Getting to Know: Tomato Products
These versatile pantry items take many shapes and forms. Here’s a sampling of the ones we use most often.
Whole Peeled Tomatoes
We reach for whole peeled tomatoes when making soups, marinara, or Sunday gravy. Their sweet flavor is the closest to that of in-season tomatoes, and they’re peeled, so they’re ultraconvenient. We reach for our taste-test winner, Muir Glen Organic Whole Peeled Tomatoes, when making our Tomato Casserole.
Canned Diced Tomatoes
Good canned diced tomatoes have a fresh flavor and firm texture that make them one of our top pantry items. Most products are treated with calcium chloride (for a firm texture), salt, and citric acid (for flavor). Try our favorite, Hunt’s Diced Tomatoes, in our recipe for One-Minute Tomato Salsa.
Fire-roasted tomatoes have a sweet, smoky flavor (some are actually charred, others simply smoke-flavored) that adds complexity to a wide range of dishes—from pasta sauces to chilis and stews. We’ve found that the smoke level varies widely from product to product, and that it mellows with longer cooking. We like the “warm, intense” flavor of DeLallo Fire-Roasted Diced Tomatoes.
Packed with savory-tasting glutamates, tomato paste adds meaty depth, sweetness, and richness to dishes like our Meatballs and Marinara. This thick paste is made by cooking skinned, seeded tomatoes until most of their water has evaporated. Our taste-test winner is “bright,” “robust” Goya.
With no U.S. Food and Drug Administration oversight to regulate consistency, crushed tomato products differ greatly—from thick and saucy to chunky and full of seeds. We prefer our crushed tomatoes chunky—not thick like tomato paste or smooth like tomato sauce. Our favorite is Tuttorosso Crushed Tomatoes in Thick Puree with Basil.
Supermarket tomato ketchup is sweet, salty, and boldly seasoned with onions, garlic, cloves, cinnamon, allspice, and vinegar. Its thick body and intense flavor make it a powerful ingredient in recipes like cocktail and barbecue sauces, baked beans, meatloaf, and our Sweet-and-Sour Chicken. Heinz Organic Tomato Ketchup is our taste-test winner.
You’ll find many jarred salsas at the market. You’ll also find that the fresh flavors and textures of tomatoes, onion, chiles, and cilantro are missing from most products. In a recent tasting of jarred salsas, we found that Chi-Chi’s Medium Thick and Chunky Salsa was “spicy, fresh, and tomatoey” with “pleasant, not overpowering” heat. We use jarred salsa in our recipe for Pan-Seared Chicken with Spicy Pinto Beans.
Sun-dried plum tomatoes are valued for their chewy texture and concentrated flavor. Most products are imported from Italy or Turkey and are sold either dry-packed in plastic containers or bags or oil-packed in jars. We prefer oil-packed; the dry-packed variety is often leathery. Try them in our Chicken Baked in Foil with Fennel and Sun-Dried Tomatoes.
Canned tomato puree is fully cooked and strained. It has a thick, even texture that is especially well suited for long-cooked dishes like stews and ragus. We combine tomato puree with diced tomatoes for a blend of textures in our recipe for Slow-Cooker Weeknight Chili. Our favorite is Muir Glen Organic Tomato Puree.
Canned tomato sauce is tomato paste thinned with water and usually seasoned with garlic and onion. We typically use it in combination with other tomato products; a mix of tomato sauce and diced tomatoes creates a sauce with the perfect flavor and texture in our recipe for One-Pot Baked Ziti with Sausage and Spinach.
Tomato juice’s utility goes far beyond breakfast and bloody Marys. Use it in place of water or broth in soups, stews, or pan sauces for richer flavor. We love the intensity it brings to our easy Gazpacho. Campbell’s makes our favorite tomato juice; our tasters praised its “thick, but not too thick” texture and “sweet, bright” tomato flavor.
This spicy, nose-tingling sauce is a must with shrimp cocktail and raw oysters. Most versions are a combination of ketchup, prepared horseradish, lemon juice, and seasonings; some include Worcestershire, hot sauce, or tomato-based chili sauce. Homemade trumps store-bought—see for yourself with our recipe for Shrimp Cocktail.