Tomato

Are San Marzano Tomatoes Worth It?

The first time I made Marcella Hazan’s somewhat legendary tomato sauce, I saw “canned imported Italian tomatoes” on the ingredient list and balked for two reasons:

  1. All canned tomatoes aren’t the same?
  2. Where would I find these fancier-sounding tomatoes?

I chose San Marzano tomatoes for the sauce not because I knew what they were, but because the label said they were Italian tomatoes “From Italy.” Yes, they were more expensive (about double the price of other canned tomatoes), but the recipe called for them, therefore there was no other way. And, I’m sad to report, I’ve continued buying San Marzano tomatoes, without knowing what they actually are or if they’re actually worth it, for any recipe that calls for them.

I've had it with my willy nilly tomato buying!
me, to myself

Recently, I said enough. I've had it with my willy nilly tomato buying! Here’s what you need to know about San Marzano tomatoes:

Where they come from:

Italy (duh) but, more specifically, Mount Vesuvius. The volcanic soil makes them sweeter, less acidic. Authentic San Marzano tomatoes will be stamped with an official DOP (Denominazione d’Origine Protteta)—the same kind of certification and set of rules used for identifying wines grown in certain locales in Italy. (So, these are real and these are not.) DOP basically means "protected designation of origin" and ensures the quality of the tomatoes. Here are all the DOP regulations for San Marzano tomatoes, translated from Italian.

What makes them different:

Besides their sweetness and lower acidity, San Marzano tomatoes have firm pulp, easily removed skin, and less seeds. Authentic San Marzano tomatoes are only sold canned peeled whole or cut in half, so if they’re puréed, chopped, or diced, then they’re not the real deal (see the following point).

Can they be grown outside of Italy?

Yes and no. There are domestically grown San Marzano tomatoes, however, remember that DOP certification? Its rules ensure strict growing and canning standards and quality, which means domestically grown San Marzanos will taste a lot different. As The Kitchn says, “It's comparable to the difference between French Champagne and sparkling wine from California.”

Are they worth it?

In a word, yes—especially in dishes where the quality of the canned tomato shines. (Like, for example, tomato sauce or on pizza, but not in chili.)

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Grab yourself a can and try one of these recipes:

Tell us: Do you use San Marzano tomatoes? Can you taste the difference?

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27 Comments

witloof September 12, 2018
I buy Italian canned cherry tomatoes from a company called La Valle, and they are just exquisite. Pretty much the only thing I use them for is Marcella Hazan's sauce, and it is delicious.
 
Tish February 19, 2018
I grew San Marzano tomatoes last year. No, they would not have gotten the seal since I live in Illinois, but they were still the best tasting cooking tomatoes I have ever tasted. My dishes were that much tastier. I plan to raise them every year from here on out.
 
Nina B. February 5, 2017
IMHO, it's the variety of tomato, not the DOP. It takes a bit of effort to find San Marzano tomato plants to buy but since I live in a fantastic city, we plant some every year (though we fight nematodes tooth and nail). I agree SMs are the best sauce tomato and I use Marcella Hazan's recipe. I'm sure all that onion has a heavy influence but the resulting sauce is our favorite, sweet beyond belief though I confess to adding some garlic, and black pepper. I just made a double batch from giant bags of tomatoes frozen last summer.
 
Nancy February 5, 2017
We buy a variety of organic tomatoes including organic San Marzano tomatoes from our local farmers market here in SF Bay area. We can jars every summer for wonderful tomatoes all winter long. NOTHING is better than home canned tomatoes. We know what is in every jar because we are doing the canning. And we use glass jars .. not metal cans! Try canning your own tomatoes, you won't be disappointed!
 
cookycat February 5, 2017
Totally agree!<br />
 
Sal L. February 5, 2017
Glen Muir San Mariano Style tomatoes are, in my opinion, very good.
 
Tyler L. February 15, 2017
I have to agree. I used to spend the extra $$$ on imported DOP San Marzano tomatoes, and one day decided to look at online reviews on my phone while at Whole Foods. I was surprised to see Muir Glen tomatoes as a common favorite. I bought them, and was surprised how much better they are than the Italian ones I've had. I got so many complements on my dinner that night. After reading about all the fraud with Italian olive oils, I have to wonder if we're getting sub-par Italian tomatoes as well?
 
Frank February 5, 2017
I can say this much, after turning 45 my body decided eating ANY tomato based products was going to give me acid indigestion for the rest of the night. First time I made one of my Italian dishes using GUSTAROSSO POMODORO S. MARZANO DELL'AGRO SARNESE-NOCERINO D.O.P. tomatoes, I was in love. Great taste and NO acid re flux. I have to admit, I do sometimes buy the less expensive U.S. grown plum tomatoes, but when the real thing goes on sale, I buy cases. They may be more expensive, but it's the difference between Filet Mignon and just steak.
 
