I occasionally make Italian cuisine so it is safe to say that I interact with plum tomatoes a lot. Plum tomatoes are the go-to tomatoes in Italian recipes. They are used in sauces, tomato pastes, gravies, and also in salads. I personally don’t use plum tomatoes in salads because I find them dry compared to the other varieties.
Plum tomatoes can either be used fresh or in their pureed form. Either way, they are a great addition to many dishes.
So what exactly are plum tomatoes? Plum tomatoes are a variety of tomatoes popularly grown for use in sauces. I have come across several people who call them ‘sauce tomatoes’. Plum tomatoes are mostly used to tomato paste and tomato sauce.
Plum tomatoes have a distinct shape and appearance in general. They are usually oval in shape. On the inside, plum tomatoes only have two locules i.e. the seed compartments of a tomato.
Unlike other varieties of tomatoes, plum tomatoes have a great flesh to juice ratio. This means that they produce more juice compared to ordinary tomato. The great flesh to juice ratio is what makes plums tomatoes ideal for tomato sauces as well as tomato paste.
Although plum tomatoes have distinct characteristics, you can substitute them with other ingredients in your recipes.
Some of the best substitutes for plum tomatoes are fresh tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, canned plum tomatoes, canned cherry tomatoes, and tomato puree.
The different plum tomato varieties
There are four main plum tomato varieties. They include; Italian style plum tomatoes, small plum tomatoes, Roma VF plum tomatoes, and San Marzano plum tomatoes.
Italian style plum tomatoes
Italian style plum tomatoes are the most common of all the varieties. They are mostly used in cooking. Compared to the other varieties, Italian style plum tomatoes are bright red in color and are larger in size. They also have a firmer structure.
You can use Italian style plum tomatoes in soups, gravies, jams, pickles, and sauces. They also blend well with meaty dishes.
Small plum tomatoes
Small plum tomatoes are commonly known as grape tomatoes because of their small size. They have an oval shape as well. In terms of flavor, small plum tomatoes are sweeter compared to the other varieties. Their flavor is quite similar to that of cherry tomatoes.
The origin of small plum tomatoes can be traced back to South East Asia. You can easily tell them apart from the rest because of their size, shape, and bright red color.
Small plum tomatoes are best suited for sautéed vegetable mix, stir fry recipes, and salads.
Roma VF plum tomatoes
Roma VF plum tomatoes are a special variety. They are mostly commercially produced. These tomatoes are grown through an openly pollinated variety of plants instead of a hybrid.
If you are wondering what type of commercially produced plum tomatoes you have just bought, chances are that they are Roma VF plum tomatoes.
San Marzano plum tomatoes
San Marzano plum tomatoes stand out because of their unique shape. San Marzano plum tomatoes are cylindrical in shape with an extended tip. They are normally pointed and long hence the name San Marzano.
The name originates from Italy where the tomatoes were first grown. Unlike other tomatoes, San Marzano plum tomatoes only grow in a warm climate.
Plum tomatoes substitutes
- Fresh tomatoes
You can easily substitute canned plum tomatoes with other varieties of fresh tomatoes. Some of the varieties that you can use include; Amish paste tomatoes, Druzba, Marianna’s peace, Cherry tomatoes, and celebrity among others.
If your recipe calls for 1 ½ cups canned plum tomatoes, use 1 lb. of fresh tomatoes.
Alternatively, you can mix the fresh tomatoes with a little bit of tomato paste. The tomato paste will thicken the mixture and also enhance the flavor of your dish.
- Sun-dried tomatoes
Sun dried tomatoes can also be used as substitutes for plum tomatoes. However, you should keep in mind that these tomatoes have a chewy texture.
Sun dried tomatoes are also sweeter compared to plum tomatoes. If you don’t want your dish to be too sweet, you can reduce the amount you use in your recipe.
- Canned plum tomatoes
If your recipe calls for fresh plum tomatoes, you can use canned plum tomatoes instead. Canned plum tomatoes are quite flavorful compared to fresh plum tomatoes.
