San Marzano tomatoes. What makes them different from regular tomatoes and why should you use them in your recipes? And did you know that some tomatoes labeled San Marzano aren’t really from San Marzano? Here’s a guide for how to know if your canned tomatoes are real San Marzano tomatoes.
If you're a regular around here you know that Italian comfort food takes place on the daily. Homemade pizza, a simple tomato sauce and we can't forget the pastas. And many of these dishes couldn't happen without something you likely have sitting in your pantry right now. Canned whole tomatoes. And the gold standard of canned Italian tomatoes with the best flavor are from San Marzano. But did you know that not all tomatoes labeled "San Marzano" came from there making them not real San Marzano tomatoes?
What is DOP Certification?
Italy is a country that loves, elevates and protects its bounty. The food-centric country has an entire board dedicated to protect, guarantee and identify authentic home-grown Italian food ingredients used in brands.
Denominazione d'Origine Protetta (or protected designation of origin)
A certification for Italian food ingredients like parmesan, balsamic, prosciutto, olive oil and chianti to help consumers identify the real deal. And the DOP also helps consumers identify real San Marzano tomatoes.-Josie + Nina
You gotta love a country where its food is as revered as its people.
What are DOP San Marzano tomatoes?
These top-rated tomatoes are grown in the town of San Marzano Sul Sarno which is located in the Campania region of Italy. San Marzano is typically referred to as being in “the shadow of Mount Vesuvius,” which is really important because the rich volcanic soils are the key to growing a San Marzano tomato.
Campania also is home to Naples, the Neapolitan pizza HQ of Italy so it should come as no surprise that this best seller of a tomato makes an amazing pizza sauce.
Why are these tomatoes so special?
Looking like a cousin or sibling of the widely-available Roma tomato, San Marzano tomatoes are longer and thinner with a stronger, sweeter flavor. And this type of tomato has other great characteristics that contribute to their celebrity status for red sauces and Italian cooking.
- Thick walled. Because of their extra-thick walls, San Marzano tomatoes are great paste tomatoes making them perfect to make a thick sauce with rich flavor.
- Lower acidity. San Marzano’s are known for their lower ph making them sweeter and reducing the need to balance the sauce with sugar.
- Fewer Seeds. A tomato with fewer seeds makes for a cleaner red sauce (and takes less work to prepare).
Are they real San Marzano tomatoes?
You think you have a can of San Marzano tomatoes in the pantry. Pull it out and you'll know real quick if they're authentic.
- DOP canned tomatoes are identified with a certification on the side of the can (seen above) authenticating that they native to San Marzano (1).
- San Marzano tomatoes are whole peeled tomatoes. You won't find them diced, crushed or any other way.
- Any tomatoes labeled “San Marzano style” (2) are messing with you…they are not from San Marzano. See #1.
p.s. There’s even a very popular brand name called San Marzano and they’re grown in the U.S.!
Bottom line? READ THE LABEL!
My Favorite Canned Tomato Brands
The best place to buy DOP tomatoes is your local Italian grocer, Amazon or even Eataly if you’re in a large metropolitan market. Google is your friend here!
For local Chicagoans, I love Angelo Caputo’s Markets because their markets are sprinkled throughout the area and they literally have one whole aisle of Italian tomatoes and another whole aisle of Italian pasta!
Following are some links (affiliate) to my favorite San Marzano canned tomatoes.
Need a substitute for San Marzano canned tomatoes? You can peel fresh Roma tomatoes.
While San Marzano tomatoes are in a class of their own, any whole peeled tomato that you cook down or puree on your own is your best bet.
Always taste your sauce and adjust for the acidity as it will vary across brands.
Recipes that use canned Italian tomatoes
Some of our favorite recipes showcase authentic San Marzano tomatoes:
…before you go...
If you make this recipe, be sure to give it a star rating and share your reviews in the comments below! Or pin the recipe by clicking on one of the images above and save it for later.