There's a misconception that fresh produce is superior to canned fruits and vegetables. In reality, both fresh and canned food have their pros and cons.
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In the case of tomatoes, fresh ones are available all year long. Tomatoes are the most flavorful when they are in season, which is about half of the year. During the other half of the year, diced canned tomatoes may be a more flavorful option as the tomatoes are usually picked during peak ripeness.
Canned tomatoes are also a more affordable and accessible option that has a longer shelf life, so they won't go bad if you forget about them. Canned tomatoes are actually the leading canned vegetable in the U.S., according to the USDA.
Depending on the time of year and your recipe, you may prefer canned tomatoes over fresh ones. Here is how to substitute canned and fresh tomatoes for each other, so you can always use the type of tomatoes you prefer or have on hand.
How to Substitute Fresh Tomatoes for Diced Canned Tomatoes
There are many types of fresh tomatoes, including heirloom and hybrid varieties. Most grocery stores carry grape, roma (plum) and cherry tomatoes year-round, but heirloom tomatoes like Black Krim and Brandywine may only be available seasonally.
"You can usually substitute 2 cups of fresh chopped tomatoes for one 14.5-ounce can of diced tomatoes," explains Julia Chebotar, New York City-based chef and Chopped! winner.
"If a recipe calls for whole canned tomatoes, they can be substituted with whole, fresh tomatoes that you peel. If a recipe calls for canned tomato puree, this can be substituted with fresh tomatoes that you cook and puree yourself."
To use fresh tomatoes instead of canned tomatoes, Chebotar recommends doing the following:
Things You'll Need
Step 1: Rinse Raw Tomatoes
Wash your hands with warm, soapy water for 20 seconds. Then, run the tomatoes under cool water for a few minutes.
Step 2: Blanch and Peel
For easier peeling, blanch the tomatoes in boiling water. Core your tomatoes at the stem end, then cut a small "X" in the bottom with a paring knife.
Drop the tomatoes a few at a time into boiling water for 30 to 60 seconds, then transfer them to a bowl of ice water. Once they've cooled, the skins will slip off the tomatoes easily.
Step 3: Cut the Tomatoes
Cut the tomatoes in half and squeeze each half gently to remove most of the seeds and watery pulp, and then remove the rest with a finger or a small spoon.
If your recipe calls for the juice of the tomatoes, squeeze out the pulp into a colander over a bowl and save the juices.
Step 4: Dice the Tomatoes
Place the tomatoes on a cutting board and dice them into 1/4-inch or 1/2-inch pieces, as desired. Then use them according to the recipe instructions. Feel free to freeze the excess.
Fresh tomatoes are well-suited for eating raw. Chop them and use them as an ingredient in salads and sandwiches or by themselves as a snack.
You can also cook fresh tomatoes to make homemade marinara sauce, pizza sauce or other tomato-based sauces.
How to Substitute Canned Tomatoes for Fresh Tomatoes
Tomatoes usually come in 14.5- or 28-ounce cans in many varieties, including peeled, whole, diced, crushed, fire-roasted, chopped and more.
While fresh tomatoes are full of flavor and nutrients when in season, they may be bland and hard for much of the year. Canned tomatoes are much more consistent as they're usually picked and processed at peak ripeness. If tomatoes are not in season or you don't have any on hand, canned tomatoes are a convenient substitute.
"When you substitute canned tomatoes in place of fresh tomatoes, choose whole, peeled tomatoes if possible," Chebotar advises, adding that "They tend to be higher quality, though canned diced tomatoes can also work when you're in a pinch."
"One 28-ounce can of tomatoes or two 14.5-ounce cans equals about 10 to 12 peeled whole tomatoes."
Canned diced tomatoes are a healthy addition to many soups, stews, chilis, curries and sauces. Canned tomato sauce can be used to enhance pasta, pizza, enchiladas, chili or sloppy joes.
If you're canning your own tomatoes, the USDA recommends using them within 1 year. Store-bought canned tomatoes are best within 18 months.
When choosing canned tomatoes, the U.S. National Library of Medicine recommends opting for those without added salt.