San Marzano tomatoes bring a great taste of Mediterranean sunshine to many dishes, especially family favorites such as Marinara sauce and Neapolitan pizza.
Whether you prefer them fresh or canned, San Marzano tomatoes are a kitchen staple for many home chefs!
But if your grocery store has run out of San Marzano tomatoes, what are the best substitutes to use? You can use other types of fresh tomatoes, such as Roma tomatoes or cherry tomatoes. Canned San Marzano tomatoes can be substituted with other canned tomatoes, tomato paste, passata, or roasted red peppers.
Cooking a recipe that asks for San Marzano tomatoes, but your cupboard is bare? Don’t panic, these substitutes will make sure your dish still tastes delicious!
Let’s take a look at the best alternatives for San Marzano tomatoes and how to use them.
What Are San Marzano Tomatoes?
In the world of tomato growing, San Marzano tomatoes are considered to be royalty!
These tomatoes may come with a higher price tag, but their incredible flavor definitely justifies it.
San Marzano is a variety of tomato that originated in Italy, named after the region it was first cultivated.
It is a type of plum tomato, meaning it is long and oval-shaped. Unlike most plum tomatoes, these fruits have a dense fleshy interior with very few seeds.
This famous tomato is so beloved in its home country that it now has protected status!
Although you could find San Marzano tomatoes that have been grown anywhere in the world (even in your own garden), the very best are considered to be those that are grown in a particular region of Italy.
These tomatoes, grown in a small region between Naples and Salerno, have DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) status, along with Parmigiano-Reggiano and balsamic vinegar.
It is thought that the soil and climate in this region create the best-flavored San Marzano tomatoes, so if you want the highest quality, look for the DOP label!
Italian-grown DOP San Marzano tomatoes combine the perfect balance of sweetness, acidity, and intense tomatoey flavor.
What Do San Marzano Tomatoes Taste Like?
San Marzano tomatoes are picked at the peak of ripeness and are sold either fresh or canned.
When eaten as a fresh tomato, they have a great flavor, particularly when sliced into a salad or used as a topping for pizza or open sandwiches.
Sadly, despite their deliciousness, San Marzano tomatoes are not widely available as fresh tomatoes, as they are prized for their flavor when canned and cooked.
They are an ideal tomato variety for canning, as they have thick, firm flesh with a low water density and few seed pockets.
This texture, along with the great flavor, is why they are often the only canned tomatoes found in most Italian kitchens and restaurants.
But what about the flavor — what exactly do San Marzano tomatoes taste like?
They are sweeter than most other tomato varieties used for canning and have a very intense tomatoey flavor. San Marzano tomatoes are also less acidic than other canning tomatoes.
San Marzano DOP tomatoes are canned according to strict standards, and should not have any salt or preservatives.
The flavor is perfectly preserved, meaning that a can of authentic San Marzano tomatoes will taste and smell like a pure blast of sweet Mediterranean sunshine!
What Are San Marzano Tomatoes Used For?
The smooth texture of San Marzano tomatoes is ideal for making rich sauces and soups, as they deliver their intense tomatoey flavor throughout the dish.
Their flavor is strong enough to stand up to rich meats and cheeses, and their sweetness is the perfect counterbalance to savory ingredients.
Unlike many other canned tomatoes, you may find that no extra sugar is required when making a marinara sauce from San Marzano tomatoes!
Canned San Marzano tomatoes are also commonly used as a base for pasta and pizza sauces, as well as lasagnas and ragus.
When fresh, San Marzano tomatoes are perfect in a fresh salad or served on their own with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. They can also be dried or roasted, thanks to the dense flesh and thin skin.
Best Substitutes For San Marzano Tomatoes
So now we’ve got you all excited about San Marzano tomatoes, we need to turn our thoughts to what you can use as a substitute for this world-famous tomato variety.
There are plenty of options available, so don’t be disheartened if your local store has run out of your favorite tomatoes! Here are some of the best substitutes for San Marzano tomatoes.
1. Canned Tomatoes
If your recipe called for a can of San Marzano tomatoes, then the closest substitute is another type of canned tomato.
Whilst these won’t have quite the same sweet, intense tomatoe-y-ness, any type of canned tomato will give you a similar taste and texture to canned San Marzano tomatoes.
They may be slightly more acidic, but a little bit of sugar can be added to rectify this.
2. Roma Tomatoes
For a substitute for fresh San Marzano tomatoes, the classic Roma tomato comes pretty close in terms of size and flavor.
They are also normally easier to source than San Marzano tomatoes, as they are more widely grown around the world.
The Roma is a plum tomato with dense flesh and a rich tomato flavor. They are not quite as sweet as San Marzano tomatoes but have a similar level of acidity.
3. Tomato Paste
If you are using San Marzano tomatoes for their smooth texture, then a good quality tomato paste may be the perfect substitute.
Tomato paste is very thick, so you may need to dilute it down with stock or water first.
4. Cherry Tomatoes
Cherry tomatoes are much smaller than San Marzano tomatoes, but their flavor is very similar in terms of sweetness and low acidity.
This makes them a great substitute when adding tomatoes to salads, sandwiches, or pizza.
In terms of quantity, you will need four or five cherry tomatoes for every San Marzano tomato your recipe asks for.
Passata is made in a similar way to canned tomatoes, but the flesh of the tomatoes is pureed after the seeds and skin have been removed.
This gives passata a wonderfully smooth texture that can be used in a classic marinara sauce or ragu instead of canned San Marzano tomatoes.
6. Sun-Dried Tomatoes
When tomatoes are dried in the sun, their sweet flavor is intensified. They can be chopped and added to sauces or marinades instead of fresh or canned San Marzano tomatoes.
The great thing about sun-dried tomatoes is that they have a long shelf life, so you can always have a jar handy on the pantry shelf.
7. Roasted Peppers
For a tomato-free alternative to San Marzano tomatoes, roasted peppers can be the perfect substitute!
Red peppers have a great intensity of flavor and sweetness that is comparable to the richness of San Marzano tomatoes when roasted.
The great thing about roasted peppers is they can be blended and incorporated into sauces or used in place of fresh tomatoes in a salad or sandwich.