This is because the plum tomatoes used to make canned plum tomatoes are picked when they are at their ripest. The tomatoes are also canned in their own rich juice. I like using canned plum tomatoes when making sauces and jams. The results are usually amazing.
- Canned cherry tomatoes
Canned cherry tomatoes are also a good substitute for plum tomatoes. Just like canned plum tomatoes, they have a sweeter flavor compared to fresh plum tomatoes.
Therefore, you may have to use less than what your recipe requires. Do not use canned cherry tomatoes in dishes that have a long cooking time. The reason is that the cherry tomatoes tend to lose their round shape when cooked for a long time.
- Tomato puree
Tomato puree can also be used in recipes that call for plum tomatoes. Its consistency is ideal for soups and sauces. Tomato puree will enhance the flavor of the dish.
Where can you buy plum tomatoes?
My favorite thing about plum tomatoes is that they are readily available. You can buy them in fancy supermarkets, grocery stores, or even farmers’ markets. Most of the varieties are sold in the places we have mentioned above.
Italian style plum tomatoes and Roma VF plum tomatoes are the most common. I have never been to a grocery store that does not have them in stock.
The rest can be found in supermarkets and farmers’ markets close to your neighborhood.
How to store plum tomatoes
In order for plum tomatoes to last for a long time, you need to store them properly. Tomatoes tend to rot when stored at room temperature. Therefore, I suggest two effective methods of storage i.e. freezing and canning.
Freezing plum tomatoes
Freezing is my go-to storage method because it is quite simple compared to canning. I also don’t spend too much energy and time on my plum tomatoes when I want to freeze them.
You don’t need to peel off the skin and you also don’t need to wait for long before freezing them. Here is how to properly freeze plum tomatoes.
First, you need to choose the best plum tomatoes. Make sure that they are ripe, firm, and without blemishes or cracks. Remove the top and core of the tomatoes and then chop them.
Place the chopped tomatoes in simmering water and let them simmer until they are soft. They will become soft in approximately 15 minutes. Once they are soft, drain them completely then place them in your food processor. Process until they form a tomato puree.
Place the tomato puree in a Ziploc bag and seal it. Always ensure that you remove all the air from inside the bag before sealing it. Spread the tomato puree so that it forms a thin layer inside the Ziploc bag.
Place your plum tomatoes in the freezer. Frozen plum tomatoes can stay fresh in the freezer for up to six months.
Canning plum tomatoes
Canning has always been an efficient storage method when you want to extend the shelf life of tomatoes. This method needs a few skills and lots of patience coz you’ll spend a lot of time in the process.
Here is how to properly can plum tomatoes. F or every 1 quart of the canning jar, I use 3lbs. of tomatoes.
- Select the best tomatoes. Discard any tomatoes that have cracks, dark spots, or blemishes.
- Wash the tomatoes you have selected thoroughly.
- Boil some water in a large pot and turn once it boils, place your tomatoes inside the pot. Let the tomatoes simmer for 1 minute then turn off the heat.
- Strain your tomatoes and place them in a colander. Let them cool.
- Once they have cooled down, use your hands to peel of the skin from your tomatoes and discard the skin.
- Remove the core of the tomato as well as the top part.
- Heat your canning jar by placing it in a pot filled with hot water. Once hot, pour in your tomatoes. Make sure you leave at least ½ inch space on top.
- Add two tablespoons of lemon juice on top of the tomatoes. Don’t skip this step because lemon juice plays a major role in keeping the tomatoes fresh and maintaining their bright red color.
- Sprinkle one teaspoon of salt on top of the tomatoes.
- Remove any air bubbles from the jar, cover it with its lid, and seal it.
- In a large pot, boil some water. Once it starts boiling, place the jar into the pot and let it boil for 45 minutes.
- Remove the jar from the hot water and let it cool for 12 hours or overnight.
- Store the jar in a cool, dark place until you are ready to use it.
- If canned properly, the plum tomatoes can last for up to one year.