Everything you need to know about canned tomatoes

Tinned tomatoes are a pantry staple for Italian-style sugos, ragus or whizzed for pizza bases.
Tinned tomatoes are a pantry staple for Italian-style sugos, ragus or whizzed for pizza bases. Photo: James Brickwood

Home or away?

Chefs often insist on Italian brands that use San Marzano tomatoes, a southern Italian heirloom tomato that is flavoursome and low in seeds. But Australian tomatoes stack up well: our only local processor, SPC Ardmona, works alongside seed producers and farmers to improve the flavour and utility of the 40,000 tonnes of tomatoes it processes each year. Go for the chop Italian tomatoes are cheaper, often because exploited labourers pick and pack them. Look for whole, peeled, unflavoured tomatoes because you can chop them as you wish and add your own herbs, garlic and seasoning to suit your personal taste.

Health check

Cooked tomatoes retain – and sometimes concentrate – nutrients present in raw tomatoes. Some people are concerned about BPA, the chemical that's part of the resinous lining in most tins. In large doses, BPA can be toxic but peer-reviewed studies show that it's safe when used as a tin liner.

Shipping news

Tomatoes are picked, scalded, skinned and sometimes chopped before being canned with tomato juice or paste and (sometimes) flavourings such as garlic and herbs. Then they're cooked in the can, labelled and shipped. Australian tomatoes are processed within 24 hours of picking.

Handy cans

Tinned tomatoes are a pantry staple for Italian-style sugos, ragus or whizzed for pizza bases. They're also handy for Mexican moles, Indian curries and Middle Eastern shakshukas. Chopping tinned tomatoes can be messy: avoid splotches by opening the tin in the sink, then use a small paring knife to cut them while still in the tin.

Cherry pick

For something different, cook rice, quinoa or millet in a 50-50 mix of tinned tomatoes and water or stock for flavoured sides and pilafs. Tinned cherry tomatoes are generally unpeeled and work well when you want texture and shape, perhaps in chunky salsas or shakshukas.

Did you know? Canning tomatoes grow on compact knee-high plants, unlike the sprawling vines in our backyards