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Canned Tomatoes and Sauce

posted in Vegetables and Beans by Kathy Maister

My grocery store has one whole aisle dedicated to different types of canned tomatoes and tomato-based sauces. There are just so many choices, it can be immobilizing! Hopefully I can help demystify just a few of the choices.

Most of us at some point or another have bought a jar of spaghetti sauce and ketchup. These items can be found in almost everyone’s kitchen. Pizza sauce and salsa are fast becoming staples as well.

Pizza sauce has a consistency similar to ketchup, but has a lot more Italian spices added to it. The “squirt bottle” in this photo can be stored after opening, in the refrigerator, for up to four weeks. That’s great if you are making single servings of things like English Muffin Pizzas, and only use a little at a time.

Salsa has chunky bits of vegetables/fruit in it, some varieties being chunkier than others. Salsa can also be purchased with different levels of “heat”. Check the label. It will tell you if it’s mild, medium, or hot.

As wonderful as salsa is with corn chips, there is a lot more you can do with salsa. It’s great on top of a baked potato as well as a topping for fish.

Using Canned Tomatoes

It wasn’t until I started making my own spaghetti sauce that I realized there was a huge difference in taste between home-made and store-bought spaghetti sauce. You really will impress your guests if you make your own. They will be able to tell.

My Marinara Sauce, and my Turkey-Sausage Pasta Sauce, both have canned tomatoes as one of their ingredients.

There are a lot of different canned tomatoes to choose from. Whole tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, and tomato sauce and tomato paste, are just four of the main types of tomatoes you can get in a can.

One more thing…not all brands taste the same! If a particular brand tastes too acidic or too sweet, try another brand! (For a review of different brands of canned tomatoes, click here.)

(Tomato puree is another form of tomatoes you can buy in a can. They are not in the photo because I didn’t have any in the cupboard when I wrote this post!)

All of these different varieties can be purchased with added spices, like garlic, basil and oregano.

Whole tomatoes are just that. You can buy them peeled or unpeeled. They usually come packed in tomato juice. They are used for sauces, chili, soups, and stews.

Marinara Sauce Ingredients

Crushed tomatoes (or diced tomatoes) are the whole tomato cut up. Sometimes extra juice has been added to the can. They too are used for sauces, soups, and stews. Your recipe will indicate which to buy. The tastes are very similar, it’s the texture that is clearly different.

Turkey Sausage Sauce Ingredients: Including Tomato Paste and Crushed Tomatoes

Tomato puree and tomato sauce have been cooked and strained. Puree is thicker than tomato sauce. I drew my finger through the tomato sauce on the dish in the picture below just to give you a sense of how thick it is. Use this for seasoning, flavor, and/or as a base for other sauces.

Tomato paste is made from tomatoes that have been cooked for several hours and then strained. It is used to intensify the tomato flavor in anything that it is added to.

You can buy it in a can or a tube. This tube says “double concentrate” which means it has an even stronger flavor than regular tomato paste.

The tube of tomato paste can cost at least 3 times more than a can of tomato paste. You can store the tube in the refrigerator for quite some time. That’s the advantage of the added cost.

Personally, I don’t think it’s worth spending the extra money. If you do have leftover tomato paste you can freeze it for future use. You can slide all the leftovers out of the can by opening both ends with a can opener and then pushing the paste through. Wrap it in plastic wrap and freeze the “log” of tomato paste.

It doesn’t freeze rock-solid, so you can just slice off the requisite amount of tomato paste as you need it.

Or, you can put dollops of pre-measured tablespoons of the paste on some plastic wrap.

Once they have frozen, stick the individual tablespoons of paste in a baggie and freeze for your next cooking adventure!

I hope this has helped to demystify at least some of the canned tomatoes and sauces at the grocery store.


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will said:

this is a nice post kathy ! I always find that I have extra tomato paste when making my sauces, and so next time I will definitely use your freezer storage techniques !

Justin said:

This is one of my favorite posts… I always found all these different sauces completely mystifying and have made really dumb mistakes (like trying to make stewed tomato pasta sauce) because I just grab any can off the shelf.

Thanks, Kathy!

Kathy Maister said:

Please do remember that not all brands taste the same! If a particular brand tastes too acidic or too sweet, try another brand!

Ted said:

I buy the jars of tomato paste, if you store it upside down in the fridge it lasts just as long as the tube as less air gets in. Not sure how but it does !

The other method I’ve seen used with a jar is to use a thin layer of olive oil on top once you’ve opened it.

Kathy Maister said:

Hi Ted! Great suggestions, but I still prefer storing the leftovers in the freezer. They never get rock hard and defrost in just a minute or two.

I just checked out your Sausage Roll recipe…looks very tasty! Cheers! Kathy

Ema said:

Thank you all for sharring your ideas to save the tomato sauce, paste.. I was wondering if the freezing will keep their nutrition.

Thanks again,

ema [email protected]

Kathy Maister said:

Hi Ema, If wrapped properly and used in a timely fashion, the nutritional content will not be greatly affected!

Shannon said:

Hi Kathy

I’m not new to cooking but certainly to making things from scratch. And storing items is a total mystery to me! I love how you mentioned about freezing the paste- I would never have known that! I just wanted to make a tomato sauce recipe from scratch so was googling the ingredients i have and came across your site- I will definitely be back! Thanks!!


Kathy Maister said:

That’s great Shannon! Be sure to remember to wrap it well and put the date on the package! Just because it is in the freeze doesn’t mean it will keep forever! :)

gia said:

can someone HELP me. I made my tomatoe sauce with sauce, paste & a little crushed tomatoes – IT IS TOO SWEET. What makes it so sweet & HOW can I fix it? said:

Hi Gia,
Not good.
Different brands of canned tomatoes have different levels of sweetness and acidity. You might try adding a dash of red wine or balsamic vinegar and perhaps more basil and or oregano.
Good Luck!

Samin said:

Very interesting Kathy!.

I started freezing crushed tomatoes in ice cube tray an then transfereing them in a zip lock bag. I dont freeze too much since they dont last forever( like you said) This freezing of tomatoes technique ensures i always have tomatoes. I usually buy an extra large can since it more economical.

startcooking said:

Thanks Samin for sharing. There is nothing worse than wanting to cook something and not having the basic ingredients on hand!

Justin said:

I have made salsa for a few years now, and have recently started to can it. While it is still really close to the flavor at it’s fresh state, and not canned, I have noticed that it has a sweeter flavoring than that of which I like. Thought about putting vinegar in it to take out the sweetness, but not really sure. Do you have any suggestions? Thanks

gia said:

I used to make sauce with tomato sauce & paste. Lately I’ve been adding crushed tomatoes and I cook for at least 3-4 hours if cooking meat in it.

I’ve noticed on many recipes that some “chefs” only use the sauce. What do you think?

startcooking said:

Justin, you can’t actually get rid of the sweetness but you can neutralize it with vinegar or lemon juice. Start with just a teaspoon as you do not want to overwhelm the salsa. A dash of salt might also help.

Gia, you might want to check out some of my tomato sauce recipes:

Italian Turkey Sausage Sauce

Marinara Sauce

and Tomato Sauce

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