Canned Tomatoes

These area a winter staple at our house, so which is best?

Look. Smell. Taste. Hmmm? Acidic? Sweet? Too Salty?

I love tastings. I try to have a tasting of some sort whenever there is a gathering. It started years ago when there were so many fresh fillets of salmon at the market I didn’t know which to buy, so I bought them all. I can home, cooked each exactly the same way (poached) and then tasted each one, with guests at dinner: Atlantic, Spring, Cohoe, Pacific, Chinook, Sockeye, Arctic Char (I know it’s not a salmon, but so similar I bought it, too). I had seven. Do you believe there were seven that day at the market?  That was such a fantastic learning experience. Atlantic is my favourite. It is not the boldest. It is actually the most subtle flavoured of all the salmons I recall, but the subtlety was still full bodied and alive. The mouth feel was so soft and ethereal.

Since then, I have done many, many, many tastings. I have recorded my findings of the following tastings:

So, when I was having guest that are keenly interested in really good food, great tastes and flavours over for the Slow Food Edmonton Winter Solstice 2011, I decided to do a Canned Tomato Tasting.

Hey, it’s way easier that an appetizer, and a heck of a lot more fun!

So, almost everyone participated in one way, or another. I didn’t until the following day when a friend dropped by for coffee. We did it together and it was so much fun taking time and going back and forth and really tasting these samples. Sadly, there were only a few charts completed in the “pile” for me to compile when I cleaned up after the event: still, we have feedback from seven of us.  This I have done in the chart below.

What can we conclude from this tasting?

  • #2 had the most appealing overall smell with #1 and #5 close behind
  • #3 did not smell good, or had very little smell at all
  • #2 had the best overall flavour
  • #5 did not taste very good at all
  • #1 had the greatest visual appeal
  • #3 was off-putting visually
  • #1 was the best over all sample with #2 very close behind
  • #3 scored lowest in this tasting
  • #4 was determined to be the most acidic and was not high or low anywhere else on the chart
  • #1 was the least acidic and was determined to be the best overall product
  • #1 was the sweetest and was determined to be the best over all product
  • #5 was the least sweet and was not high or low anywhere else on this chart

NOTE: # 1 and #2 were both kinds of San Marzano Tomatoes. The San Marzano DOP was not available this week! (always buy the DOP) I chose to buy the canned tomatoes from the Italian Centre Shops as “everyone knows” the Italians would have the best canned tomatoes!

Canned Tomato Tasting January 8 2011

NOSE C3 G2 K2 L5 M4 V2.5 W0 T18.5 C2 G4.5 K4 L4 M4 V4.5 W0 T19 C0 G1 K1 L3 M2 V1 W0 T8 C1 G3 K2 L1 M4 V3 W0 T14 C2 G5 K3 L1 M2 V5 W0 T18 C2 G2.5 K4 L3 M2 V2 W0 T15.5
OVERALL TASTE C4 G4 K2 L5 M0 V5 W2 T22 C 3.5 G4.5 K4 L4 M0 V4.5 W3 T24 C2 G4 K2 L3 M0 V2 W1 T14 C3.5 G3.5 K1 L1 M0 V3.5 W2 T13.5 C4 G1 K3 L1 M0 V1 W1.5 T11.5 C2 G4 K4 L3 M0 V4 W2 T19
ACID C2.5 G4 K2 L1 M1 V3.5 W2  T16 C 3 G4 K2 L2 M1 V4 W3 T19 C3 G3 K4 L3 M1 V2 W2 T18 C2.5 G3 K2 L4 M5 V3 W3 T22.5 C3 G4 K2 L4 M1 V4 W2 T20 C2 G3 K3 L3 M1 V3 W3 T18
SWEET C3 G2 K2 L4 M5 V5 W2 T23 C2.5 G3.5 K3 L4 M1 V4 W2 T20 C2 G4 K2 L3 M1 V3 W1 T16 C4 G3 K2 L1 M5 V3 W2 T20 C3 G2 K2 L1 M1 V2 W2 T13 C2 G4 K3 L3 M1 V4 W2 T19
APPEARANCE C4 G5 K5 L4 M5 V5 W3 T31 C3 G4 K5 L4 M5 V4 W3 T28 C2 G1 K5 L1 M4 V1 W2 T15 C3.5 G3.5 K5 L5 M4 V3.5 W3.5 T24 C3.5 G3 K5 L3 M5 V3 W2 T24.5 C3 G2 K5 L4 M4 V2 W1 T21
TOTAL C13.5 G17 K13 L19 M15 V21 W9 C14 G20.5 K18 L18 M11 V21 W11 C9 G13 K14 L13 M8 V9 W6 C14.5 G16 K12 L12 M18 V15.5 W10.5 C15.5 G15 K15 L10 M9 V15 C11 G15.5 K19 L16 M8 V15
GRAND 107.5 T71.5
113.5 T71
72 T37
80.5  T51.5
79.5 T53.5
84.5  T55.5
  • Corey = C
  • Ginny = G
  • Kevin = K
  • Lisa = L
  • Maria = M
  • Valerie = V
  • William = W
  • Total = T
  • Total = T (acidic and sweetness)

The first two were the highest scores all round and that supports what we hear about the famous San Marzano Tomatoes, but both of these were $2.25 or under. I have bought the Gi Gi DOP for $4.79 before, and swooned at it’s flavour, but there was no Gi Gi DOP San Marzano this day available. Unico was the lowest, by far, in this tasting and gets a lot of hype in the major supermarkets about being a really good canned tomato. Not beside these brands.

