Everything you need to know about what makes real San Marzano DOP tomatoes special, where to find them, and the best recipes for this Italian plum tomato variety. We received tomatoes from I love San Marzano DOP for educational purposes, but this is not a sponsored post. 

Three cans with I heart San Marzano DOP labels sit on a white marble countertop.

My family has been growing tomatoes in our backyard for years. We have many recipes for Fresh Tomatoes, like our most popular Salsa and Marinara recipes. 

We’ve also shared many recipes featuring canned tomatoes, especially the highest quality Italian San Marzanos. Unlike many canned foods such as processed soups, canned tomatoes are a whole food and a pantry staple in most Mediterranean homes. 

If you’ve ever wondered what makes San Marzano tomatoes better and which cans to buy, you’ve come to the right place. 

Hands open a San Marzano tomato in the foreground with freshly picked tomatoes on the ground in the background.

Image Credit: I heart San Marzano DOP

What are San Marzano Tomatoes? 

San Marzano tomatoes are a type of Italian plum tomato with an elongated oblong shape. They have thick inner walls, less water, fewer seed pockets, and fewer seeds. These bright red, firm, fleshy, low-acid, sweet Italian tomatoes have an intense tomato flavor. It’s this flavor and texture that make them the best tomatoes for canning and sauces.  

The name San Marzano refers to both the tomato strain and farming location. Real DOP San Marzano tomatoes are grown in the Agro Sarnese-Nocerino area, which is in the province of Salerno, near Naples in Italy. Nearby Mr. Vesuvius provides volcanic soil high in potassium and phosphorous.  This environment, with the fruitful soil and moderate climate, is ideal for growing tomatoes. 

A little girl holds a large platter of homegrown tomatoes.

My daughter with her homegrown San Marzano and other tomato varieties.

Can I Grow Them at Home? 

You can grow this strain of tomato plant at home in container gardens, as we have. They tend to grow well in full sun, in warm Mediterranean climates, and I usually plant mine in April here in California.  

San Marzano tomatoes are indeterminate, which means that they will continue to produce fruit all season long rather than all at once. 

This type of tomato grows quite large, so you’ll want to make sure to use a large tomato cage. 

What Makes San Marzano DOP Tomatoes Better? 

What makes this type of tomato special comes down to both the tomato strain and the production methods. 

This variety of tomato is absolutely delicious when fresh, but is commonly grown for canning or tomato paste. The deep tomato flavor is unrivaled and makes the best tasting red sauces. 

Unlike some other tomatoes, San Marzano DOP tomatoes are always handpicked at the peak of ripeness and canned according to strict standards. They are a whole food that is packaged without any salt or preservatives, so you can achieve the most delicious results all year long.

A close-up of the labels on a can of San Marzano tomatoes showing the DOP labels.

What are PDO and DOP labels? 

In 1996, San Marzano tomatoes were awarded the PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) quality label, and given the official name Pomodoro San Marzano dell’Agro Sernese-Nocerino DOP

Quality scheme labels are how the European Union (EU) protects the quality of food and wine produced in particular areas. The most important quality labels are DOP/PDO, PGI, and TSG. 

A common example of a PDO is Champagne. The only sparkling wines that may be labeled as champagne are those produced in the Champagne region of France. 

The Italian equivalent and label you’ll often see for origin-protected products is DOP, which stands for denominazione di origine protetta, or Protected Designation of Origin.

If you care about the authenticity, tradition, and quality of your Italian ingredients, DOP labels can be helpful. You may notice them on other Italian food and wine products such as Prosciutto di Parma DOP, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and many kinds of cheese from various regions. 

In all areas of food and wine production, there are brands that cut corners. There is truffle oil that doesn’t have any actual truffle in it, and there are cans of “San Marzano” tomatoes that were not actually grown in Italy in accordance with the tradition. Looking for PDO and DOP labels can help ensure you’re getting the real thing. 

In our taste tests, we much preferred the tomatoes packed without any preservatives such as citric acid. 

A tractor pulls large crates filled with fresh San Marzano tomatoes in a field in Italy.

