Growing the Best Paste Tomatoes Yields Fresh Salsa and Sauce

Homemade ketchup, tomato paste, spaghetti sauce and fresh salsa are just a few of the great recipes you can make from fresh tomato varieties.

| March/April 2013

  • san marzano red tomatoes
    The San Marzano Redorta is a super-sized variety, with the fruit weighing in around 8 ounces.
    Photo By Jerry Pavia
  • cast iron pot of tomato sauce
    Paste tomatoes make great sauces, salsas and more.
    Photo By iStockphoto/Katarina Drpic
  • wooden trellises for tomato plants
    A well-constructed trellis helps the tomato plants stay in one place and aids the gardener when it comes to harvesting the fruit.
    Photo By Rick Wetherbee

  • san marzano red tomatoes
  • cast iron pot of tomato sauce
  • wooden trellises for tomato plants

Like many people, I used to think that a paste tomato and a Roma tomato were one in the same. However, two decades of testing, tasting and growing more than 100 varieties of tomatoes has broadened my point of view. Though paste tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum) are noted for their dense meaty texture, low moisture content and few seeds, I quickly discovered that not just any paste-type tomato will result in the tastiest salsa, the creamiest ketchup, the heartiest paste or the richest spaghetti sauce.

Paste tomatoes are simply not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Some varieties grow better, are more flavorful or have better texture than others. And while one variety may excel in ketchup, it isn’t always the best choice for making salsas or sauces.

For example, both San Marzano and Sausage are flavorful and very meaty, with little juice and very few seeds. These characteristics make them ideal for canning or for making ketchup and sauces with great body. Black Prince and Saucey varieties have the right balance of meaty fruits with bold tomato taste and just enough juiciness to make electrifying salsas. Then there’s Viva Italia. While no paste tomato is perfect for every need, this variety comes close. Its fresh, zesty flavor and firm but teasingly juicy fruits hold up to canning, cooking or freezing. 

Variety isn’t the only factor to consider. Experience also has shown me that the best salsa or spaghetti sauce has as much to do with the type of tomato used as it does with how that tomato was grown. Even the best varieties can fall short when raised in less than favorable conditions. Here’s how to make sure your paste tomatoes come out perfect — or, at least, near perfect — every time.

Tomato dynamics

Several factors can greatly influence tomato flavor and texture. These include insufficient heat and light along with too much nitrogen, a deficiency of certain minerals, and too much or too little moisture.

A soil test is a great starting point in determining your soil pH (ideally between 6.2 to 6.8) and the nutrients your soil may be lacking. Tomatoes require ample amounts of phosphorus, potassium and calcium. The type of fertilizer you use is crucial, as too much nitrogen can result in reduced production and weakened flavor.

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