A Pasta Expert Says These Are The Best Store-Brand Canned Tomatoes To Buy

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If you ever find yourself wondering how someone's tomato sauce ends up tasting so amazing, it's because a sauce is only as good as the tomatoes you make it with. And unless it's the height of summer, and even then some would say, the best tomatoes for pasta sauce are coming from a can. Besides the fact that the makers of whole peeled canned tomatoes have already done you the favor of getting rid of the bitter skins, those tomatoes were sealed at the peak of ripeness, giving them far more flavor than most fresh produce. The problem is that once those tomatoes are inside a can, the only way to guess at how good they are is by the company on the label. Unfortunately for shoppers, there can be a really big range in the quality of canned tomatoes, from sweet and tender to mushy and metallic. So Tasting Table tried to solve this dilemma by asking pasta expert Danny Freeman, the author of Danny Loves Pasta, what he thinks are the best canned tomatoes, especially within the realm of more affordable store brands.

According to Freeman, the best store-brand canned tomatoes don't come from a traditional grocery store, but from Target. "Good & Gather has great canned tomatoes at a lower price point," he said. A 28-ounce can will set you back less than $2, and you won't have to worry about any synthetic colors or artificial ingredients being included.

Other great canned tomato brands are widely available at grocery stores

If you're nowhere near a Target and looking for another affordable brand, Freeman also said, "Hunt's canned tomatoes are quite good, and their San Marzano-style tomatoes [are] rated highly." San Marzano tomatoes are usually considered the gold standard of sauce tomatoes because of their sweet flavor, lower acidity, and silky texture. Hunt's "San Marzano-style" tomatoes are not technically real San Marzanos, as the variety can only be grown in Italy. Yet, as Freeman recognizes, California-grown San Marzano-style tomatoes can still be very high quality.

Freeman recommended another brand that most grocery stores stock: Cento. "They have a range of options at different price points," he noted. "You can buy their DOP-certified tomatoes or a less expensive 'Italian-style' tomato that is still quite good!" DOP-certified is a label that means the origin of the tomatoes has been verified to be San Marzano, a specific region of Italy. Despite being an American brand, Cento has an Italian production facility that grows the genuine article, and they also happened to top our own ranking of the best canned tomato brands.

As Freeman shows us, the quality of your tomatoes matters, but you don't actually need to spend a fortune to make a great pasta sauce. The process of canning means a lot of high-quality tomatoes are available to consumers even in basic supermarkets, and if someone who puts as much thought into pasta as Freeman does trusts them, then you can too.