What are San Marzano tomatoes?

“What kind of tomatoes are these?”  I asked my husband’s family in OH about 5 years ago while admiring their home grown tomatoes.  I had never seen such a sight.   These were super-sized Roma tomatoes, but they weren’t Roma tomatoes at all. 

“These are Sicilian tomatoes,” was the reply. “The seeds were shipped to us by Aunt Rosalie and we grow them here.”

And sure enough they do grow.

As you can see in the image how big they can grow.  Those green peppers you see are not small hot peppers, they are full size green peppers.

So although those three smaller red tomatoes look like the size of Roma tomatoes, they are not – they are at least 3-4 times that big!

Sicilian tomatoes – to be or not to be…

For nearly 5 years now, I’ve called these tomatoes Sicilian Tomatoes.  No one ever knew their real name – just Sicilian Tomatoes.

Until one day a few weeks ago when I was in Walmart and came across this can below:

Cento's San Marzano

Suddenly, they were no longer this mysterious Sicilian tomato – they were actually San Marzanos!

Certified means they are cultivated according to specific Italian guidelines and procedures.  I don’t know all the specifics.

These tomatoes are not cheap.  At Giant/Martin’s I saw them for almost $5 a can, at Walmart they were still up there at $3.47 (give or take a few cents).

I haven’t done a taste test yet, but am looking forward to doing one – especially since the sodium is only 20mg!

Not knowing much about this variety of tomatoes, I decided to do some research.   I found a great website (http://www.sanmarzanotomatoes.org/) that offers a well rounded history of the tomato, and even debunks the literature on Wikipedia.

I’d recommend reading it as it provides some really interesting information.  The article  paints a wonderful picture of the life of the tomato – equating its growth in popularity to near demise, then its successful rebound to that of a typical celebrity.

Once you read the article, you really will have a better appreciation for all that this tomato has gone through.

Where San Marzano Tomatoes come from:

These Italian tomatoes come from the region Campania which is located to the west of Naples down to North of Salerno.   There is a village named San Marzano and it is told the awesome quality of the tomatoes from this region is due to the rich volcanic ash of Vesuvius which penetrates and nourishes the area’s soil.

However, these tomatoes can be grown just about anywhere – not only in Italy but also in the US – as proven by my relatives in OH.

Why are they so great?

These Italian tomatoes are of course larger than Roma tomatoes, and they are really meaty, meaning it’s not like a slicing tomato which has mostly liquid inside.

As a result of its meaty interior, it makes for a great 100% homemade sauce – meaning actually using a tomato mill to strain the liquid and remove the seeds.  From there you would cook the tomatoes, add in your seasonings, and create your sauce. I love this type of sauce!

These tomatoes are also great for when you want to keep your tomatoes in chunks, such as my recent Ziti with egglplant, zucchini and tomato recipe, or other similar type pasta dishes where you want to keep the tomato pieces whole.

They would be great for pizzas as well, such as a Margarita Pizza where you place slices of the tomato around the pizza along with fresh mozzarella and basil.

If you are interested in growing these tomatoes, I again refer you to this website: http://www.sanmarzanotomatoes.org/how-to-grow.html which has a great step by step guide for these particular tomatoes.

Since many stores won’t sell them in their produce section and nurseries don’t usually have them either, you’ll be on your own to probably grow them from scratch.

One nursery which does supply these tomatoes as seedlings is Corso’s Flower and Garden Center in Sandusky, OH.

San Marzano tomato

San Marzanos are indeterminate plants which mean they grow like a vine – not a bush.  Proper staking and support is essential, especially since these suckers are big and heavy.

When done right, you’ll have your hands full!   Just take a look at one I picked from my garden last summer to the right.

That is not a child’s hand either – that is my hand!  So if that doesn’t give you a clue as to how big they can get I’m not sure what will.

I’d imagine the one I’m holding is about 7 inches long.   The color is pale because I had a real issue with destructive pests so I’d pick the tomatoes a little early and let them ripen in the sun by the window.  It worked perfectly fine.

In fact, at the end of the summer when I took my garden down there were still a ton of green tomatoes, so I saved them and let them ripen inside and they still tasted great!

A few pickings from my garden last year.

Since I’m talking about my garden from last year (I didn’t grow one this year), here’s another picture for fun which shows a watermelon, cantaloupe, cucumber, eggplant, and some cherry tomatoes, plus one of the “Sicilian” tomatoes next to the cantaloupe.

I have to say the cantaloupe was so sweet and amazing. I recommend growing your own if you have the space.

In the end, in some respects I’m kind of sad that the Sicilian Tomatoes which were such a mystery don’t originally originate from Sicily, but have their roots further North.  Nonetheless, these tomatoes are grown in Sicily and all over Italy.

On the other hand, I feel like we’ve got an amazing treasure as the Krause family has been cultivating and growing these tomatoes whose seeds were shipped from our family in Sicily.  It’s a real honor to own these seeds (yes I saved a bunch), and to know we are growing a piece of Italian history and tradition right here in the USA is something I find incredible and very special.

Easy Italian Recipes





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