Why Use San Marzano Tomatoes, and What Makes Them So Special?
Tomatoes are a produce that many take for granted.
You can usually find them Fresh at your Local Grocers or Markets, or canned.
Now, if you eat only fresh produce and never canned or frozen, I understand completely your thinking. In fact, my husband got so used to me cooking with only fresh ingredients, he gets upset if I use anything canned or frozen except, for one thing.
San Marzano Tomatoes.
You see, San Marzano Tomatoes can ONLY be grown in a small part of Italy in the Campania region of Naples.
They cannot be grown in Northern Italy, or your
Uncle Tony’s Back yard Garden in New Jersey, USA.
The seeds can be grown into plants yes. But the tomatoes will not taste the same as the ones grown in Campania. Not even if grown in Rome, Tuscany, Venice, Sicily, or Calabria where my people are from.
You must be wondering why? They look the same. They look like plum or Roma Style Tomatoes. They come from the same seeds.
The reason is they aren’t grown in the wonderful soil that has developed from the Glorious Volcanic Ash from Mt. Vesuvius, the Volcano that erupted and destroyed Pompeii.
Along with the volcanic ash soil and fabulous air and Water from Naples, It develops the plants into glorious sweet buttery tomatoes. The flavor cannot be reproduced.
Many have spent millions of dollars trying in other parts of Italy and the world but have failed.
And did you know that tomatoes are not indigenous to Campania or Italy or Europe for that fact?
Before explorers came to the Americas, no one from other parts of the world other than the indigenous people of the Americas had ever seen or heard of a tomato.
They are indigenous to South America. They eventually made their way to Mexico, ahhh! that’s why Mexican Salsa is so good, primarily growing in parts of Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.
It wasn’t until the Spanish Conquistadors AND Christopher Columbus brought back tomatoes to Europe that they didn’t exist in Italy or Europe. And it wasn’t until another 200 years, the early 1700’s, until they were used in eating. Most Europeans thought they were like their cousin the poisonous Night Shade Plants and even touching a tomato plant would kill you.
But when the Rich and Elite were using them as Aphrodisiacs and flourishing, the peasants started eating them as well. They saw the animals that were eating them weren’t dying. So they started growing the plants and eating them. The French called them Love Apples. I love history.
So how did San Marzano’s make their way to Italy? Well they started in Peru.
Apparently, as the legend goes, Peru was trying to break away from Spanish Rule and approached different countries to get their support and make alliances. As a gift for the Alliance, Peru gave the seeds of the plum tomatoes that grew in Peru to the King of Naples and the King of Naples had the seeds Planted. He figured Why Not? And it was the Greatest discovery in the History of food next to delicious slimy Oysters.
They produced sweet and buttery flavored tomatoes that were loved by all especially the King. However the seeds did not produce the same quality or tasting tomatoes in any other region other than Campania or anywhere else, including Peru!
Italy takes their foods extremely serious. Not only for taste, but for quality. They have agencies called Consorzio's, sort of like the FDA in the USA, but much stricter. These Consorzio’s ensure the best quality of products are used and safety issues are followed to ensure a great product is produced.
The foods get a DOP and/or IGP certification.
These certifications mean everything to consumers and protect even those in the USA from getting inferior products, which before the certifications, consumers had no idea what they were getting from Italy.
DOP means the Artisans, Farmers, Growers, Producers adhere to the strict standards set forth by each Consorzio and it can be trusted. DOP is short for Denominazione di Origine Protetta ( “Protected Designation of Origin”). But DOP certification goes beyond just production and has standards for taste, color, texture, etc.
IGP, Indicazione Geografica Protetta (“indication of geographical protection”) Can also be used and ensures the product is grown and produced where is says it is. They don’t go by taste or other criteria that DOP does, but it is just as important.
Next time you go shopping look at the cans that say San Marzano Tomatoes. The can may not have one of the DOP or IGP certifications as shown below.
If they don’t,
They are not true San Marzanos.
A lot of Cans may say “San Marzano Like” Tomatoes.
They are NOT San Marzanos.
They are plum or Roma tomatoes and grown in other places,
not Campania Italy.
If the Can does not have the TRUE DOP and/or IGP certifications,
don’t buy them.
They are already being dishonest by trying to trick you.
The tomatoes will not have the true Buttery Sweet flavor San Marzanos develop as they Grow ONLY in Campania. It is like Olive Oil. If it says “Blend” it is not a true Olive oil but has another inferior oil added. Check your labels ALWAYS!
