Buy the best tinned tomatoes

One of the most unassuming and versatile ingredients in our cupboards, tinned tomatoes are the base for so many delicious meals – from curries to lasagnes and loads in between. But does it matter which type you buy?

Of course, we’ve heard it all before. San Marzanos are the crème de la crème, absolute best canned tomatoes in the world. The gold standard by which all others must be judged.

Grown in the particularly fertile volcanic soil at the foot of Mt. Vesuvius near Naples they are famous for their sweetness and their tomato-ey intensity.

But at £3 to £5 a tin it would make your everyday family spag bol rather expensive.

So what’s the best alternative?

Best supermarket tinned tomatoes

Italian-born celebrity chef Aldo Zilli tested 82 cans of tomatoes on sale at UK supermarkets.

Tesco, Waitrose and Morrisons came out top but Aldo was definitely not impressed with the CO-OP.

Here’s his opinion of the best of what’s on offer in each supermarket.

STORE Rating Product  Cost
TESCO 5 East End Peeled Plum Tomatoes  £       0.40
WAITROSE 5 Duchy Organic Plum Tomatoes  £       0.84
MORRISONS 5 The Best Italian Chopped Tomatoes  £       1.00
SAINSBURY’S 4 By Sainsbury’s Italian Plum Tomatoes  £       0.40
M&S 4 M&S Italian Plum Tomatoes  £       0.35
LIDL 4 Freshona Chopped Tomatoes — Arrabiata  £       0.35
ALDI 4 Everyday Essentials Peeled Plum Tomatoes  £       0.29
ASDA 3 Asda Peeled Plum Tomatoes  £       0.35
CO-OP 2 Peeled Plum Tomatoes  £       0.55
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And how the different different types stack up in your local store.

STORE Rating Product  Cost
TESCO 5 East End Peeled Plum Tomatoes  £       0.40
4 Italian Chopped Tomatoes  £       0.35
3 Finest Cherry Tomatoes  £       1.00
1 Grower’s Harvest Chopped Tomatoes  £       0.29
0 Everyday Value Plum Tomatoes  £       0.30
ASDA 3 Asda Peeled Plum Tomatoes  £       0.35
2 Extra Special Pomodorini Cherry Tomatoes  £       1.00
1 Chopped Tomatoes with Garlic  £       0.55
1 Smartprice Peeled Plum Tomatoes  £       0.29
0 Chopped Tomatoes with Herbs  £       0.39
SAINSBURY’S 4 By Sainsbury’s Italian Plum Tomatoes  £       0.40
3 Taste the Difference Peeled Italian Pomodorini Cherry Tomatoes  £       0.80
3 Basics Italian Plum Tomatoes  £       0.30
3 Italian Chopped Tomatoes with Herbs  £       0.30
2 SO Organic Italian Organic Chopped Tomatoes  £       0.80
WAITROSE 5 Duchy Organic Plum Tomatoes  £       0.84
4 Duchy Organic Chopped Tomatoes  £       0.89
4 Essential Chopped Tomatoes  £       0.32
3 Sweet & Vibrant Peeled Italian Cherry Tomatoes  £       0.65
2 Rich & Tangy chopped Italian Tomatoes with Sliced Olives  £       0.65
M&S 4 M&S Italian Plum Tomatoes  £       0.35
2 M&S Italian Cherry Tomatoes  £       1.00
CO-OP 2 Suma Organic Peeled Tomatoes  £       1.05
2 Peeled Plum Tomatoes  £       0.55
0 Globe Chopped Tomatoes  £       0.34
0 Italian Chopped Tomatoes  £       0.55
0 Italian Chopped Tomatoes with Herbs  £       0.65
MORRISONS 5 The Best Italian Chopped Tomatoes  £       1.00
4 Italian Plum Tomatoes  £       0.40
3 Italian Chopped Tomatoes  £       0.35
2 The Best Italian Cherry Tomatoes  £       1.00
1 The Best Italian Chopped Tomatoes with Mediterranean Vegetables  £       1.00


11 things to know when buying and cooking with tomatoes

1. Is there much difference between economy and premium canned tomatoes?

Can of tomatoes
Many cooks say they can’t tell the difference, but the tomatoes are usually a less regular size, in thinner juice, or a little less sweet than the premium range. This can be easily fixed with a squirt of tomato purée, or a sprinkling of sugar or bicarbonate of soda to neutralise the excess acidity.

