Whether your menu features Sunday gravy or bouillabaisse, the pallid, bland tomatoes in the produce section this time of year won’t cut it. So we invited chef David Katz of Restaurant M, Field Guide to Produce author Aliza Green, and Overbrook Herb Farm’s Paul Tsako, who grows 15 varieties of heirlooms, to blind-taste canned tomatoes and find the best.
THE CLEAR WINNER
La Squisita Di Bruno Bros.; $2.50/35 oz.
This exceptionally good product, among the cheapest per ounce that we tested, was carefully packed, leaving the “ripe fruit” intact, not broken into little pieces like some others. The tasters agreed that this Italian import (though not from the treasured San Marzano region) had the “perfect balance” between sweetness and acidity.
Hunt’s Widely available; $1.99/28 oz.
For ketchup, we prefer Heinz, but Hunt’s California-grown tomatoes surprised us with a “bright, ripe flavor” and “good sweetness,” though the tomatoes ranged in size quite a bit and weren’t skinned thoroughly.
Cento Italian Style Widely available; $1.79/28 oz.
One of the few tomatoes we could only find packed with basil — but the tasters recommend this acidic domestic tomato if you love the herb. Otherwise, you might find it overpowering. Noted Katz, “I’d rather add the basil myself.”
SOME (SURPRISING) LOSERS
San Marzano Whole Foods; $2.59/28 oz.
The San Marzano region of Italy has a reputation for producing great tomatoes, but these “unripe” and “sour” tomatoes hail from the United States. “San Marzano” in this case is just clever branding.
Muir Glen Plum Organic Whole Foods; $3.99/28 oz.
From California’s San Joaquin Valley, the most expensive tomato by far was, among other things, “underripe,” “very metallic,” “remarkably bad” and “mushy.”
TUTTOROSSO Widely available; $1.89/28 oz.
Our tasters found this popular Indiana-grown tomato to be just plain “awful,” with a “rotten,” “moldy” taste and a “strange herb” flavor. Said Green, “I hated it.”
CARMELINA Di Bruno Bros.; $2.99/28 oz.
More expensive than our winner and hailing from the San Marzano region; we expected better. But this “bitter,” “mushy” tomato tasted like the aluminum can in which it was packed.