I asked Brian from Orlando Foods, A high quality Italian Food Importer about their Caio San Marzano Tomatoes and if they had any illustrations I could use to show what to look for on Labels to ensure you are getting True San Marzano Tomatoes. Here is What he sent for you:
Here is a Video on How Caio Tomatoes are Processed. I think you will find it interesting.
There are many other Consorzio’s for other foods in Italy and each has its strict criteria for growing and producing foods with the highest of standards and can be trusted to purchase and consume.
So when you see foods with the Labels of DOP or IGP You can be rest assured you are buying quality.
Although the IGP Certification isn’t as strict as DOP, it still standardizes and ensures where the foods were grown and produced just like some of the DOP standards.
So what you get is in fact grown and produced where it says it is. Not in a cheaper place. Not in a different country like so many foods in the USA are. And that is why foods from Italy with DOP and IGP certifications cost more. You get what you pay for. You are paying for extreme quality, not sub standard.
So Read your Labels and Make Sure they have the DOP Certification to ensure you are Not being tricked or played!
Here is some more information on some of the different Consorzio’s in Italy.
The oldest of these Consorzio’s is the one for Chianti Wines.
The first legal documentation on this is from 1716 when the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo III, made a proclamation defining how the wine could be produced.
The importance of making chianti in the established definitions was so important to keep it pure that in 1924 a group of 33 producers decided to Join forces and formed the Consortium for the defense of Chianti wine and of its brand of origin (Consorzio per la difesa del vino Chianti e della sua marca d’origine) This ensured that Chianti would not be produced elsewhere or the standards set forward would be followed, so consumers could make purchases knowing the product was not inferior and could be trusted.
If you are getting Balsamic Vinegar from Modena which is aged and richer and thicker than other balsamic without additives, you are going to pay a lot more. You should see the Wax emblem on the label, like that a King would seal important documents with, ensuring it is from the King. I personally have a few bottles of 35 to 50 year olds used only for special occasions.
You get a Mozzarella di bufala, Buffalo Mozzarella made from Cows that again graze and feed where the worlds best tomatoes are grown, from Campania, Lazio. It is creamier and richer than any other mozzarella made from cow’s milk.
Then we have the Olive Oil Consorzio’s, which are many and cover many regions in Italy. Olive oil to most Italians is not a condiment but a food. It is taken very seriously and olives grown in different regions and countries produce stronger or weaker tasting olives. Hence the need for a Consorzio in different regions such as Abruzzo, Calabria, Campania, Emilia Romagna, Lazio, Liguria, Lombardia, Puglia, Sicily, Tuscany, Veneto. If you ever get the chance to go to an Olive oil store or a Gourmet store that offers olive oil tastings, or vinegars too, do it! You will be amazed at the difference in flavors from one to the next. Spain produces some great Olive Oils, as does Greece. But I am partial to the ones in Italy. California has some great ones too. And Olives usually grow in climates perfect for grapes and usually around a vineyard. So if given the opportunity, take the tour, try the tastings, but plan on buying a few because you will not leave empty handed. One of my favorite classes or demonstrations I did as a Cooking Teacher at Williams Sonoma were the Olive Oil and Vinegar tastings. Olive oil Ice Cream or Cake, with Strawberries drizzled with a 25 year old Balsamic Vinegar are one of the true pleasures in Life.
Now one of the most prized foods to come out of Italy is Parmigiano Reggiano from the Emilia Romagna region in Lombardia. Pasta dishes are not the same without grated cheese and most people think of Parmesan cheese when they say Grated Cheese. Although there are many others like Romano, Asiago, etc, Parmesan is considered one of the greats. And their Consorzio Certifications are Strict also, and prized for its purity.
Cured Meats, a way of preserving foods is an old tradition in Europe, especially Italy. And the Consorzio for Prosciutto from Emilia Romagna, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Le Marche, Tuscany, Veneto are the best. These smoked hams have differences in aging, smoking, color and you may find the styles as Parma,(my favorite) Carpegna, Modena, Veneto, San Daniele or Toscano.
My favorite way to make Eggs Benedict is with Prosciutto instead of the traditional Canadian Bacon. It is like you died and went to heaven.
And Last, but not least that I will list here, there are still many other Consorzios, is Basil from Liguria, Genoa. The most famous person from Genoa that the world knows about is Christopher Columbus. It is said that when he traveled to the Americas, each ship had barrels of Pesto from Genoa for them to cook with and eat in their long travel. Yes, Basil has its own Consorzio and rightfully so. Until you have made pesto with old Basil, you can’t understand the importance.
Thank you for allowing me to share my knowledge and the fun journey. I hope you learned something that will help you make the best choices when buying Imported Italian Foods