2. Are Italian varieties always best?

Close up of Italian tomatoes on vine
The central and southern regions of Italy have the ideal growing conditions for producing sweet and juicy tomatoes. So if they are from Italy, it is a good indication that the tomatoes will be full of flavour, but that’s not to say that tomatoes grown in other countries won’t be as good.

3. What are the health credentials of tomatoes?

Cooked tomatoes are even better for you than fresh. Cooking them for 15 minutes breaks down the tomato’s cell wall, which releases the valuable antioxidant lycopene, claimed to reduce the risk of certain cancers and treat conditions such as high cholesterol and heart disease. The effect of lycopene on osteoporosis is currently being researched.

Then, know your varieties…

4. Canned chopped tomatoes

Use for… Their chunky texture, ideal for long simmering

These tomatoes are picked at their ripest – meaning they are full of flavour – and canned in their own rich juice. The tomato pieces will break down after 30 mins or so of cooking, but will still retain more texture than passata. Many contain added flavourings such as garlic, chilli and olives. I use chopped canned tomatoes in pasta sauces, curries, tagines and casseroles.

5. Canned cherry tomatoes

Use for… Quick pasta sauces

They have a wonderful sweet flavour, but don’t use them in dishes that require too much cooking as their plump, round shape disappears as they simmer.

6. Canned plum tomatoes

Use for… Thick pasta sauces, plus they’re great on toast

Plum tomatoes are prized for being fleshier than their round counterparts (which are usually used for the chopped varieties), with less watery seeds. However, weight for weight, you generally get more tomato flesh from canned chopped tomatoes. Plum tomatoes are great on toast or chopped into a salsa. If you want a really thick pasta sauce, simply drain the tomatoes and add to your pan, mashing with a fork once they are tender.

7. Passata

Use for… Its smooth texture, ideal for sauces and topping pizza 

Passata is simply puréed, sieved tomatoes. The smooth sauce-like consistency is ideal for using in chilli, Bolognese, casseroles, sauces and soup instead of canned tomatoes – especially if your children don’t like the chunks in the canned varieties. Passata is also excellent spread straight from the bottle onto a pizza dough base before topping. Like canned tomatoes, passata can come with added flavourings, so check the labels.

You can make your own passata at home too.

8. What is soffritto passata?

In Italy, soffritto – finely chopped onion, celery, carrot and garlic cooked in olive oil – is the base for a great variety of dishes. Adding soffritto to passata gives it a more substantial texture and flavour.

9. Tomato purée

Use for… Enriching sauces and casseroles. 

Also known as paste or concentrate. This adds an intense richness to dishes. It is also useful as a gravy thickener for casseroles, or to enrich the colour of a pale-looking dish. You will find it in varying strengths, in tubes and small cans. It lasts well in the fridge.

10. Sundried tomatoes

Sundried tomatoes
Use for… Making bread dough, pasta bakes or stews

Normally, Italian Romas that have been cut, seeded and salted, then left out on raised trays to dry in the sun. The tomatoes lose a huge amount of their original weight so it can take up to 14kg of fresh tomatoes to make 1kg of dried. Available plain or preserved in oil with herbs, their intense, rich taste makes them great in veggie dishes for adding layers of flavour, as well as in breads, stews and risottos.

11. Sunkissed (or semi-dried) tomatoes

Use for… Adding to a salad or antipasti platter

Also dried, but for less time, so they are not as chewy, dark and intense, but much sweeter. Use these in salads and sandwiches, as well as starters and to top pizzas.

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