What You Should Know Before Buying Canned Crushed Tomatoes

If there's a type of produce that can be just as good canned as it is fresh, it's got to be tomatoes. These sweet, juicy fruits preserve remarkably well, according to Bon Appétit. The outlet explains that since canning companies select perfectly ripe tomatoes that are picked at the height of their season, the end result will be uniformly packed with flavor — whereas fresh supermarket tomatoes and even farmers market fruits can be a bit of a gamble. 

Bon Appétit even declares that canned tomatoes are a better choice than fresh when it comes to making long-cooking recipes such as pasta and pizza sauces, braises, and stews, while fresh tomatoes shine in salads and other raw dishes. The outlet isn't alone in its love for canned tomatoes, with professional chefs frequently singing their praises, from "Top Chef" alum Fabio Viviani to "Worst Cooks in America" host Anne Burrell to "Chopped" judge Maneet Chauhan

As for us, we think any home cook should always have canned tomatoes on hand — but it's important to pay attention to which type you're buying. Canned tomatoes are typically available in a few varieties such as whole, stewed, diced, or crushed, and if you're thinking of selecting that last option, you might want to think again.

Crushed tomatoes can be wildly unpredictable

Crushed canned tomatoes sound like a great idea, with the theory being that you can open a can and dump it right into your favorite sauce or stew recipe without having to process the tomatoes in any way. But as explained by Cook's Illustrated, there's actually no way to predict how "crushed" canned tomatoes will be, with the range varying from quite smooth to way too chunky. 

Calling crushed tomatoes "the most unpredictable product in the canned tomato aisle," the outlet notes that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn't regulate the term "crushed" in the tomato industry, so depending on the brand, you might open a can of tomato soup-like crushed tomatoes or one that features fruits that are quite nearly whole. Serious Eats concurs with this assessment of crushed tomatoes, advising that it's a much better idea to purchase whole canned tomatoes and crush them to your preferred texture. 

Although the process will take a couple of extra minutes and dirty an extra dish, it's simple. You can tip whole tomatoes (and their liquid) into a big bowl and crush them with your hands or a potato masher or quickly pass them through a food mill (via Simply Recipes). Then again, if you prefer to play Russian Roulette at the supermarket, you can grab a can of crushed tomatoes and see what's inside.