Peeled tomatoes, tomato paste and passata: what’s the difference and when do you use what?

Canned tomatoes: they come in all shapes and sizes and the Italian shelf of your supermarket is full of them. But what is the difference between sieved tomatoes and tomato puree? And is it better to opt for whole tomatoes or diced tomatoes? We explain the differences between all types of canned tomatoes and tell you what you use them for.

Canned or fresh tomatoes?

You may be wondering if it isn’t better to always use fresh tomatoes instead of canned tomatoes. Fresh is often better, but that doesn’t quite apply to tomatoes. Which is better – fresh or canned – in this case depends very much on what kind of fresh tomatoes you use. Is it the middle of summer? Then it is best to use sun-ripened (not to be confused with sun-dried) tomatoes, these are then in season and full of flavour.

The rest of the year it is better to use canned tomatoes, as these are sun-ripened tomatoes from warm, Mediterranean countries. These are picked in season and quickly preserved. In addition, they are often tastier than the pale winter tomatoes from the greenhouse. For some preparations with tomatoes, such as puree or passata, you also need a lot of tomatoes and time. Preserved tomatoes are an easy, tasty and relatively cheap alternative. So there is absolutely nothing wrong with canned tomatoes if you ask us.

In fact, we believe that every home cook should always have a stock of different types of canned tomatoes at home.

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Canned tomatoes are healthy

Okay, you can use canned tomatoes in the kitchen. But aren’t all nutrients lost? That is also very good. For example, canned tomatoes contain slightly less vitamin C than fresh tomatoes, but that is the only drawback. The amounts of the other vitamins and minerals are about the same in fresh and preserved tomatoes. Tomato puree is so concentrated that it even contains many more vitamins and minerals per 100 grams than fresh tomatoes.

One of the healthiest substances in the tomato is lycopene – an important antioxidant that repairs oxidative damage in our body. This antioxidant is better absorbed from cooked tomatoes than from fresh tomatoes. Tomato paste is the best source of lycopene because it has been cooked the longest and is also very concentrated.

canned tomatoes

Different types of canned tomatoes

There are many different types of preserved canned tomatoes. Every supermarket really has a shelf full of cans, but also packs, bottles and even tubes with tomatoes. Pureed, sieved, cubed, concentrated, natural and with different seasonings. What is the difference between all these types of canned tomatoes and when to choose which? And what is passata, for example? We have of course listed all types for you, from diced tomatoes to tomato puree.

Tomato cubes

Diced tomatoes are actually peeled and diced tomatoes. You can use these as a substitute for fresh tomatoes. The advantage is that they are already cut and can go straight into the pan. Delicious in various soups and stews. For example, use diced tomatoes in this recipe: Mexican pasta dish with braised beef.

Mexican pasta dish with stewed beef

Canned peeled tomatoes

Peeled tomatoes ie pomodori pelati are whole tomatoes without skin. Just like diced tomatoes, you can use them in stews, for example. When cooking or stewing for a long time, the tomatoes will fall apart, but you can also give them a helping hand by crushing them with a wooden spoon. You can always replace diced tomatoes with whole tomatoes and vice versa. If you are in doubt which of the two to take, opt for whole peeled tomatoes instead. These are often creamier and fuller in taste. For example, use peeled tomatoes as a base for the classic penne alla norma.

Penne alla norma

Canned tomatoes: passata

Tomato passata is a ready-made tomato sauce with a smooth structure, so without pieces. For a tomato passata, fresh tomatoes are cooked, mashed and sieved. In this way, peels and seeds are removed. You may be wondering: is tomato passata the same as sieved tomatoes? The answer is yes!

Passata is the Italian name, but in the Netherlands we also use the name sieved tomatoes for this. Tomato passata is a good basis for soups and sauces such as bolognese. Because the tomatoes are cooked and strained, the flavor is concentrated and sweet. Tomato passata is therefore very versatile. For example, make spaghetti with meatballs, the Tuscan fish stew or these white beans in tomato sauce with feta and pesto.

canned tomatoes

Tomato fries

Tomato frito is a bit like passata, but it is slightly different. It is a tomato sauce based on fried onion and garlic and sometimes other seasonings such as sugar, salt and herbs. Tomato frito is perhaps most similar to tomato sauce as you would make it at home and it is a perfect base for pasta or lasagna sauce, but you can also use it on a pizza and even in curries.

Canned tomatoes: polpa di tomato

Polpa di tomato literally means tomato pulp and that immediately says what kind of product it is. It is nothing more than grinding the flesh of fresh tomatoes into a pulp. Polpa di tomato is therefore less concentrated than tomato passata or tomato frito. For example, use the tomato pulp in dishes that you want to give a light, not too dominant tomato flavor. Like in this seafood stew.

Fish stew with seafood

Canned tomatoes: tomato puree

Tomato paste is the most concentrated form of preserved canned tomatoes. For tomato paste, tomatoes are reduced for a very long time into a thick paste with a deep red color and intense flavour. Tomato puree is a perfect basis for many dishes and a spoon gives a deeper flavor and a nice color to many stews.

Be sparing with tomato paste, because the taste is very rich and you usually only need a little. That is also the reason why you buy tomato paste in small cans. Our tip: buy tomato puree in a tube, you can store it in the fridge for a long time and add it in small quantities to various dishes. Another tip: always briefly fry the tomato puree in oil before adding water or broth. Then its taste will come out better. Use tomato puree for an intense color and flavour, for example in this tomato-paprika risotto from Piedmont.

canned tomatoes

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