The first two above you may not have heard of. The Italian Centre Shop always does the best it can by bringing in various varieties of really good food. However, they didn’t do so well. The no-name brand scored higher than both in the over all tasting total. So, there you have it! Fun! Fun! Fun!

Today they just happened to have both brands of DOP tomatoes and I have done a personal taste test on these before (that is why I did this and was definitely hoping to get the GiGi for our tasting! But, oh well.) ALWAYS buy the DOP Tomatoes, if possible. There is absolutely NO comparison between the GiGi DOP and any of these in this tasting. Truly. This is the one David Adjey told us about when asked. He went on about the importance of this choice as being so superior. (That is why I did my own personal initial tasting.)

A little sautéed onion and garlic, and one can of the GiGi DOP tomatoes heated, then puréed is a bowl of tomato soup heaven.

Now, get out and create tastings for yourself and your friends. Have you ever done any before? Which ones? Include the links in your comments below!


  1. says

    Valerie I <3 this post!

    This is so useful to me. I bought some of the Aurora crushed tomatoes and thought they were beautiful to look at and tasted good too. We preferred them to the crushed Unico. However, I bought them b/c i had no idea which ones would be the best to get. The whole San Marzano thing has always confused me – I can never remember how to pick 'em. Now I know – especially with the pictures.

    Thanks a bunch!

    • Valerie says

      Kelley! Wish you could have been at the tasting! You might consider joining Slow Food. I think it is really aligned with your beliefs. Take a look at it.

      • says

        I looked a bit before Christmas and again after I read about your winter storm pig feast!

        I am planning to join in the next month or so as I am interested in the upcoming March function.

  2. says

    Wonderful research, Valerie, and such a fun way to conduct your testing with a group of friends! I do love the San Marzano tomatoes so I’m not surprised to hear they scored so high in your tests.

    I just wish the food companies would find a way to make canned tomatoes without using BPA in the cans. I’ve been using more and more tomatoes in the BPA-free Tetra packaging like the Pomi brand uses.

    • Valerie says

      Good point about BPA. Did you know: In September 2010, Canada became the first country to declare BPA as a toxic substance.[2][3] In the European Union and Canada BPA use is banned in baby bottles? I thought it was only found in plastics, not cans. Great information – and important! Hopefully, most will be done asap – and it does look like it is starting to happen as I did some research after your comment… but all too slowly. SO THANK YOU!
      TO NO BPA in CANS!!!!

  3. says

    What a clever idea. I never would have thought of doing something like that with guests. It sounds like a great deal of fun and it’s a great way to keep the conversation on a positive trajectory. Thanks for sharing this. I’m going to try it myself!

  4. says

    We have all hjeard about the San Marzanos but I haven’t made a dish in recent history that justifies their hugher price. A nice dish where they are the star of the show is in order.

  5. says

    What I’ve learned to love about blind tastings is that despite the ‘conclusions’ on a group score basis, peoples’ palates vary to such an extent that nearly every one of those tins was somebody’s personal favorite. There truly is no accounting for taste. Which is why I have a spreadsheeted questionnaire for dinner guests so I know where their preferences lie for when I serve them next. Hah.

  6. Valerie says

    So true, Kevin!
    I found the individual results varied so much, but chose not to discuss that, so am glad you brought it up! It is so important for one to know how one’s palate varies so vastly from another. I recorded them all for that reason. There was a pattern, but the variance was huge.

  7. says

    Not only is this incredibly useful to your many blog readers…but I imagine your friends and family had so much fun doing this! I think we all get a kick out of being the “judge”. I buy a lovely variety of tomatoes that actually come in a paper box as opposed to a can. I can only find them at Whole Foods though…and they are a bit pricey. Thank you so much for sharing the results of your testing. I’m going to have to look for some of those brands! May your Sunday burst forth with joy and love.

  8. Trissa says

    Fantastic Post! I know you are a keen taste tester ever since you suggested I try taste testing chocolate. I’ll have to try this with the ones I find too!

  9. says

    Hey Valerie,

    Thank you for this! This information will come in very handy when I make my Bun Rieu (Vietnamese tomato based vermicelli soup). When I’m in doubt of which brands to buy of something, I always tend to reach for the most expensive brand on the shelf, but we all know that isn’t always the best choice. This sounds like a lot of fun. I’m almost tempted to do a little taste test on canned black olives. Those are so assisting to me. Not too many of my friends like black olives though, so I’d have to eat all the cans myself. Haha. Kinda depletes the whole purpose. Hope you and Vanja are having a great weekend.

  10. says

    What a Science Experiment. I loved this post Valerie as I truly believe a good dish begins with a good foundation of ingredients. The closest I have come to a tasting is at the French Country wine tastings my husband and I attend every week. It would be fun to take this one step further and convince the hosts to let the attendees rank the wines by ballot. Or maybe I’ll host my own wine and cheese party. I’ll keep you posted!

  11. says

    I should really start having tastings! I think they would be so much fun. I’ve actually only ever seen San Marzano in the store around here, so I’m glad that their reputation actually reflects their taste!

  12. says

    What a great post, Valerie! Canned tomatoes are also a winter staple in my house so I found the results very interesting! Also, I really love the idea of a tasting party…I’ve never had one, but I think it would be so much fun!

  13. says

    Hi Valerie..What a fun site you have! Love all the different articles you have included in your blog.I have always heard of tea/coffee tasting but this tomato testing look so much fun! I used canned tomatoes in my recipesmany times.Your post will be very informative in my future selections

    • Valerie says

      I do love all DOP, Jeremy, better than anything else. I have never been able to have a DOP brand tasting as we don’t have access to more than 2 or 3 brands of DOP San Marzano tomatoes here in Edmonton!

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