Best Tomatoes For Pizza Sauce? All About San Marzanos (& Other Options)

When you first start looking into making pizza properly, it’s totally normal to think that any old tomatoes will do when it comes to making the sauce. That said, you probably shouldn’t use old tomatoes, but as it turns out, fresh aren’t best either.

So what tomatoes are best for making pizza sauce?

The general consensus on the best tomatoes to make pizza sauce is that canned or tinned plum tomatoes rank number one. If you want to be particular about it, the San Marzano variety of canned plum tomatoes are considered the absolute best in the professional pizza world (San Marzano being a region in Italy where these special kind of tomatoes are grown).

There’s obviously other pizza sauce options available, some of which we’ll go over below (along with some groovy pizza sauce tips).

But San Marzano tomatoes are where to start…

San Marzano Tomatoes

In 1770, it’s understood that the tomato seed was given as a gift to the King of Naples, by the Viceroyalty of Peru (pizza clearly wasn’t an option!) The seed was then planted in the Italian town of San Marzano sul Sarno, which is just outside of Naples and in close proximity to Mount Vesuvius.

And so the San Marzano tomato was born. The volcanic soils in this region of Italy are known to be particularly fertile, and partly due to the benefit of Mediterranean sun, San Marzano tomatoes are widely considered to be the best tomatoes (especially for pizza sauce) in the world. 

San Marzano tomatoes have thin skins but a thick flesh and only few seeds compared to other tomatoes. They’re plum-shaped with a sweet and mildly acidic flavour. Because the area of San Marzano in which they’re grown is reasonably small, their supply is limited and this is another reason they’re so sought after.

While seeds from San Marzano tomatoes can be used to grow tomatoes anywhere else in the world, only the ones actually grown in this region of Italy (and with official certification) are considered the best. San Marzanos can be eaten raw just like any other tomato, but they’re generally best once canned, because the flavour is concentrated.

The difference between San Marzano tomatoes and regular tomatoes is partly their shape (they’re longer and thinner than the average round tomato, and other plum tomatoes), plus the fact that they have less seeds and juice than other tomatoes. And of course their reputation for making the best pizza sauce.

What does D.O.P mean on San Marzano Tomatoes?

When you see ‘D.O.P’ on the label of a can of San Marzano tomatoes, this means ‘Denominazione di Origine Protetta’ in Italy (Protected Designation of Origin), signifying that the tomatoes are actually from San Marzano and have certification to confirm that they were produced according to official guidelines.

D.O.P certification applies to several Italian food products, including balsamic vinegar, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and mozzarella di bufala cheese. With San Marzano tomatoes, D.O.P status verifies that the tomatoes have been produced in line with traditional methods, from growth through to selection and packaging.

How do you tell if your San Marzano Tomatoes are real?

You can tell whether canned San Marzano tomatoes are genuine if the official ‘D.O.P’ logo is shown on the can, along with a certification number issued by the D.O.P. consortium (Consorzio DI TUTELA DEL POMODORO SAN MARZANO DELL’AGRO SARNESE NOCERINO). 

You should also look for the words “Pomodoro San Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese Nocerino” and “Denominazione d’Origine Protteta” which indicate that the tomatoes were grown in San Marzano. It’s worth noting that true San Marzanos are only sold as whole or half tomatoes (not chopped or puréed, for example).

Here’s some brands that are known for selling real, authentic San Marzano tomatoes:

  • Rega
  • DeLallo
  • Francesconi
  • La Valle
  • La Fede
  • Hunt’s
  • Cento

If you can’t get yourself to Italy, you can buy San Marzano tomatoes online.

Are San Marzano Tomatoes Really The Best?

D.O.P San Marzano tomatoes do taste great, and they’re what plenty of pro pizzaiolos use to make pizza sauce for a reason, but whether they’re that much better than any other type of canned tomato is obviously open to debate. Clearly the only real way to know is to compare with a tomato taste test.

Making The Best Pizza Sauce 

As surprising as it might be when you’re new to making your own pizza, the best tomato pizza sauce is pretty much made of just that, tomatoes (whether San Marzanos or a different variety of canned plum tomatoes). You don’t really need a recipe for pizza sauce. Just adding a bit of salt is recommended; with sugar, olive oil, garlic and herbs (usually basil and/or oregano) being optional extras.

It’s best to simply crush your canned tomatoes into a sauce using your hands, a fork, or a food mill. Pulsing gently with a blender can be done but isn’t usually advised, as the power of a blender can make the sauce too watery. Also, pulverising tomato seeds releases their acidity, making the sauce overly acidic.

Chopped Tomatoes vs Plum Tomatoes?

Anyone who says they’ve never stood in the supermarket aisle wondering about chopped tomatoes vs plum tomatoes is probably lying. Or they know that plum tomatoes are best, because better quality tomatoes are typically reserved for canning whole, whereas chopped tomatoes are just ‘any old tomatoes’ chopped up. If you can, use whole plum tomatoes for your pizza sauce.

Can You Use Passatta For Pizza Sauce? 

Passatta is definitely an option to be used for pizza sauce, being uncooked sieved or strained tomatoes. Passatta is especially good if you can’t even be bothered to open a tin of plum tomatoes and crush them. Passatta has a smooth quality to it that somehow just feels right on pizza, despite not being the so-called best option.

Is it Okay to Use Tomato Paste/Purée for Pizza?

If you’re doing things properly, according to Italian traditions, it’s totally not okay to use tomato paste/purée for pizza sauce. Then again, if it’s the only tomato-based thing you’ve got hanging around, any pizza is better than no pizza. But there’s probably better pizza sauce options, like passatta.

Do You Need To Cook Pizza Sauce?

Although it can be (and is) done, there’s really no need to cook a tomato pizza sauce before adding it to the pizza. There’s occasions when cooking pizza sauce has its place, mainly if you want a thicker reduced sauce (like when making deep-pan pizzas). But using plum tomatoes straight from the tin is the most traditional method.

Cooking pizza sauce should usually only be done once the sauce is actually on the pizza, because cooking it means a loss of zingy freshness and possibly over-concentrating the tomatoes (canned tomatoes have already undergone some cooking). That said, a good tip is to have your sauce at room temperature before adding to the dough.

Pizza Sauce Alternatives

If you’re desperate for pizza but can’t get your hands on some canned tomatoes or even passatta, you might even sink to the low of considering ketchup or some cheap pasta sauce from the local corner store (we’ve been there). Maybe try these pizza sauce alternatives instead.

A Saucy Summary…

So that’s all about the best tomatoes for pizza sauce, otherwise known as the San Marzano. One of the secrets to making great pizza is obviously using the best tomatoes possible, which are widely considered to be canned plum tomatoes with a touch of salt. But feel free to explore other alternatives.

The truth is you can use any plum tomatoes, chopped tomatoes or even passata for pizza sauce. Products like tomato purée and ketchup are questionable choices, and fresh tomatoes don’t tend to work very well at all.  But you definitely can’t go wrong with San Marzanos, which are most traditional and considered the best by the pizza pros.