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Are Canned Tomatoes Good For Homemade Pasta Sauce?

Updated on March 25, 2012

Can they be as good as fresh tomaotes?

The short answer is, Yes!

So long as you check the label and know what to look for, canned are often as good a fresh, especially if you live in an area where you can't get fresh tomatoes all year round. The canned tomatoes also take a lot of the hassle out of making your own pasta sauce - the peeling, seeding and even the chopping are all done for you if you want.

The main things to look for when choosing good canned tomatoes for sauce-making are the Amount of Processing, the Ingredients (other than the tomatoes themselves!) and the Style of Tomatoes for the recipe you intend to make with them.

Are canned tomatoes just as good as fresh?
Are canned tomatoes just as good as fresh?

Processing of Canned Tomatoes

So first, what kind of processing has been done to the tomatoes?

The canning process itself requires some amount of cooking before (or while) the food goes into the can, so the question is how much is too much?

Well, whole tomatoes are generally less processed, while the chopped and pureed varieties tend to go through more processing. If you have a food processor or food mill, then you can safely go with whole tomatoes and do the chopping and/or pureeing yourself. This also gives you complete control of how thick and chunky your final sauce will be, rather than being at the mercy of the state of the tomatoes straight from the can.

So, in general, I would recommend always using whole peeled tomatoes if you 're able.


Next is what I believe to be the most important factor of all: the ingredients!

The only ingredients you should see on the label are tomatoes, their juices, and (maybe) salt.

If salt is present, you might want to check the sodium levels on the nutrition panel to make sure they aren't too salty for your taste and/or dietary needs. Organic tomatoes are available in many markets, if that is your preference.

I tend prefer tomatoes grown in Italy, but this is more a matter of personal taste - maybe I just feel less like I'm cheating by at least using Italian canned tomatoes for my Italian cooking! If the can you're considering has more than three ingredients, you probably want to choose another brand - any additional spices or sugar are something that I would prefer to control myself during the cooking process, so I especially try to avoid those when choosing a can of tomatoes.

As for specific brands, here in Central NJ both Cento and Rienze are readily available, and I've had consistently reliable results with both. To be honest, I haven't tried many other brands - once I find something I like I tend to stick with it!

Style of Canned Tomatoes

Finally, the style of tomatoes comes into play.

As I stated earlier, I prefer to always use whole peeled tomatoes and do the chopping/pureeing at home. These are fine if you don't mind having seeds in your final product (or don't mind manually seeding the tomatoes yourself). Otherwise you can go with peeled and seeded tomatoes. They won't be whole, but they should be canned in large chunks that you can then process at home.

For something like salsa or an extra-chunky pasta sauce, you can buy diced or chopped tomatoes. I find that these often come pre-seasoned, as well (usually with basil, oregano and garlic), so I use them only occasionally, for instance in a lasagna recipe if I don't want to bother making a sauce from scratch.

Lastly is tomato puree, which is basically ketchup and not really very useful in most homemade sauce recipes that I've tried...

Cooking with Canned Tomatoes

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So, hopefully you know enough now to take the dive and give canned tomatoes a try next time you make a homemade pasta sauce recipe.

I myself was reluctant to do so for years, but then I noticed several TV chefs using canned tomatoes and decided to give it a go - I haven't looked back since, and I even choose canned over fresh during those short few months of the year when quality fresh tomatoes are available where I live...

This Recipe is from Edweirdo's Cookbook!

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