How to Choose a Canned Tomato Product

. . . and do you need to buy all of them?

Published May 5, 2023.

Do you really need to buy every canned tomato product available on the shelf? Seems like a lot of pantry storage. 

And what if you already have one type of product? Can you turn it into another? 

Well, it depends on the recipe. How the tomatoes are processed dictates what flavors they’ll impart to your next dish, and added ingredients aren’t always welcome.

The Understanding Tomato Products segment from America’s Test Kitchen TV features a comprehensive breakdown of many common canned tomato products you may find at your local grocery. 

Jack Bishop shares some canned tomato tips.

Sign up for the America's Test Kitchen Watch and Cook newsletter

Latest recipes, episodes, and behind-the-scenes stories from the ATK team.

Whole Tomatoes

Canned whole tomatoes are the closest to fresh with a taste to match. The skins are removed before the tomatoes are packed in juice, and they’re barely cooked.

Buy these for the most versatility in your cooking; you can put them in your food processor and turn them into crushed tomatoes or use a pair of kitchen shears and cut them right in the can to make diced tomatoes.

Tip: Don’t buy the products with basil and garlic as they will limit your flavor options.

Diced Tomatoes

Canned diced tomatoes are treated with calcium chloride, a firming agent, which keeps them from softening. While these bright tasting, sweeter chunks may improve the texture of a Hearty Vegetable Soup, don’t expect them to fully break down, especially during short cooking times.

Tip: If you want to buy diced tomatoes, look for petite diced, which gives you a smaller dice and means it will break down quicker.

1,727 Foolproof Recipes

Complete ATK TV Show Cookbook

This all-inclusive cookbook is a living archive of every foolproof recipe, bias-free review, and kitchen discovery from America's Test Kitchen, public television's top-rated cooking show.
Save 56% Now

Crushed Tomatoes

Canned crushed tomatoes are somewhere between diced and pureed. The skins are removed during processing, then the tomatoes are crushed and enriched with puree. Use crushed tomatoes for a sauce thick enough to stick to the Best Chicken Parmesan.

Tomato Puree

Canned tomato puree offers the smoothest texture yet with the seeds and skins removed before the mixture is cooked. Though it doesn’t impart a lot of fresh tomato flavor, it’s ideal for long-cooked dishes in need of savory umami flavor, such as a Monterey Bay Cioppino.

Tomato Paste

Tomato paste can be found canned, but we prefer the tubed variety for its freshness and convenient storage. (Recipes don’t call for much, typically.) It’s a superconcentrated boost of savory flavor, perfect to adding to a Slow-Cooker Spicy Pork Chili with Black-Eyed Peas, for example.

This is a members' feature.