Canned Whole Peeled Tomatoes in the Grocery Store: Which is Best?

When it Comes to Whole Peeled Tomatoes, No Two are the Same!

Which Brand is Best?  I tried 10 Readily Available Brands in Grocery Stores and Tasted Them All To Find Out!

Tasting 10 different cans of tomatoes a lot of fun, but also not so easy on the stomach!

After posting photos on social media of pizzas I make at home and readers continually asking for recipes (which I don't typically use), I decided I would begin experimenting to create a recipe to make Pan Fried Sicilian Pizza (a very popular NEPA style, click for more info) using ingredients available in grocery stores everywhere so anyone could make this pizza.

After settling on King Arthur All-Purpose Flour for the dough, I had to find just the right tomato because Pan Fried Sicilian generally relies on a very simple sauce of crushed tomatoes and minimal seasonings and additives.  For a minimalistic sauce, we'd need a flavorful and naturally sweet tomato without too much acidity or metallic flavor.  Really, most tomatoes can taste decent if you know how to prepare them correctly, but my recipe simply calls for hand crushing the tomatoes, and adding a pinch of salt, a pinch of granulated garlic, and a touch of black pepper so there isn't much opportunity to hide poor taste.


The lineup of 10 different canned whole peeled tomatoes that I tested in one sitting!
With that idea in mind, I asked my readers what the best readily available (non-private label) brands were, and most were brands I was already familiar with and have used over the years in various dishes.  Cento, Tuttorosso, and Red Pack were the most frequently recommended and Hunts, Furmano's, Contadina, and Pastene were also suggested by some.  Since this is a taste test, not a democracy, the recommendations carried no weight in my scoring, but the suggestions are interesting and relevant when we examine the final test results.


The tomatoes came in a variety of shapes and sizes.  They also came in different solutions such as water, tomato juice or pulp.
The test was simple.  I opened all 10 cans and emptied half of each can into a white bowl to observe, smell, and feel the tomatoes.  I then proceeded to taste each tomato one by one and scoring them individually on characteristics like taste, appearance, texture, smell, composition, consistency of size, and whether they were peeled correctly and intact.  By no means was this a scientific experiment, but attempted to quantify my qualitative analysis by quantifying using a 10 point scale with taste being worth 50% of the score.


I opened all of the cans and dumped the tomatoes in bowls to better visually and physically inspect each brand.
As I tasted and experienced each tomato, it was shocking to note the differences between each one.  Some were sweet, some were bitter and sour.  One or two tasted quite metallic.  Some were beautifully intact, some fell apart.  Some were firm, some soft and tender.  It should be noted that I did buy several types of tomatoes including plum, San Marzano, and undisclosed types so it's not necessarily an apples to apples comparison especially when you consider the stewed tomatoes I inadvertently picked up.

I find reviewing pizzas quite simple as I've devised a system and methodology over the years, but tomatoes were new to me.  I did believe I would have a little trouble distinguishing between tomatoes and picking the winners, but the differences were so pronounced and obvious that the scoring and ranking became simpler with each tomato I tried.  


The Results

To see what I thought about each individual brand and tomato, please view the YouTube video above that shows the entire process and my reaction to each.  I won't duplicate those thoughts in this article as you can watch if you're interested.  Below is a chart of how each tomato scored in my test:


Whole Peeled Tomato Taste Test
Brand/TypeScore
Cento Certified San Marzano8.25
Red Pack Whole Peeled Plum7.75
Pastene San Marzano D.O.P.7.25
Tuttorosso San Marzano Style7
Tuttorosso Peeled Plum6.5
Contadina Whole Peeled5.75
Dei Fratelli Stewed Tomatoes5.5
Furmano's Whole Peeled5.5
Hunts Whole Plum3.25
Hunts San Marzano Style3

Conclusion

Overall, this test was a ton of fun to perform.  I could not believe how different each tomato was when tasted back-to-back-to-back even after using many of them in my cooking over the years.  The Cento San Marzano came out as the winner in this test, but it should be noted that these tomatoes are 2 to 4 times more expensive than some of the other tomatoes in the test.  The takeaway here might be "You get what you pay for."  The Pastene tomatoes were almost $6 a can and finished in 3rd place, however the combination of flavor and value of the Tuttorosso tomatoes which are a third of the price makes them the better tomato for the recipe.

So which tomatoes will I recommend for my Pan Fried Sicilian recipe?  The best value is going to be Red Pack, and the best overall of course is the Cento so I'll go with the highest scoring tomato and give my readers the option of the top 5 tomatoes on this list.  I recommend Cento, Red Pack, Pastene, and Tuttorosso brands from the list above.  I thought Contadina and Furmano's were pretty good.  My apologies to Dei Fratelli who had a great stewed tomato, but wasn't appropriate for pizza.  Although I've used Hunts tomato sauce regularly for many years, I can't recommend the whole peeled tomatoes for use in this particular recipe.

Final Thoughts

If I run this experiment again, I would continue it by actually cooking each one on a test pizza and see what they taste like after cooking.  After all, that's really how you test which tomato tastes best on pizza.  I believe this was an effective means of narrowing my search to a handful of tomatoes, but I look forward to trying new brands and see how they score.  Stop back soon for more pizza related taste tests!

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