10 Things You Didn’t Know About Canned Tomatoes

Published Categorized as Food
Canned tomatoes in a store

Canned tomatoes are a staple in kitchens across America. They’re also a home cook’s best friend. Cooked, peeled, and ripe, I always keep a dozen cans in my pantry and use one whenever I feel like making comfort food or preparing an authentic Italian pasta dish.

If you love canned tomatoes just as much as I do, here’s my list of 10 things you probably didn’t know about them.

1. What Do You Do With Canned Tomatoes?

Here’s three of my favorite simple and quick recipes with canned tomatoes.

Recipe #1. Make Gazpacho


Gazpacho is a Spanish tomato soup that’s served cold and is perfect on hot summer days. No need to warm up your stove, folks. Use your chef’s knife to prep the ingredients on a wood cutting board and let your blender take over for you.

You’re going to need canned tomatoes, cucumber, green bell pepper, red onion, garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, sea salt, black pepper, and some stale bread.

Soak the stale bread in water for a couple of minutes to let it soften. Peel, cucumber, onions, and garlic. Cut them and the bell pepper into chunks that are small enough to fit into the blender.

Add the bread, sea salt, black pepper, and olive oil to the blender. Blend for 20-30 seconds if you like a chunkier soup, or for a full minute if you like a smooth and pureed tomato soup.

Transfer to the fridge for an hour or so before serving. Garnish with your favorite toppings and enjoy.

Recipe #2. Cook Pasta al Pomodoro

Pasta al Pomodoro
Pasta al Pomodoro

Heat extra-virgin olive oil in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes. Increase heat to medium and add crushed or puréed canned tomatoes. Season with sea salt and black pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomato sauce thickens up for about 15-20 minutes.

Cook pasta in a large pot and in salted water at high heat. For this recipe you can use spaghetti, spaghettoni, rigatoni, penne, or ziti. Stir occasionally until almost al dente (you’re going to finish cooking the pasta in the tomato sauce in a second).

Turn back the heat on the skillet to medium-high. Transfer the pasta to the skillet, stirring and mixing well with the tomato sauce. You can add some pasta water to the sauce as well. Cook until the sauce coats the pasta and the pasta is cooked al dente.

Serve, optionally grate some Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese on top.

Recipe #3. Make Chili

Add extra-virgin olive oil to a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add chopped onion (red or white will do) and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Let the sugars in the onion caramelise well.

Add ground beef, break it apart with a wooden spoon, and cook, stirring, for another 5 minutes.

Add crushed or diced canned tomatoes, chili powder, sea salt, and black pepper. Stir and combine well.

Add kidney beans and beef broth. Cook, stirring.

Bring the heat down to medium. Let the chili simmer for 25 minutes and stir occasionally. Garnish with cilantro before serving.

2. What Are the Best Canned Tomatoes?

San Marzano tomatoes are the most popular canned tomatoes in the world. Popular among chefs, these tomatoes originated in Italy and are known for their sweet and balanced taste.

They are thin and pointed plum tomatoes, originally grown in volcanic ash at the base of Mt. Vesuvius. Certified San Marzano tomatoes are grown in Italy, but seeds have long been exported and grown elsewhere in the world.

When grown in Valle del Sarno in Italy under specific and strict rules set by the San Marzano Consortium, the tomatoes have a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) label from the European Union and can be marketed as Pomodoro San Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese-Nocerino.

3. Do Organic Tomatoes Really Taste Better?

Organic tomatoes at a market
Organic tomatoes at a market

A 2013 study by French and Brazilian researchers (see on Science Direct) compared organic tomatoes grown in northeast Brazil with conventionally-grown tomatoes under similar but non-organic conditions and from the same region.

When they became ripe, the organic tomatoes were significantly tastier and more nutritious compared to the conventionally-grown ones. In fact, they contained more than 140% the enzymes, 70% flavonoids, and 50% more Vitamin C.

