How to identify REAL San Marzano Tomatoes

Seeing the magic words “San Marzano” on the supermarket shelf doesn’t mean there are authentic San Marzano tomatoes in those cans. Whoa, mind-blowing? Yep, most labeling on tomato cans in the US would be illegal in Europe. As our Presidente Beatrice put it on Italian national TV, “We’re in the Wild West of designations and names”. 

So, what makes a real San Marzano Tomato? To help us understand how to identify real San Marzano Tomatoes, our producer Paolo Ruggiero of Gustarosso led us through a side-by-side tasting. Watch us compare different brands of popular canned tomatoes in the Gustiamo warehouse.

Here’s what you need to look out for:

The Label: Wording and Logos

Real San Marzano Tomatoes can only ever be sold whole, peeled, and preserved in their own juice. If you see the word “chopped”, “puree”, “concentrate”, or “style”, you’ll know immediately something isn’t right. Don’t fall victim to “Italian-sounding” names and misleading imagery.

Next, the logos. You want to find two logos on your can: the red and yellow DOP stamp from the EU and the colorful logo of the Agro Sarnese-Nocerino Consorzio. If one logo is missing, those aren’t authentic San Marzano Tomatoes.

gustarosso dop san marzano tomatoes cans

Shape, Color, and Texture

San Marzano Tomatoes have a characteristic elongated pear shape with a pointy end. They’re not oval, nor are they plum tomatoes, let alone round tomatoes. Pomodori pelati means carefully peeled, any bits of skin, stems, or other shape irregularities are a sure sign of fraud.

Real San Marzano Tomatoes are preserved in nothing but their own juice, which is light red or dark orange. If the juice appears thick or darker than the tomatoes, it was made from diluted tomato concentrate, usually sourced outside of Europe.

Texture is the ultimate test: San Marzano Tomato flesh easily breaks apart with no resistance. Try to lift a tomato with just your thumb and forefinger, it should tear at once. San Marzano Tomatoes are so much more delicate than other tomato varieties. This means artisanal processing is the only way to preserve them: industrial canning procedures would completely mush them up.

gustarosso DOP san marzano tomatoes

Aroma and Taste

Real San Marzano tomatoes smell like fresh tomatoes just picked off the vine. Open a can and take a whiff, it should smell just like those tomatoes at the farmer’s market stall. Notes of sweetness or cooked tomato are NOT a good sign.

San Marzano Tomatoes taste like – well.. tomatoes. They should not taste like tomato sauce. If they taste overly sweet, like a long-cooked sauce, you don’t have San Marzano tomatoes in front of you. Real San Marzano tomatoes have a harmonious freshness, minerality, a certain savoriness, and a final touch of bitterness that make them the most beloved canned tomatoes by chefs and cooks the world over. That’s the beauty of San Marzano Tomatoes: they’re delicious whether you cook them for 10 minutes or 10 hours.

Experienced chefs swear by San Marzano because these tomatoes offer more freedom in the kitchen and opportunities to fine-tune the final flavor of your dishes.

Origin and Geography

San Marzano Tomatoes are a specific tomato variety. They must be grown, harvested, and processed within the geographical boundaries of the Agro Sarnese-Nocerino, a micro area of Campania made up of only 16 little towns. Here, the mineral-rich soils of Mt Vesuvius, the breeze blowing off the Mediterranean, and the waters of the Sarno River make the unique microclimatic conditions that give birth to the king of tomatoes.

Where to buy real San Marzano Tomatoes

We’ve imported San Marzano Tomatoes from Paolo and the Gustarosso family for decades. Buying Gustarosso Tomatoes means supporting honest Italian farmers with San Marzano in their DNA. Whatever you decide, remember to buy your ingredients from sources you can trust.

san Marzano tomatoes gustarosso Paolo and Vincenzo