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San Marzano Tomatoes – What You Need to Know

When you think of Italian food, the first things likely to come to mind are pizza and pasta.  And what gives both the wonderful flavor and beautiful color to both of these dishes? Tomatoes! Italy’s most iconic dishes have this major ingredient in common and that must mean there is something special about Italian tomatoes.

To understand what makes these tomatoes so special you must first look at where they are grown. San Marzano tomatoes are grown in the rich volcanic soil of Mt. Vesuvius, the famous volcano that led to the destruction of Pompeii. The winters there are mild and the hot summer sun is perfect for producing top notch tomatoes.  In fact, many have tried to duplicate the flavor of tomatoes grown in Italy, but once you try the authentic ones there is no comparison.  You taste buds don’t lie, you will crave the real thing.

Naturally from my dining experiences in Italy and armed with this knowledge of ideal growing conditions, I figured I should buy only San Marzano tomatoes.  But there’s an important little secret to how the industry operates that makes a big difference to your palate. If you walk into any grocery store and look at the tomatoes, you’ll be sure to find “San Marzano’s”. But these tomatoes are not grown in the soil of a volcano.  This just means they are of the San Marzano variety. Even if they claim to be a product of Italy, that doesn’t mean you are getting an authentic product.

In order to write “product of Italy” on the label, the company must only make a change to what they import. This means that a company could import tomato paste from China and add some salt and water, effectively reprocessing it, then sell it as a product of Italy. The product of Italy stamp only means that the final product you are buying was put together in Italy, it has nothing to do with the origins of the tomatoes. So sticking solely to looking for “San Marzano” or “Made in Italy” on the label isn’t good enough to ensure you have the real thing.

To receive the D.O.P. recognition for San Marzano tomatoes, the plants must be grown 100% in the designated area. Pomilia tomatoes are primarily grown in the area; but, because not all of them are, they do not have the D.O.P. stamp. That does not mean they are of any less quality. They are grown in this same soil near the base of the volcano in the town of Nocera Superiore, which is right by Mt. Vesuvius. The plants still offer the same nutrients and quality of San Marzano. This is a much better bet than what you will find at the grocery store. At Santisi, they have seen all the products they sell being produced to ensure quality.  The lesson is, instead of worrying about whether or not the label says San Marzano, it is more important to be sure of the quality of the product you are buying.

Pomilia tomatoes are grown in the soil near the volcano which is naturally high in sulfur and other minerals. This environment produces tomatoes that have a low acidity and nothing is added so they are also low sodium. There are only 8.3mg compared to 130mg found in most other brands. These tomatoes not only taste better, but are also better for you.

Pomilia tomatoes have a unique sweetness to them that you won’t find in many varieties at the grocery store. This sweetness is not the result of added sugar, but the special conditions under which the tomatoes are grown. Not much has to be done to make a delicious sauce for pizza or pasta using Pomilia tomatoes. Simply sautéing some onion in olive oil then adding a can of Pomilia tomatoes makes for a delicious sauce.

Buying Pomilia whole tomatoes is great because they are the most versatile tomato. The freshness and sweetness come through in every bite. You can use these tomaotes in any recipe calling for canned tomatoes to enhance your dish. You won’t find tomatoes like this anywhere else in the world. The soil from the volcano mixed with the climate of the region makes for a product unique in flavor—and the best pizza and pasta sauce you will ever have!