The Very Best Tomatoes For Canning (And Why)

published Aug 11, 2014
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(Image credit: Marisa McClellan)

Over the last few years, we’ve been taught to believe that the very best tomato is an heirloom tomato. And while many of those gorgeous, homely heirlooms are definitely best for salads, sandwiches, and no-cook pasta sauces, they are actually not the best choice when it comes to canning. The reason has everything to do with water.

What to Look for in a Tomato for Preserving

Part of what makes those heirlooms so delicious is their juice. However, when you select a tomato for canning, you want more meat than juice. That’s because so much of what we do with tomatoes involves cooking them down. And if you start your cooking process with tomatoes that are 50% water, you’re going to have to simmer longer and you won’t get nearly as much finished sauce, salsa, or jam.

Paste Tomatoes

Instead, you want to look for a thing called a paste tomato. These tomatoes are quite dry, very meaty and have fewer seeds than your standard slicer.

Some of the more common varieties include:

  • Roma
  • San Marzano
  • Big Mama
  • Jersey Giant
  • Amish Paste
  • …and the adorably miniature Juliet

Where to Find Paste Tomatoes

Because they’re not as good for eating sliced and cubed, you may not find stacks of paste tomatoes on the tables at your local farmers market. However, if you’re having any trouble at all tracking them down, just ask your farmer (or the produce section manager at your local grocery store). They will nearly always be willing to help you get the right tomatoes for all your canning needs.

What’s Tomato Preserving 2.0?

When it comes to tomatoes, perhaps you’ve got the basics covered. You’ve made fresh tomato sauce, or roasted them, or thrown a bag in the freezer for easy peeling and sauce-making later. So what’s next?

This week Marisa McClellan of Food in Jars is guiding us through Tomato Preserving 2.0 — cooking lessons and good ideas for when you’re ready to move on to the next level of preserving tomatoes.

Learn the Basics