The best versions of this pantry staple have firm yet tender chunks of tomato with bright, fresh flavor.
Published Sept. 7, 2022.
Canned diced tomatoes are a pantry staple. With large, firm pieces of tomato typically not found in cans of crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes add both texture and sweet, bright tomato flavor to pasta sauces, soups, and stews. We often use them straight from the can—there’s no need to pulse them in the food processor or crush them by hand as we do with canned whole tomatoes. Supermarket shelves are overflowing with options, so how do you know which one is best?
To find out, we purchased and tasted nine brands of canned diced tomatoes. For such a simple product, there's a surprising amount of variability, including their origins, names, and packaging. Seven products contained tomatoes that were grown and processed in the United States; the other two were made in Italy from tomatoes grown there. Most of the products in our lineup were labeled “canned diced tomatoes,” but one was labeled “petite-diced” and the two from Italy were “chopped.” Our lineup included products in cans containing about 14 ounces to cans holding twice that amount. We first sampled each product plain (unheated) and then we used each to make a simple tomato sauce with olive oil, garlic, and salt.
There are thousands of tomato varieties grown worldwide, each with their own flavor and textural profiles, though commercially grown tomatoes destined for canning are typically thick-walled paste varieties (the most well-known being Roma). In the United States, commercial tomato farming occurs in about 20 states, and it’s common for companies to source tomatoes from more than one state. More than 500 farms in northern Italy provide tomatoes for one brand in our lineup. The other Italian brand uses tomatoes grown on farms in southern Italy. Once the tomatoes are harvested, they are cleaned, sorted, and peeled. Then they’re cut to the manufacturer's specifications, divided into cans, and covered with juice before being sealed and heated.
Good canned tomatoes offer bright, fresh flavor. We ran every product through a fine mesh strainer. When we compared the strained liquids of all the tomatoes in our lineup, six were pale and golden in color and three yielded dark-red liquid. Tasters described the tomatoes with golden juices as “fresh,” “sweet,” and “bright.” Two products with dark-red liquid tasted more “cooked” than the others, and tasters gave them lower marks for flavor. The third product with dark-red liquid tasted fresh and bright. That said, there are many factors that go into producing canned tomatoes including where and how the tomatoes are grown and whether or not the tomato juice added to ...
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Carolyn is a senior editor for ATK Reviews. She's a French-trained professional baker.