Taste test: Best canned tomatoes

The Daily Meal

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(Photo: Jane Bruce)

This time of year, the last thing anybody should be eating is fresh tomatoes. Usually imported from Mexico, they're bland, juiceless, and mealy, not even a vague recollection of what a tomato in the summer tastes like, and the hothouse-grown ones aren't much better.

So what about canned tomatoes?

Now before you scoff, turn up your nose, and walk away in disgust, muttering something about never choosing canned food over fresh, bear in mind that a good canned tomato product should taste better, much better, than a "fresh" tomato in winter. It should have a nice balance of sweet and tangy, and be soft enough to break down nicely when making sauce, but not so soft as to be "mushy." But most importantly, it should taste like, well, a tomato.

Granted, nobody's going to be making salsa or salads with canned tomatoes, but if your heart's desire is a nicely balanced tomato sauce for your pasta dish, or a base to flavor a soup or stew, a canned tomato product is the way to go. That is, unless you happen to be of Italian-American descent, in which case you probably spent one last weekend in summer jarring tomatoes with the family, and this story will likely serve as mere entertainment. The rest of us look on in envy.

Either way, we wanted to get to the bottom of this. So we lined up 11 brands and eight members of our editorial staff for a classic blind taste test of whole canned tomatoes.

#1 — Sclafani (Pictured above)

Average Score: 82.9/100

Price: $2.59 for 28 ounces ($0.09 per ounce)

"Great texture" and "nice balance" with the right amount of salt and a fresh flavor (as close as canned gets to fresh, at least) helps Sclafani cinch the win.

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(Photo: Jane Bruce)

#2 — Ciao

Average Score: 81.3/100

Price: $3.99 for 28 ounces ($0.14 per ounce)

These "small dark plum[s]" that "taste like [they] could go right into sauce" are D.O.P. from the Sarnese-Nocerino area of Italy. "It almost tastes like a homemade sauce in and of itself," wrote one editor. If you're looking for a "sweet, meaty" tomato with "perfect tang and sweet balance" this is the one to look for. It's worth every penny.

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(Photo: Jane Bruce)

#3 — Hunt's

Average Score: 79.4/100

Price: $2.69 for 28 ounces ($0.10 per ounce)

These "small round tomatoes" have "good tomato flavor" and "good sweet-sharp balance" with a "meaty" and "firm" texture. A good all-purpose canned tomato.

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(Photo: Jane Bruce)

#4 — Vantia

Average Score: 79.1/100

Price: $4.99 for 35 ounces ($0.14 per ounce)

Another imported Italian brand, Vantia's "elongated plum shape" tomatoes did well thanks to "very meaty" texture and juiciness. One editor even went so far as to write, "Great balance across the board; now this I imagine in grandma's sauce."

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(Photo: Jane Bruce)

#5 — Tuttorosso

Average Score: 75.6/100

Price: $1.69 for 28 ounces ($0.06 per ounce)

These tomatoes were considered "firm" relative to the others, and these "full tomatoes that aren't soggy are good enough to eat alone" wrote one editor. They're "very juicy" with "good structural integrity" wrote another editor. If you're looking for a firm, round tomato with decent flavor, this might be it.

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San Marzano

(Photo: flickr/petit hiboux)

#6 — San Marzano

Average Score: 75.5/100

Price: $3.99 for 28 ounces ($0.14 per ounce)

The San Marzano brand, with its illustrated, elongated red tomatoes on a white background, has become nearly synonymous with "authentic" Italian home cooking, but these aren't Italian at all. They're American-grown, and they don't have the characteristic elongated San Marzano varietal shape; instead, they're round. Although one editor said that he "enjoyed eating it all on its own," others weren't quite convinced. They thought the tomatoes were "watery and bland," that they had a "stewed taste," and were "a bit mushy inside."

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Muir Glen

(Photo: Muir Glen)

#7 — Muir Glen

Average Score: 73.0/100

Price: $3.59 for 28 ounces ($0.13 per ounce)

We were actually expecting a better showing for this popular, premium American brand, but these "plum shaped" tomatoes' "acidic and tangy" flavor didn't sit well with our editors, and their texture, which was "too mushy" meant that this brand scored in the middle of the pack.

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Rega Rega

(Photo: Jane Bruce)

#8 — Rega Rega

Average Score: 72.9/100

Price: $3.99 for 28 ounces ($0.14 per ounce)

A brand of D.O.P. tomatoes from the Sarnese-Nocerino area of Italy that made a mediocre showing. These "partly peeled, huge plum[s]" have a "mushy" texture and "no standout flavor." That's disappointing because at $0.14 per ounce, it's on the pricier end of our test suite. Not worth the money.

Click here to see : How More Canned Tomato Brands Ranked

More from The Daily Meal:

15 Best Kitchen Infomercials  

4 New Twists on Ramen

5 Sauces That Will Spruce Up Your Cooking 

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