Posted: August 14, 2015 in Food, Italian, san marzano, tomatoes
Tags: , , ,

If you do your share of Italian recipes, a common product found in just about any store has many people confused: San Marzano tomatoes. Most good cooks agree that San Marzano tomatoes are some of the best canned tomatoes you can buy.

But unfortunately,  the label can say “San Marzano tomatoes” even if they are not real San Marzano tomatoes.

San Marzano is a region in Italy near Naples and Mt. Vesuvius, and the special combination of climate and volcanic soil make these plum tomatoes world-famous. They have less water, fewer seeds and are picked off the vine when perfectly ripe, then processed the same day.

But San Marzano is a variety of tomato, too…and so you can have a can of San Marzano tomatoes that are not from San Marzano. And to add to the confusion, there’s actually a brand of tomatoes called San Marzano, with tomatoes grown in the United States. Bet your ass the sellers of these tomatoes are counting on you not to know the difference!

Sold everywhere, but not real San Marzanos from Italy. Grown in the USA.

The company has now changed their label, just calling it "SM."

The company has now changed their label, just calling it “SMT.”

Real San Marzano Tomatoes are a very old variety, extremely limited in quantity, grown and produced exclusively in the San Marzano region of Italy. Because production is so very limited, the Italian Government and the European Union have formed a way of protecting consumers from fraud by having San Marzano tomatoes tightly controlled. DOP, or denomination of protected origin, is the mechanism that the government is using to control the production and marketing of genuine San Marzano tomatoes. Labels for DOP products must be individually numbered and manually applied to each can in specific lots and government officials must oversee this application. So here’s the deal: unless you see “DOP” on the label with a hand-stamped number on the can, it’s not a real San Marzano tomato.

Nope. Italian, but not from the region.

Nope. Italian, and the correct variety, but not from the region.

Nope. "San Marzano region," but not necessarily the variety.

Nope. “San Marzano region,” but not necessarily the variety.

Nope. San Marzan "style."

Nope. San Marzan “style.”

Yes! Always look for D.O.P. on the can or jar.

Yes! Always look for D.O.P. on the can or jar.


  1. K.Moore says:

    just saw “SMT” labels at the grocery store for the first time. noticed right away. so sneaky and annoying. thanks for the images and details!


  2. Lisa Price says:

    Cento Brand is from Sarnese Nocerino area of Italy.


  3. Wendy says:

    I tasted SMT tomatoes and was overwhelmed with the best tast in a canned tomato. I live in northeast pa, and would like to know what grocers sell this product?


    • Alz355 says:

      I’m not familiar with the stores in your area, but I’ve been able to find decent deals on Amazon. Whole Foods will have sales on cans of San Marzano’s pretty often. I stock up when they do. Just make sure they have the DOP designation. That’s the only way you know you’re getting the real thing. Thanks for reading! ~~AL


  4. Valerie Richardson says:

    I’ve eaten a lot of authentic San Marzano tomatoes and appreciate how wonderful they are. Best lasagna ever! However my local grocer only sells the SMT brand, and they are really quite good. They have that San Marzano rich flavor even if they are grown stateside. I only bought one can the first time because I was skeptical, but I will happily buy their products from now on.


    • Alz355 says:

      Hi, Valerie! There are many very good quality tomatoes grown here in the states. (Like in my garden!) But the real San Marzano‘s from Italy are harder to find and always expensive. I find that it makes it more of a difference on the simple dishes, like pizza.… And it matters less on dishes where there are many other ingredients. Thanks for reading! ~~AL


  5. Tom Lemmen says:

    Say what you will. But “America’s Test Kitchen did a “taste off” competition with 4 other canned tomatoes and the SMT from pennsylvannia won hands down.


    • Alz355 says:

      I’m totally OK if they win a taste off. My concern is misleading labeling. The only tomato that should be called a San Marzano is one that comes from that region in Italy. The American tomato companies do their best to try to hide the fact that they are not from Italy so they can charge a higher price.


  6. Emily K says:

    What kills me is how many TV Chefs use the SMT tomatoes and tell you they are using San Marzano tomatoes. I expect more from them.


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