Canned tomato products have gained pandemic popularity for good reason. Give these tried and true pantry staples a fresh look.
Canned tomato products are more popular than ever! All it took was a pandemic to clear every last can—diced tomatoes, tomato puree, sauce, salsa, marinara sauce—from supermarket shelves across the country. It’s no surprise really. Our reality has been shaken—especially the way we eat. Our new normal is cooking in and shopping less frequently, which means we rely on longer-lasting, shelf-stable foods—like canned tomato products—more than we ever have. So just like that, the wallflower of supermarket shelves is now the darling, helping us dish up delicious and nutritious meals that are not only convenient but economical. Of course, this has been true for generations of families who have relied on them, just like an old friend. Now is the perfect time to take a fresh look at what canned tomato products have to offer and enjoy what’s new again.
A Nod to History
Preserving tomatoes and other produce is a part of our history. For generations we’ve preserved tomatoes and other produce, capturing the season’s harvest to enjoy all year! It’s no surprise that the largest surges in U.S. canning history came in times of crisis—the two world wars. This history and tradition of canned tomatoes continues today as we rely upon and enjoy their long shelf life, convenience, and versatility.
Not only is it much easier to purchase canned tomatoes straight off supermarket shelves, it’s the best way—shy of picking them fresh from the summer garden—to enjoy them in terms of flavor and nutrition all year long. Farmers harvest them at peak ripeness in the field, then whisk them to a nearby processing plant where they are canned within four hours’ time, preserving and intensifying sun-ripened flavor and all those healthy nutrients.
Eat More Veggies!
We’re eating at home more, which means we have complete control when it comes to eating healthier. One of the places Americans fall short in terms of nutrition is the amount of fruits and vegetables we eat. A healthy eating pattern, according to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, includes a variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups—dark green, red and orange, legumes, starchy, and other—and recommends tomato products as a source of intake for red and orange vegetables. Tomato products are the easy vegetable; it’s so easy to pack in a serving of veggies with tomato sauce, tomato paste, and canned tomatoes.
Tomato products play a key role in a Mediterranean-style diet—a way of eating that’s been linked with lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, certain types of cancer, obesity, and more. Med up your diet with tomato products—canned tomatoes, tomato paste, and tomato sauce are a part of so many Mediterranean dishes from pasta and pizza to ratatouille, beans, soup, and fish.
Get Back to Basics
A surplus of time has stirred a curiosity in the kitchen that’s taken many of us back to the basics. Cooking from scratch, like baking, churning butter, and making pasta, has not only rescued many of us from boredom, it’s taught us how simple and superior these foods can be. When it comes to canned tomatoes, they have saved many a meal during this pandemic. Canned tomato products open the door to homemade without the hassle. No fresh tomatoes? Open up a can of whole, diced, or crushed tomatoes to use instead. Many recipes are even better when made with canned tomatoes. No jarred salsa? No problem. Give Mango Salsa a try. Out of ketchup? A snap with canned tomato products, like this easy recipe for Spicy Sweet Tomato Jam. Make these homemade pantry regulars once and you may never go back to premade. Search for recipes at Tomato Wellness, line up your canned tomatoes, and be amazed. Quick, convenient, delicious, so much cheaper, plus the satisfaction of doing this yourself!
Tune into Comfort Foods
Turn down the news and turn to comfort foods. If there’s ever been a time to give ourselves a little extra love, it’s now. Canned tomatoes are comfort in a can. Their umami-rich flavor brings the soothing feel-good effect we all need. Velvety smooth tomato soup with a slice of warm, crusty bread, sloppy joes sandwiched in a soft bun, or a plate of vegetable lasagna—meals that warm heart and soul as they take us back to cherished memories and create new ones as well. Make a big batch—go ahead and double the recipes—and enjoy leftovers for more quick and easy meals during the week or freeze for later. Definitely consider using a slow-cooker or instant pot when you want a no-hassle meal—just add the ingredients to the pot and let it do all the work. Bonus: with canned tomatoes, there’s no washing, peeling, chopping, or fuss. Now that’s comfort—canned tomato style.
Cue into Cultural Cuisine
Travel plans are on hold for a while, but why not tap into those dream destinations with food? We can’t visit Paris right now, but you can bring it a little bit closer by whipping up a veggie quiche with tomatoes, mushrooms, and peppers. You’ll quickly discover the top tier role tomatoes play in traditional diets around the globe. They’ve been brightening our favorite meals with a splash of robust red and packing health promoting nutrients that help boost nutrition and reduce risk of chronic disease. From American Southwest to Latin America to Mediterranean, bring these international culinary gems into your kitchen. A few ways you can eat the globe and experience the world of food culture:
- Latin—Pico de Gallo—colorful blend of onion, peppers, and cilantro or Tacos—Easy Tacos with Refried Beans and Corn Salsa
- Italian—Classic Tomato Sauce—served with pasta, on Arugula Salad Pizza, or over veggie patties, or
- Bruschetta—tomato on crunchy bread with garlic, olive oil, and fresh basil
- Mediterranean—Greek Salad—tomatoes, greens, Kalamata olives, and capers, or Tomato Hummus—tomatoes, chickpeas, tahini, extra virgin olive oil, pine nuts, and spices
It’s so nice to welcome canned tomato products back home—into our pantries and our home cooking. They are the silver (okay, metal!) tried and true lining in our current pandemic, helping us through our current challenge, but also reminding us of what truly matters.
Photos by Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN, The Plant-Powered Dietitian