What’s the difference between canned Tomatoes??

I kept wondering this question when I am at the store. I make homemade pasta sauce pretty much every week. Sometimes I buy whole tomatoes, sometimes pureed, sometimes crushed, why so many varieties, and what should you buy for what you are making? So, I did a little research and here’s what I found out:

Whole Tomatoes: Whole, firm tomatoes packed in their own juices. You can use whole tomatoes in soups, stews, spaghetti sauce, casseroles and chili. Once you open the can, you can chop, hand crush or slow simmer them to go into any recipe.

Diced Tomatoes: Tomatoes diced and packed in their own juices. You can use them in Italian and mexican dishes, chili, soups and stews. These are great to keep on hand year round to add to pasta sauce or soup.

Stewed tomatoes: Tomatoes, that are sliced and seasoned with onions, celery and bell peppers. You can use stewed tomatoes in vegetable dishes, casseroles, soups, stews, chili, mexican and Italian dishes. You can also just heat and serve as a great side dish or they can be sauteed with sliced zucchini and onion for a simple ratatouille!

Crushed tomatoes: Tomatoes concentrated for a texture between sauce and diced. You can use crushed tomatoes in pasta sauces which yields a hearty authentic texture. You can also add them to every day salsa for more body and fresh taste or add chopped onions and cilantro for even more flavor.

Tomato paste: Tomatoes strained to an extra thick paste with salt, spices and flavors. You can use tomato paste in pasta sauce (it’s a nice thickener) or lasagna, pizza, chili, casseroles, soups and stews. You can also use it like a bouillion, by adding a tablespoon or two to soups, sauces, crock pot dishes or to gravy.

Tomato puree: Tomatoes that are a texture between crushed and paste. You can use tomato puree in soups, gravies, sauces, casseroles, and meatloaf.

Tomato sauce: Tomatoes which are slow cooked with salt, spices and flavors for the perfect sauce. You can use this for pasta sauce, lasagna, meatloaf, chili, stews, casseroles and mexican dishes.

I don’t have a certain brand loyalty when it comes to canned tomatoes, I usually get what’s on sale.

Here is my basic pasta sauce which I tweak a little differently each week, depending on what fresh veggies I have. I’ll start with a can of tomatoes (usually 28 oz. can) and then I’ll add another smaller can of tomato sauce, veggies, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper and sometimes I’ll add either cooked ground beef, or cooked Italian sausage just to mix it up.

This version of my pasta sauce

1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
2 Melrose peppers, seeds removed (or you can use green peppers instead)
1/2 white onion
2 medium fresh tomatoes – threw the whole thing, seeds and all in!
4 cloves of garlic
2 links of mild Italian sausage, casing removed
1 teaspoon fennel, chopped
1-2 tsp. dried oregano
salt and pepper
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

In a medium skillet, cook the Italian sausage and drain any fat off. Meanwhile, in a blender, add the crushed tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, melrose peppers, onion and garlic and puree until smooth. Add that to the cooked Italian sausage, and then add the rest of the spices. Cook for about 20 minutes. Then I added the fresh parmesan cheese and let that melt into the sauce.

*These are what Melrose peppers look like, just in case you don’t know:

Melrose peppers come in red or green - not spicey!

Another thing that you can do if you open any type of canned tomatoes, or paste is that you can freeze any leftovers in the freezer for a few months in a ziploc bag. Just one tip, label the tomato paste! Once I thought I added tomato paste to a recipe, and it turned out to be canned pumpkin! Ewww!!!!


  1. Helen says:

    I have a very specific brand of crushed tomatoes that I use for my spaghetti/marinara sauce – other than that it’s a free for all! I also recently discovered tomato paste in a tube! I have a couple of recipes that call for 1T of tomato paste. So much easier to have the tube on hand!

  2. Christina says:

    Wow, how interesting! I usually get what’s on sale too – and for my sauce I use a combination of pureed and paste to thicken it. I don’t like chunks!

    I’ve heard that for the “best” tomatoes you should always purchase the “whole” canned ones b/c those are cosmetically the most beautiful and best of the crop. The ones w/ blemishes or not as pretty ones are the ones they use to create the purees and stuff since it won’t matter. But a tomato is a tomato to me, so I still buy whatever. Just a little tip in case anybody was being ultra cautious about quality though!!

  3. Ginny Hair says:

    Wow! Thanks for this great blog post. If any of your readers are looking for more info on tomatoes, please follow catomatoes on Twitter!

  4. Shelley B says:

    Interesting. I usually get the diced tomatoes – don’t know why I never get whole. I also use the tomato paste in a tube since I rarely need that much (unless I’m making a big pot of spaghetti sauce).

  5. What a great post… wish it was September year round… remember all those fresh tomatoes everywhere.

  6. Ha, it is funny how much variety of canned tomatoes there are! I hadn’t really ever thought about it.

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