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. Canned 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.
Furthermore, food scientists have found that cooked tomatoes, and all canned goods are cooked, contain higher levels of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant, and other nutrients.
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. Those then go into all the canned tomato products you will find on the shelf. In general, I think canned tomatoes are better than fresh except when local tomatoes are in season. Further, I usually buy whole tomatoes and then squish them myself before I put them in my dish. I only use diced tomatoes if I want them to hold together better, like in salsa or dip.