When To Buy Whole Canned Tomatoes In Juice Vs Puree

Canned tomatoes are one of those indispensable pantry staples that you probably have in the kitchen. Endlessly versatile, canned tomatoes are a boon for home cooks when fresh tomatoes are either out of season or inaccessible. Short of growing your tomatoes at home, the canned ones are the best alternative for anyone who wishes to add tomatoes to sauces, soups, and a whole lot more.

However, when you are in the market for canned tomatoes, you might be confused by the many choices that are on store shelves. Should you get them diced or whole? Should you choose whole tomatoes in juice or puree? While canned whole tomatoes allow for more applications than diced ones, there is also a difference between the ones stored in juice and the ones stored in tomato puree. Your choice boils down to the dish you've got in mind. Simply put, if you want a richer tomato dish, choose the ones packed in puree, but if you prefer your tomato dish to be brighter and lighter, choose the ones packed in tomato juice.

Puree versus juice

The differences between puree-packed tomatoes and juice-packed tomatoes are twofold. First, tomato puree is much thicker than tomato juice. This thicker texture and deeper flavor, thanks to the additional tomato flesh pureed into the liquid, makes it better suited for thicker, richer sauces. For instance, puree-packed tomatoes are fantastic when used in a sauce that requires some time to simmer, such as a meatball recipe that requires meats to be simmered in a deep tomato sauce for several hours. The pureed tomato will thicken the sauce, provide additional body, and it makes for a richer result.

On the other hand, tomato juice-packed whole tomatoes are great when you only want tomatoes and not the liquid. Since the juice is easier to separate than the puree from the tomatoes, the juice will drain off cleaner than the puree if you want to use the tomato for lighter recipes. For example, whole tomatoes without puree is a great match for lighter sauces, such as a tomato and basil sauce. Lightly cooked by crushing the whole tomatoes with a potato masher and spiked with freshly shredded basil leaves, the sauce is a lovely choice to dress grilled fish filets, chicken breasts, or tossed with pasta and parmesan cheese for a light dinner, showcasing the bright tomato flavors.

Add more flavor to canned tomatoes

Whether you are looking to make a rich and savory sauce with those canned with tomato puree, or a bright and sunny dressing with the ones packed in tomato juice, these red gems are a convenient way to make dinner any night of the week.

However, there are ways to improve the taste of your tomato dishes when you use canned items. For example, a rich pasta sauce will benefit from the addition of tomato paste combined with canned tomatoes packed in puree. It adds an extra dose of tomato-derived umami to an already thick pasta sauce, especially if you add it before the tomatoes and let the paste fry in oil alongside aromatics such as garlic and onions.

On the other hand, if you are planning to make a brighter and lighter recipe with tomatoes packed in juice, then a pinch of sugar is your best friend. Adding a bit of sugar balances the acidity of the tomato and brightens the flavor even more. When paired with fresh ingredients such as shredded herbs and fresh chunks of vegetables, you can make the canned tomato shine for these light dishes. Similarly, a fresh squeeze of lime juice over fish basted in tomato sauce can brighten the dish — especially when coupled with herbs straight from the garden.