An Expert Explains What To Look For On The Label When Buying Canned Tomatoes

Various canned San Marzano tomatoes on a store shelf
Various canned San Marzano tomatoes on a store shelf - CsaboPhoto/Shutterstock

San Marzanos are the cream of the canned tomato crop. Not only can they make a tasty marinara for a spaghetti dinner, but a master pizza maker claimed they're his top choice for pizza sauce as well. Unfortunately, there are plenty of ways that brands can phrase their labels to make you think you're getting certified San Marzano tomatoes when really you're buying a dupe. To get the scoop on what exactly to look for on a product label here, Tasting Table spoke to Danny Freeman, Italian-American chef and author of the "Danny Loves Pasta" cookbook.

Freeman told us there's one specific acronym you need to look for: DOP. "If you want to be sure you're getting authentic San Marzano tomatoes, you need to look for the DOP seal on the can," he said. "This means they have been certified with the 'Protected Designation of Origin' and the farmers must follow certain rules when growing the tomatoes." Not all San Marzanos have to follow the rigorous requirements that qualify them as DOP, and you'll find some from this region that haven't. But if you get your hands on a DOP can, the label means your tomatoes have been grown and harvested in a specific place in Italy, and in a specific way.

Read more: 16 Worst Canned Foods You Can Buy

DOP Dupe Tomatoes Can Still Taste Good

San Marzano tomatoes growing on a vine
San Marzano tomatoes growing on a vine - Ordasiphoto/Shutterstock

However, it's entirely possible that you don't need DOP tomatoes for your next pizza sauce. After all, there are still plenty of tasty tomato varieties out there. If you don't want to hunt down this specific certification, Danny Freeman recommends looking for the terms "Italian-style" or "San Marzano-style" on the cans. In fact, you may be surprised to find that many recognizable brands use these labels instead of the official DOP acronym. But while certified San Marzano tomatoes are considered the best of the best, is there a huge difference between these dupes and the real thing?

Not always, according to Freeman. "These terms are not regulated the way the DOP seal is, but often mean the tomatoes will have a similar taste," he told Tasting Table. To determine quality, he recommends looking "... at the picture or how the tomatoes are described; you're looking for plum tomatoes that are elongated and bright red." A basil addition can also make for a tasty can, as well as an IGP (Indicazione Geografica Protetta) label, which follows only some of the DOP requirements. The type you pick really depends on how much you value the absolute highest-quality ingredients in your recipe, but thanks to Freeman, now you know how to tell the difference.

Read the original article on Tasting Table