Why Whole Canned Tomatoes Are Superior

Well-stocked cupboards are absolutely essential for any home cook. At times when it seems impossible to squeeze in a grocery run, having a few pantry staples handy allows you to whip up a wide variety of dishes incorporating the ingredients you already have on hand.

Canned tomatoes are one such staple, and can be used in everything from soups and stews to pizza and pasta sauces and more. However, if you've ever stood in the grocery store aisle trying to figure out which type of canned tomatoes to bring home — crushed, diced, whole, there are so many options — we have your answer.

Whenever possible, opt for whole canned tomatoes rather than the other varieties on the shelves. First of all, they give you more versatility in terms of the types of dishes you can create. If you decide to make a recipe that calls for diced tomatoes, you can give them a rough chop; if you want to create a sauce, it's a matter of pureeing them. You can customize the exact texture and consistency you need for your specific dish, every time.

They're also less processed, which contributes to their flexible nature. Cans of diced tomatoes, for example, contain calcium chloride to help the tomato chunks keep their shape. While this might be appealing if you want them diced, it hinders their ability to break down when used in sauces and other dishes.

The best choice for all seasons — and what to look for on the label

One of the most important factors for any cook is how a product tastes, and you may be pleased to learn that whole canned tomatoes are definitely not inferior to the tomatoes you'll find in the produce section, particularly at times of year when tomatoes aren't in season. In many cases, high-quality canned tomatoes will actually be more flavorfulthan watery, off-season fresh tomatoes since they're picked and canned when they're most ripe. 

When debating which brand to buy, take a peek at the label to check the ingredients. In this case, simplicity is key — steer clear of options that have a ton of random, unpronounceable ingredients. And, if you're looking to stock your pantry with a few cans, you'll want to avoid varieties that have a lot of spices and seasonings already added, as it'll be harder to use those tomatoes in every dish.

And, you'll also need to determine what the tomatoes are packed in. Typically, whole canned tomatoes are either in juice or puree. Either will work in your recipe, but in general, tomatoes in juice have a fresher flavor,  making them well-suited to lighter dishes, while puree-packed tomatoes are the perfect pick for decadent sauces that will simmer all day long. Whatever your particular can of tomatoes is packed in, there's plenty of added flavor in that liquid, so make sure not to waste it.