In the NYTimes: Fraud and Confusion with San Marzano Tomatoes

The NYTimes article “Marinara worth mastering” starts with a simple “Marinara” recipe, but the message is much more important and is not subtle at all. Julia Moskin says it, exactly: “both fraud and confusion are now rampant in the business of selling San Marzano tomatoes”. Our conclusion: Please, buy your San Marzano tomatoes from a merchant you trust.

mare-pasta-al-pomodoro-hYes, make your tomato sauce at home, because, as Ms. Moskin says: “Homemade marinara sauce is almost as fast and tastes immeasurably better than even the best supermarket sauce — and it’s made with basic pantry ingredients.” Yes, it cooks while the water boils and pasta is cooking. 15 minutes, max. Immeasurably better than any store bought sauce. I’m going to make it tonight for friends with nothing much nothing in the refrigerator.

Field of San Marzano TomatoesTo make a good marinara, you must use good tomatoes. If you do not live near Mount Vesuvius, Ms. Moskin says, “canned are almost certainly your best option.” The article continues: “Some canned tomatoes from the area around Naples, characterized by volcanic soil, plentiful sunshine and salty breezes, are certified by the European Union as ‘San Marzano’ tomatoes. San Marzano is a Denominazione d’Origine Protetta, meaning that the tomatoes are grown, processed and packed there. But because the entire area of the D.O.P. is about 16,000 hectares, or 60 square miles, it cannot possibly produce the millions of cans that now bear the name San Marzano. These may be tomatoes of the San Marzano strain, but grown in New Jersey or Chile or Tunisia. This is true even if they are labeled ‘product of Italy,’ which assures only that they were canned in Italy. (Unless it doesn’t.) As with extra-virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and other prestige ingredients, both fraud and confusion are now rampant in the business of selling San Marzano tomatoes.”

Thank you, Ms. Moskin, your message could not be clearer! The way to protect yourself is to choose your merchant carefully. Ask yourself whether you can rely on them to sell you only the “real deal”.

Join the Conversation

  1. Fraud everywhere these days, making it important to know and trust those you buy from. On another note, why is simple tomato sauce called MARINARA over here? I don’t think I have EVER seen this word on an Italian menu unless they were referring to a PIZZA. Why can’t things be simple? Is there something less tasty about spaghetti POMODORO? I’ve even heard people in the USA (the same ones who say broo-shedda) call this “Mera-Mera” sauce. But then Mario Batali says eXpresso, so what can ya do?

  2. This confusion with San Marzano tomatoes is nothing new. Back when I owned an Italian Specialty shop we sold DOP San Marzano Tomatoes and from the same brand a San Marzano without a DOP certification. I was always quick to point out the differences to customers but at a buck + less a can, price nearly always won out

    For me, I only use DOP Certified San Marzano Tomatoes produced in Italy. I look for two things on the label, the DOP certification and Product Of Italy. I see those two and I’m pretty confident I’m getting the real thing.

    1. Ciao Michele! Come stai? Grazie mille for your beautiful comment! I know you really understand these things. We really need to get together sometime soon. Why don’t you come next Friday to the Gustiamo warehouse? The producer of our Vicopisano EVOO( will be here from Tuscany to do tastings! And we’ll also be offering our BYB program,, with his Rio Grifone olive oil, also from Tuscany. I really hope to see you here amico!

  3. Unfortunately those fabulous San Marzano Tomato’s are from areas in Italy where crime is a part of life and culture. By the way Larry we keep it simple in Italy calling a tomato sauce ‘ pasta al pomodoro exactly what it is! Marinara is seafood. Italian coffee is called Espresso from Rome to the southern tip and called cafe in Northern Italy!
    Keep cooking you pasta sauce with DOP or IGT San Marzano for the best pasta al pomodoro!

  4. says:

    Here in Italy (Milano) we also experienced several food frauds, not only olive oil but also tomatoes. A few years ago there were canned tomatoes, with Italian style labels and the text in Italian language, but, if you read the label, the small print, you discovered that the tomatoes came from China (the same China that produces most of the merchandise found in “America’s Store ” Walmart. The authorities in Italy were able to stop this fraud by requiring label to show the origin of the product and controlling imports. I always reccomend reading the label also relying upon the reputation of the producer and the merchant. For Larry T( Responce 1) correct on a menu in Italy it is simply “Spaghetti (or other pasta) al pomodoro” As for Batali putting an X in espresso, maybe in his couple of years as a “Stage” (intern – commis) in Italy he didn’t drink caffe, hey he’s from Seattle, Starbucks land, but Seattle won the Super Bowl. Note: Starbucks is in about every country in Europe, in Paris it seams there’s are on every corner, IN ITALY THERE ARE NO STARBUCKS, we value our taste in caffe. Caffe with the double FF is the Italian word for coffee Cafe with one F is French. Get to know phrases used by Italian agricultural government bodies that set and oversee the standards of some Italian foods:
    As a chef (retired and an Italian) if I had a doubt about a food product, I would rely on Gustiamo.

  5. says:

    Sorry, my comment was sent before I inserted the agricultural pharses, they are: DOP-DOC-IGP and DOCG

  6. Just because the can reads D.O.P there’s a good chance the tomatoes aren’t from San Marzano, the Mafia in Italy has ruined most exported products. Most D.O.P brand produce a super acidic and tin like flavor resulting in an unpleasant sauce. I grew up in an Italian family in NJ, we alway canned our own Jersey tomatoes. For the record NJ produces some of the best tomatoes in the country along with California. My suggestion is to use American canned tomatoes. I have been using imported tomatoes for the last few years and it’s always so hit or miss. 1 out of 10 cans is actually good. I have currently been using Muri Glen tomatoes from California, I was researching for a while and found these to be one of the best

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