Review #02. Canned Tomatoes: Supermarket Basics vs premium
Review #02. Supermarket basics vs Premium Canned Tomatoes
By Limahl Asmall
We're a nation of tomato lovers! Plum, chopped, peeled or passata - straight out the can we can make a delicious sauce in minutes! But which brand should we buy when there's so much choice, and is there any difference between premium and own brand? This week we've tested four varieties to help you decide which is best.
The big question: Can you taste the difference between a £1.00 premium can, or £0.35p supermarket own brand? - and if so, is it worth the additional money? As usual we'll be looking past fancy packaging and clever marketing and focusing on what really matters, taste and price!
There are endless brands of tomatoes in our supermarkets, (and far too many to test in one sitting) so for this test we took representatives from each price group, and added in a commonly found premium brand, Napolina from Italy.
We tested each by adding a tsp olive oil and a pinch of salt, then heated for 15 minutes. We then blended each to a puree and blind taste tested our simple sauces with unseasoned spaghetti. We marked each for acidity, saltiness, sweetness and 'tomato' flavour, then compared notes.
Read on for the Review results...
Ah you're in for a surprise! There was only one tomato variety that was head and shoulders above the others, and yes, you guessed it, the Taste the Difference variety wins on flavour by a mile. It is balanced in acid, salt, and sweetness which is great, (but no big deal as these can be corrected), but the flavour of tomato was rich and ripe, instant and full bodied. None of the other varieties, including the most expensive could match it for tomato flavour.
It would be very easy to say go and buy the Taste the Difference range, but we took our test a little further...
We wanted to test if we could adjust the sweetness, acidity and salt ratios to improve each can of tomato. And if so, could they compete?
The answer is YES. A wholehearted yes. If you don't want to spend £0.80+ on each can of tomatoes, there's a simple trick to getting the most out of any brand. We found that whichever you buy, they can be improved with the addition of 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil, and approx. 1/2 tsp each of sugar and salt. Just adding these to your canned tomatoes will balance the flavours and bring out their best.
Of course, only adjust the flavours to suit your taste buds. We suggest increasing the salt and sugar by a 1/4 tsp each time before tasting.
Sainsbury's Italian Plum Tomatoes
Cost: £0.40 (mid price)
Notes: There was an acidic aftertaste to the can we tested which made this our last choice of the four we tested. We found the salt was balanced, but it lacked sweetness, was strangely acidic and lacked tomato flavour. It can be improved with the addition of olive oil, salt and sugar, but it still came out last.
Napolina Chopped Tomatoes
Cost: £1.00 (high premium)
Notes: We had high hopes for our most expensive can of tomatoes which came in at a huge £1.00, but were quite disappointed. The sweetness was balanced, the salt too, but there wasn't enough tomato flavour for the price, and it was slightly acidic. It was easily corrected with the addition of a pinch of sugar, but at this price we were expecting more.
Sainsbury's Basics, Peeled Plum Tomatoes
Notes: We were surprised to see the basics brand had balanced acidity, because we were expecting the tomatoes to be sour. It turns out they are pretty good, just lacking overall depth of flavour, and in need of a good pinch of sugar and salt. As expected, the tomato flavour didn't blow us away either, but was no less than the previous two varieties. Due to the price and balanced acidity, and once the salt and sweetness are adjusted, it easily takes our second spot.
Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Peeled Pomodorino
Cost £0.80 (low premium)
Notes: Sigh, in this case you really can taste the difference. We weren't expecting such an intense burst of tomato in our mouths but it's good to know that in the case of this brand the marketing and quality are an equal match. The fact that it wasn't the most expensive is a bonus, but then we're not sure it's worth more than 2 times the amount we paid for the runner up. That decision is up to you.
Overall Winner for Flavour: Taste the Difference Italian Pomodorino Cherry Tomatoes
Overall Winner for Everyday Cooking: Sainsbury's Basics Peeled Plum Tomatoes
If you're looking to eat a very simple sauce where the tomatoes are the key flavour, you can't go wrong with the impressive Taste the Difference variety. However, if you're cooking a sauce with strong flavours like bacon or chorizo, onion, garlic, and herbs (and smothering it in cheese) it would be best to stick to the Basics range.
I think for everyday cooking the Basics range wins, but for special sauces or for a home made pizza, it might be worth paying the premium. The tip here is to add adjust with salt, sugar and olive oil until you find the perfect balance for you.