I often talk about using ingredients that are as fresh, in-season, local, and un-factory produced as possible. It’s simply because those ingredients will have the best and most flavor. And using them is the number one thing you can do to ensure that the food you make is as yummy as possible.
(Well, that and salt.)
Does that mean you should avoid canned tomatoes (to make Tomato Soup, for example)? Not at all. Here’s when it’s not only okay to use canned tomatoes, it’s best.
When it’s not tomato season
When it’s not tomato season, your grocer has to source tomatoes from where it is. The farther out of season, the farther away the source. But the farther the source, the earlier those tomatoes have to be picked, robbing them of flavor, and the longer they have to travel, losing flavor along the way.
Which is why, right now, a fresh tomato in California is tasteless.
Canned tomatoes, however, might be from far away, but they ripen on the vine and are processed close to the source. So while they won’t beat heirlooms in August, they’re a great option for January.
When you’ll be cooking them
It goes without saying that caprese salads and BLTs are ideal showcases for delicious, fresh tomatoes. So they’re best enjoyed during tomato season.
Tomato Soup and stew and chili, however? Those recipes feature cooked tomatoes. And guess what? Canned tomatoes are already cooked so they’re perfect. Yes, you may cook them more, but the canning process gives you a head start. It also gives you consistency, convenience, and as we’ve already established, better flavor.
Isn’t it a nice coincidence that the foods that work with canned tomatoes are the foods we crave in the cooler, non-fresh-tomato months?
If your father or grandmother did and it makes you feel close to him or her to do it like he or she did
Cooking isn’t always about the outcome. Sometimes it’s about process and tradition and memories. Or a certain feeling you get when you do it a certain way. So if someone you love made BLTs with canned tomatoes—or did anything other than what I’m recommending—and it makes you happy to do the same, you absolutely should.
But if not, use canned tomatoes when a) it’s not tomato season, and b) you’re cooking them. And they’re not just okay—they’re the way to go.