Yes, organic tomatoes pack more taste and nutrition than non-organic ones. As the researchers put it, “vegetable and fruit products grown in organic agriculture would be expected to be more health-promoting than those produced conventionally.”

4. How Much Salt is in Canned Tomatoes?

Canned tomatoes have on average 100 to 300 mg of sodium per 100 grams. That’s 5% to 15% of the daily recommendation for salt intake. In comparison, a fresh tomato only has 10 to 30 mg of sodium whereas a cup of store-bought tomato sauce has up to 1,000 mg of sodium.

5. What Canned Tomatoes Are Gluten-Free?

Canned tomatoes are gluten-free, and safe to eat if you want to avoid this grain protein. Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, rye, barley, and triticale — as well as any ingredient made from them.

To always buy the highest quality canned tomatoes, create the habit of reading the label. The best canned tomatoes should only have whole peeled tomatoes, tomato puree, and salt. Optionally, some producers add brazil to canned tomatoes to enhance their flavor.

6. Can Canned Tomatoes Go Bad?

If you store canned tomatoes at room temperature (approx. 75°F or 24°C), they will keep their highest quality for 12-18 months. To maximize the shelf life of canned tomatoes, make sure that the cans are in a good condition and have no rust, dents, or swelling.

The secret to storing canned tomatoes for a long time is to keep them at a constant temperature. So put them in a place in your home, like a pantry or kitchen cabinet, where they won’t be exposed to direct sunlight.

7. Can I Eat Canned Tomatoes After the “Best By” Date?

Canned tomatoes don’t necessarily expire at a given date. Instead, they are at their highest quality for 12-18 months after processing. This is why producers print a “best by” date on their cans. After that date, the color, taste, or texture of the tomatoes will start to degrade—and their nutritional value may also decrease.

Canning tomatoes is a way to preserve them for long periods of time. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says that “if cans are in a good condition (no rust, dents, or swelling) and have been stored in a cool and dry place, they are safe indefinitely.”

8. Are Canned Tomatoes Healthy?

Tomato sauce and pasta
Tomato sauce and pasta

Canned tomatoes, especially when organic, are low in calories, low in sodium, and rich in Vitamin C and fiber. They’re also a great way to get your daily source of antioxidants (canned tomatoes contain lycopene, a bright-red antioxidant with proven health benefits ranging from heart health to protection against sunburns and some types of cancer).

To always get the best quality as a consumer, buy organic canned tomatoes grown locally. If you live in the U.S., for example, buy American whole peeled canned tomatoes. Or if you’re making Italian food and want to go traditional, buy high-quality San Marzano PDO tomatoes imported from Italy.

Which canned tomatoes are best? If you’re wondering about the best brands of canned tomatoes, check out this useful taste test that The New York Times did to help you be an informed buyer. Their favorites included Market Pantry Whole Peeled tomatoes, San Merican Tomato (S.M.T.), both of which are grown in America.

9. Can Canned Tomatoes Be Frozen?

Sometimes when you cook pasta or pizza, you’re left with ½ or ⅓ of a can of tomatoes. If you put them in the fridge, they’ll be good for an extra 3-4 days. Can you put them in the freezer and preserve them for a longer period of time?

You can store leftover canned tomatoes in the freezer. Put them in a zip-lock bag or an air-sealed plastic container and store them for consecutive use for up to 6 months.

10. Canned Tomatoes vs. Fresh Tomatoes

Compared to fresh tomatoes, canned tomatoes are cooked, peeled, and ripe. If you’re making tomato sauce for pasta and pizza or a hearty chili, canned tomatoes will elevate it with their deep and rich flavor.

If you’re making salad or just looking for some veggies to serve as a side for barbecued meat, fresh tomatoes are your go-to choice.

By Jim Stonos

When Jim isn't in the kitchen, he is usually spending time with family and friends, and working with the HCW editorial team to answer the questions he used to ask himself back when he was learning the ropes of cooking.