San Marzano tomatoes are the best canned tomatoes in the world. Imported from Italy, these sweet, peeled roma tomatoes make the best marinara sauces, ragouts and bolognese. But just because they’re labeled “San Marzano”, doesn’t mean they are. Here’s how to tell the difference.
What are San Marzano tomatoes?
We’ve all heard of them, but do you really know what they are?
San Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese – Nocerino tomatoes aren’t a brand, but rather a type of plum tomato with an elongated shape, meaty flesh, sweeter flavor, fewer seeds and a pedigree.
These tomatoes are hand picked, minimally processed and salt free without preservatives, and taste like a burst of summer freshness.
Authentic San Marzano tomatoes are cultivated in the 41 towns surrounding Mount Vesuvius, near Naples, Italy. That’s important because it’s the volcanic-rich soil of Agro Sarnese-Nocerino, in Southern Italy that makes these tomatoes so special.
S. Marzano Dell-Agro Sarnese-Nocerino tomatoes are grown and picked exclusively for the can, but not all tomatoes labeled San Marzano are the real deal.
How to tell the difference in the grocery store
You’ll often see “San-Marzano Style” or “Product of Italy” but that doesn’t actually mean anything. It’s like saying “all natural”… it sounds good, but doesn’t have any real designation.
Here’s what you need to know:
- Authentic San Marzano tomatoes can be identified by the D.O.P. symbol (Protected Designation of Origin, shown below, bottom right)
- Certified product will be labeled as San Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese – Nocerino and will have the proper certified designations on the can (shown below, bottom left). You can generally tell the wannabes because they’re just labeled as San Marzano or San-Marzano Style or even “from Italy” but don’t have any certifications.
- Each can will have an ID number (shown below)
- Real San Marzano tomatoes are always sold peeled and whole in a can. If you’re buying chopped, crushed or puréed tomatoes, or if they’re boxed, they can’t be authentic San Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese – Nocerino with a D.O.P certification.
Brands and marketers know the buzz surrounding authentic S. Marzano Dell’Agro Sarnese-Nocerino tomatoes and they want to capitalize on it by slapping a San Marzano label on their products and charging more for them.
Most consumers don’t realize the difference, and end up paying a premium for a product they think is legitimate when it actually doesn’t adhere to the same stringent requirements. Better to be an educated consumer — and now you know!
Why are authentic D.O.P. tomatoes considered the best?
In a word, terroir. The location, the volcanic soil, the surrounding air and sea are what makes them so unique and sought after.
The high sulphur and mineral content in the soil near the volcano produce sweeter, less acidic tomatoes than others on the market.
Their bright red color is attributed to the altitude and temperature swing between day and night.
Are D.O.P. tomatoes worth the extra cost?
For my money, they are. At around $3.50 for a 28-ounce can, this is generally a luxury that won’t break the bank.
What are some certified D.O.P. tomato brands you can find in the U.S.?
- Carmelina è San Marzano
- La Valle
- Gia Russa
Where to buy
You can find DOP certified San Marzano tomatoes at most large markets, but to be sure, you really have to look at the cans. You’d be surprised at the overwhelming amount of canned and boxed tomatoes claiming to be San Marzano, but lacking the proper DOP designation and certifications.
Here are some of my favorite canned tomato recipes using authentic D.O.P. product:
- Italian Meatball Soup
- Homemade Marinara Sauce
- Vegetarian Ratatouille Lasagna
- Creamy Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup
- Slow Braised Pork Ragout
- Cream of Tomato and Orzo Soup