Many people know and love the taste of a homegrown tomato fresh from the garden. We’ve even seen people eat them like an apple. But we all know the tomato season can be quite short. Also, not everyone can grow their own tomatoes.
So, what do you do if you like tomatoes but they are not in season? You could buy the classic supermarket tomato. It is available all year. It usually looks nice, round and red. But it lacks any real taste. That’s because it was picked so early in order to survive the journey to your supermarket produce aisle. Tomatoes will turn red and soften after being picked, but they won’t develop any more flavor.
But if that doesn’t appeal to you, take a walk over to the canned goods aisle. Can tomatoes packed in juice or puree are a great alternative. Unlike the typical supermarket tomato, these are allowed to stay on the vine longer. They only need to travel a few miles to the processing plant. So, canned tomatoes usually are better tasting than fresh when tomatoes aren’t in season. This is one of the few vegetables where canned is a good option.
Recently, renowned New York Times food editor Mark Bittman went to the Sacramento Valley in California to see how canned tomatoes are handled and processed. First he tasted fresh tomatoes in the fields and found them good, with real flavor better than anything found in any supermarket.
For the most part, Bittman concludes that the processes and products he observes, both at this farm and at an industrial cannery that supplies many of the major supermarket chains, are “healthy, fair, green and affordable.” Yes, there’s plenty of room for improvement. Higher prices, Bittman concludes, would allow for these places to come closer to fulfilling his four requirements. When you buy organic, you’re purchasing a promise, and can generally be assured that you’re supporting a sustainable system. But it’s hard to argue against cheap, delicious, “close-to-natural” food — even if that means our tomatoes come in a can.