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Pantry staples: tinned tomatoes

Everything you need to know about this cupboard staple.

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Everyone has tinned tomatoes in their pantry just in case they want to add a burst of flavour to soups, sauces and more. To find out how to use up any tins you haven’t gotten around to yet, read our guide to tinned tomatoes.

As part of our pantry staples series, we will be looking at the ingredients that most people usually have in their press – chickpeas, beans, noodles and the like. Today we’re looking at tinned tomatoes.

We often imagine tomatoes as bright red, juicy and round, but they come in many different colours, shapes and sizes. They originated in South America, where they were called tomatl by the Aztecs. When Spanish colonisers encountered tomatoes, they called it tomate, which evolved into the English word tomato when the fruit was brought to Europe in the 16th century. Originally, Europeans thought that tomatoes were poisonous, as they are members of the deadly nightshade family. While tomato leaves contain tomatine, which is toxic in large quantities, the fruit is perfectly safe to eat.

Tomatoes are mostly grown in temperate climates, with Italy well-known for the stellar tomatoes it produces. While raw tomatoes are wildly consumed, tinned or canned tomatoes are processed when they are at their best, ensuring the flavour is at its best.

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Tinned tomato varieties

Tinned tomatoes come in several different varieties, but the most common varieties seen in Irish pantries are chopped and whole tinned tomatoes. Whole tomatoes often have the best flavour, as they have been processed as little as possible. However, if the tomatoes are different sizes, then that means they were tinned at different stages of ripeness, will result in uneven sweetness and flavour. This is where the quality of tinned tomatoes are important: while it’s true that there is some flavour in every tin of tomatoes, high-quality Italian tinned tomatoes are usually better.

Whole tinned tomatoes that still have their skins on are best as they have been processed the least but peeled whole tomatoes are still minimally processed, so they are also of very high quality. The liquid surrounding tinned tomatoes should be juicy and slightly thick – if it’s watery then that means that water may have been added to bulk out the tin and dilute the flavour.

Chopped tinned tomatoes have been peeled and then roughly diced into medium-sized chunks, which results in quite a bit of liquid and seeds in the tin. As you don’t see the tomatoes whole, you might not be guaranteed an evenly ripe flavour, so try to buy the best quality you can.

Getty Images.
Getty Images.

Recipe ideas

We usually like to go for Italian brands of tinned tomatoes, like Napolina San Marzano tinned tomatoes, Cirio or Mutti, but you can often get good store-branded tins too, so shop around to find what you like. The reason that most people have a tin lying around is because of the versatility of tinned tomatoes: the last for a long time, don’t need refrigeration and can be added to nearly any dish for a flavour boost. We love to add a tin to chilli, huevos rancheros and stocks to enhance the flavour.

Looking for some recipe inspiration? Read on for some recipe ideas that use tinned tomatoes.

  • Neven Maguire's huevos rancheros recipe is great for brunch and uses tinned tomatoes in the sauce base.
  • This Panissa rice recipe from Jamie Cooks Italy by Jamie Oliver uses tinned tomatoes to create a tomato-based rice dish that is similar to risotto.
  • Paul Breen's minestrone and butterbean soup is a firm family favourite and uses tinned tomatoes to create a flavourful base. 
  • This Manhattan seafood chowder is a great dish to pack full of delicious Irish seafood.

Paul Breen's minestrone and butterbean soup. Image: Harry Weir and Brian Clarke.
Paul Breen's minestrone and butterbean soup. Image: Harry Weir and Brian Clarke.
How do you use up tinned tomatoes? Let us know in the comments below.