Have you ever felt dumbstruck standing in the canned-tomato aisle of the supermarket? Why so many choices? Aren’t they all alike? In short, no—and the quality of your recipe depends on which tomatoes you choose. Here’s what to look for.
In most cases, go for whole peeled tomatoes. They’re frequently handled more carefully than those destined to be chopped up or blended. For a chunky ragù, crush whole tomatoes with your hands. For a smooth puree, toss them in the blender. (If you have an immersion blender, whiz them directly in the pot.)
Opt for tomatoes in their juices over those in puree. Juice has a brighter flavor, and unlike puree (which often contains tomato paste), it is less processed, so you can better control the outcome of your dish.
Ignore that fancy “San Marzano” label. That Italian region was once famous for its meaty tomatoes, but today the San Marzano variety is also grown in America. So don’t worry about the place of origin. Case in point: Real Simple’s taste-test winner—Whole Foods Market 365 Everyday Value Organic whole peeled tomatoes—hails from California.
See The Best Canned Tomatoes for a complete list of Real Simple’s canned-tomato picks.