of delicious tomato products in glass including tomato paste--perfect for thickening sauces, soups, stews, and even your own homemade ketchup!
4. Yellow Barn: These biodynamic tomato purees are grown in Italy and packed nearby the farm--a field to jar process of just a few (delicious) hours.
5. Eden: The only Italian tomatoes to come in protective dark glass, these organic beauties deliver flavor and organic goodness in every bite.
Tips for Canning Your Own Tomatoes
If you don’t like store bought canned tomatoes in general, you could take it up a notch by canning your own. Here's how:
1. Choose the best tomatoes
Roma tomatoes are really good for canning because they have less water and fewer seeds, which makes for a richer sauce. Of course, other varieties of tomatoes will work just fine. Choose firm tomatoes that aren’t too mushy and avoid all rotten tomatoes.
2. Sanitize your jars
Bring a large pot of water to boil and submerge all your jars for at least ten minutes of full boiling. This means that the water is already boiling when you add in the jars. Sanitize your lids as well.
3. Remove tomato skins
Shock your tomatoes in a pot of boiling water for one minute to help remove the skins. After you boil, drop them into ice water. The skins will puncture and slide right off.
4. Fill your jars
Fill your sanitized jars with whole or sliced tomatoes. Add two tablespoons of lemon juice per quart jar to preserve your tomatoes. Fill in the top with hot tomato sauce.
5. Seal your jars
Make sure that no liquid ends up on your contact surfaces because this could hinder the proper sealing of the jar. Put the lids on and then submerge in boiling water to properly seal your cans. Boil for 40 minutes for pints.
6. Let the cans cool
Put the cans aside and let rest until properly cooled. These cans last for up to a year but not indefinitely like your manufactured varieties.
Try This Indian-Inspired Recipe Made with Canned Tomatoes
Canned tomatoes aren't just tasty in pasta sauce, they can be used in everything from chili to beef stew. I love them in this simple Indian-inspired recipe.
- 2 Tbsp curry powder
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- 3 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 large onion sliced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 Tbsp finely grated fresh ginger
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 medium eggplant cut into 1-inch chunks
- 3 cups cauliflower florets
- 1 diced potato
- 1-15 ounce can of tomatoes
- ½ cup water
- ½ cup organic sour cream
- Heat a large pot to medium heat.
- Add oil, curry power, garam masala, and mustard seeds.
- Cook until the mustard seeds begin to pop.
- Add onion, garlic, and ginger. Cook for four minutes.
- Season with salt.
- Stir in cauliflower, eggplant, and potato
- Add canned tomatoes and water and bring to a simmer.
- Cover and cook for 20 minutes.
- Add dollop of sour cream.