Are San Marzano Tomatoes Really Worth It?

Perhaps you've run across San Marzano tomatoes while you're out shopping for 00 flour in order to make an authentic Neapolitan style pizza. The smaller, more oval-shaped tomatoes look different than the larger, more rounded ones you'd find in a typical grocery store produce section. 

San Marzano tomatoes are highly-regarded in Italy for their sweet flavor and low acidity thanks to the volcanic soil they're grown in at the base of Mount Vesuvius (via The Kitchn). The tomatoes are only harvested from August to September and Italy's Denominazione d' Origine Protetta (DOP) has specific guidelines for how they're grown. A DOP label on the jar marks tomatoes that have met those guidelines. 

While all of this sounds very impressive, it also usually means that the price tag on San Marzanos is considerably higher than regular ol' canned tomatoes. So are San Marzano tomatoes really worth the cost?

San Marzano tomatoes don't always lead in taste tests

Unless you happen to live in a town nearby Mount Vesuvius, you're not going to find San Marzano tomatoes grown in volcanic soil at your local farmer's market. What you will find in the grocery store are canned San Marzanos, and despite Alton Brown's claim that San Marzano tomatoes are just what your sauce needs, others in the food universe claim otherwise. 

In a taste test of canned tomatoes, Epicurious concluded that out of five varieties, U.S.-based Red Pack plum whole tomatoes produced a sweeter and better sauce than even DOP-branded San Marzano tomatoes. Epicurious wasn't alone in its assertion that DOP-certified San Marzano wasn't the be-all-end-all in terms of sauce-worthy tomatoes. Serious Eats' ranking of tomatoes didn't include a single DOP-certified can in any of their top four spots. 

What's perhaps the most interesting, is that only around five percent of San Marzanos sold in the U.S. are authentic DOP-certified fruit (via Taste). This, of course, means that you could be paying a higher price for those San Marzano tomatoes and not even getting the so-called best tasting tomato. As The Splendid Table points out, whole peeled tomatoes that are grown in California, such as those packaged by Muir Glen, may be a better bet than San Marzanos. 

When it comes down to it, those expensive San Marzano tomatoes probably aren't the secret ingredient your spaghetti sauce is missing