Are Roma and San Marzano tomatoes the same?

There is a wide variety of canned tomatoes available to us at the grocery store. Some are chopped, others are pureed, while whole peeled tomatoes are still popular among chefs and home cooks. San Marzano and Roma tomatoes are two of the most often canned varieties. So, what’s the difference between these two tomatoes? The first thing to notice about them is their comparable composition: Both have a higher flesh-to-juice ratio, which means that it contains a significantly smaller amount of that gelatinous and watery seed at the center. According to On the Gas, both are plum tomatoes, a variety of tomato used to produce sauces.

plum tomatoes

So, when you’re trying to make a pasta sauce from scratch, you’ll probably have to decide between San Marzano and Roma tomatoes. So what is the difference between the two plum tomato kinds, and which one is preferable for which application?

Roma tomatoes

roma tomatoes


Roma tomatoes, like San Marzano tomatoes, are often produced for canning or pureeing. Specialty Produce describes Roma tomatoes as being meatier than they are juicy, which is why they fall under the plum tomato category. Roma tomatoes have a characteristically elongated shape, with high sugar and acid levels which make them more flavorful than slicing tomatoes (via Specialty Produce). Because of its decreased moisture content, this tomato is ideal for salsa, bruschetta, tomato soup, and sauces.

According to Harvesting History, Roma tomatoes are a relatively new USDA creation, having been released to the public in 1955. Believed to be a genetically modified hybrid of the famous San Marzano and Pan American tomato, Roma tomatoes were made to be highly disease resistant, flavorful, and durable in colder temperatures, per Specialty Produce. Since their introduction to the US market, they’ve grown in length, maybe owing to genetic alteration to make the meat stronger. Roma tomatoes grow abundantly in both chilly and warm conditions, making them a very cost-effective crop in the United States.

San Marzano tomatoes

canned San Marzano

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Some people insist that these are the only tomatoes that should be used for spaghetti sauce. Certainly, San Marzano tomatoes have a status in their name, even bearing the D.O.P. mark that certifies their place of origin in the fertile volcanic soils of the Agro Sarnese-Nocerino region of Italy, per The Spruce Eats. After all, according to Harvesting History, Roma tomatoes were created in place of these renowned tomatoes, which were initially cultivated in Italy in 1926. Additionally, Yummy Mommy Kitchen claims that what distinguishes these tomatoes is that they are picked at peak ripeness and canned in a very specific way, without salt or preservatives.

While both Roma and San Marzano tomatoes are low-moisture plum tomatoes, San Marzano tomatoes only have two seed chambers and tend to be longer and pointier than Roma tomatoes (via Specialty Produce). They have a lower acidity profile than Roma, which makes them sweeter and jammier. San Marzano tomatoes are favored for most tomato sauces, especially real Neapolitan pizzas. Because of its D.O.P. designation, this rare tomato can only be canned whole or filleted, not sliced (some fake San Marzano tomatoes come diced). To summarize, San Marzano tomatoes are expensive, artisanal tomatoes, whilst Roma tomatoes are a more economical option.


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