Jane R. February 4, 2017
My favorite are any tomato products by La Valle. I have had such awful canned tomato experiences... entire pots of chili ruined. Some brand that was fire roasted was horrendous and the 12 pack from costco of kirkland signature tomatoes were terrible, sweet and flat.
 
witloof September 12, 2018
La Valle canned cherry tomatoes are the best!
 
Gary S. February 4, 2017
Yes thats about right....and not a Frenchman in a blind taste test can tell the difference in very good California "sparkling wine" and very good Champagne.....thats why many of the California "sparkling wine" houses are owned by the French, for example Mumms.
 
cookycat February 1, 2017
For about three or four years I've made this sauce with tomatoes fresh from my garden. I used whatever variety happened to be ripe and plentiful at the time. The sauce has always tasted like sunshine and oh so delicious. About a month ago I made it for the first time with canned tomatoes and I didn't use San Marazano tomatoes I used some tomatoes that were grown and canned in New Jersey. The sauce wasn't as good as my fresh tomatoes but it was very close and still excellent. Usually I make enough in the summer and freeze it so it isn't an issue. Next time I'll try the San Marazano tomatoes just to compare.
 
G H. January 31, 2017
True San Marazanos are worth it. More importantly do a grocery store check in the canned tomato aisle. Compare the labels for sodium content-- it can vary from 720 (most regular canned tomatoes) to 20mg (San Marzano and a few others) per serving!!
 
melissa January 31, 2017
good point about checking for salt!
 
Lusty D. January 31, 2017
San Marzano 🍅 is the best possible canned tomato you can purchase. My Sicilian grandparents always cooked with them. They're so delicious. Some olive oil, onion and basil. I sometimes add some cooked sausage,
 
amandainmd January 31, 2017
Has anyone done a side by side (a la America's Test Kitchen) comparison of canned tomatoes?
 
Smaug January 31, 2017
I plan to try one tomorrow with a can of Cento San Marzano tomatoes and one of their regular Italian tomatoes- the price difference was about $2; this seems like as likely to produce a fair comparison as anything. I suspect most of us have done some informal testing by making favorite recipes with various types of tomatoes over time- not "scientific" really, but side by side tests aren't really very accurate.
 
Peter January 31, 2017
http://www.epicurious.com/expert-advice/best-canned-tomatoes-san-marzano-italian-taste-test-article
 
AntoniaJames January 31, 2017
Thank you, Peter. ;o)
 
amandainmd February 1, 2017
Thank you Peter! That is more or less what I expected. San Marzano's are great, but seriously, are they worth double the price? I am unconvinced. And if you want to be super groovy about it, are they also worth shipping heavy cans of produce across an ocean? again, unconvinced.
 
melissa January 31, 2017
very annoying that there is actually a supermarket brand called "San Marzano" that is not the DOP-stamped version...!
 
babsandbijoux January 31, 2017
Here in Milan my mother-in-law from Naples does NOT use the San Marzano tomatoes because of all the nuclear waste buried there. We get the tomatoes from Puglia to make our tomato sauce in August.
 
Dana H. January 31, 2017
The soil from Compania is unlike any other. The seeds were a gift from Peru when they were trying to gain Allies when trying to break free from Spanish rule. They don't even taste the same in Peru. Only tomatoes grown in Compania Italy are TRUE San Mariano Tomaoes. Sweeter and juicier and worth the extra expense especially when you are trying to impress
 
Smaug January 31, 2017
I don't think "juicier" is really accurate- low moisture-or meatiness- is one of the chief attractions of the variety.
 
Sorry April 4, 2017
The peru thing is a myth
 
Valhalla January 31, 2017
I can't say I seek them out canned. I do look for interesting varieties to grow in my garden. There are some varieties that look a bit like a pepper--long, pointed, possibly of Russian origin. Those have been the best cooking variety I ever tasted!
 
Smaug January 31, 2017
I look for San Marzano tomatoes- they're always good, and always expensive. It's hard to say how much of the quality depends on the variety or location of origin since there are other major factors- ripeness leading the way- affecting the quality of canned tomatoes. Even high quality tomatoes sometimes come partially ripened with varying degrees of yellow at the stem end, but generally the higher priced imports are much better about it. I've grown the variety at home, and not been vastly impressed- Early Girls made better cooking tomatoes.