Image Credit: I heart San Marzano DOP

Pomodoro San Marzano dell’Agro Sernese-Nocerino DOP Standards

In order for a can of tomatoes to be stamped with the DOP label, it must follow particular guidelines. By choosing a PDO-labeled product such as DOP San Marzano Tomatoes, you know you’re getting the highest quality, traditionally produced, authentic product. Real DOP San Marzano tomatoes must be the correct strain, grown traditionally, grown in the approved region, harvested by hand, and packed peeled. 

  • San Marzano strain tomatoes with specific characteristics including bright red color, elongated oblong shape, and balance of intense fresh, sweet, and tart flavors. 
  • Grown in open-air rather than a greenhouse. The tomatoes are harvested between July and September. 
  • The farming and canning process must both take place in one of the 41 towns in the province of Salerno (Agro Sarnese-Nocerino), the province of Naples, and the province of Avellino. 
  • Traditional hand-picked harvesting and proper canning methods. 

A whole peeled tomato is pulled out of a San Marzano DOP can with a fork.

How to Find Real San Marzano Tomatoes

Scanning the grocery store shelves filled with many canned tomato brands can be confusing. The best way to choose the highest quality canned tomatoes is to look for the DOP label.

Labels can be misleading. Non-DOP canned tomatoes will usually be labeled “Italian style peeled tomatoes” or “San Marzano style” and these are sometimes grown in California and contain additives. 

Using real San Marzano tomatoes is always a great choice, but is especially important when making traditional Italian dishes or simple recipes like Pizza Sauce or Pomodoro Sauce

The I heart San Marzano Tomato cans pictured here were sent to me for educational purposes, so you won’t find them in stores. San Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese – Nocerino tomatoes are not a brand, but a type of tomato grown for canning. 

Here are some DOP brands you might find in the U.S., however. 

  • Delallo 
  • Rega 
  • Strianese 
  • Mutti 

What are the Best Canned Tomatoes to Use? 

There are many types of canned tomatoes, from whole tomatoes to crushed, to fire-roasted, and more. The best quality canned tomatoes with the best flavor are whole peeled tomatoes. These are easy to crush with your hands or chop and break down on their own while cooking. 

While many brands include preservatives such as citric acid or salt, San Marzano DOP tomatoes do not. Real San Marzanos make the perfect tomato sauce, according to our taste tests.

San Marzano canned tomatoes in a bowl with fresh basil.

Canned vs Fresh Tomatoes

Tomatoes are one of the best summer crops to preserve with canning (they can also be frozen) and Italy has mastered the technique. Whereas some ingredients lose flavor when canned (think green beans) tomatoes can often be more flavorful and delicious after canning. Canned tomatoes come in many delicious forms, from cherry tomatoes to passata to whole canned tomatoes. 

One of my favorite things about visiting Italy is using the fresh tomatoes (like in our Panzanella and Bruschetta recipes). Italian plum tomatoes are picked when they are perfectly ripe and often bought still on the vine. They are a much deeper red color and much sweeter than the tomatoes we often find in U.S. supermarkets.

When you buy canned DOP San Marzano tomatoes you can experience them from anywhere in the world at any time. Your tomato sauces will naturally be sweeter and richer than if you were to use fresh tomatoes or lower-quality canned tomatoes. I also find that the quality of whole canned tomatoes is superior to canned diced tomatoes. 

A sauce pan filled with steaming red sauce topped with fresh basil.

Cooking with San Marzano Tomatos

As this variety of tomato grows in Salerno, near Naples, they are ideal for traditional Neopolitan dishes like pizza and pasta sauces. Try a Naples-style pizza made with Italian 00 flour and San Marzano tomatoes grown and produced in the traditional way. 

Like when using fresh Truffles, to savor real DOP San Marzano tomatoes, keep the other ingredients simple and compliment the tomato flavor with traditional ingredients like olive oil and basil. 

Metal cans filled with San Marzano DOP whole peeled tomatoes in a factory in Italy.


San Marzano is a type of Italian tomato. This type of plum tomato is known for its deep red thick skin, thick flesh, mild acidity, low seed count, sweet flavor, and premium quality.

Genuine San Marzano tomatoes are grown in the rich volcanic soil of the Campania region of Italy. This volcanic soil creates a bountiful harvest of sweet tomatoes with superior quality. They are grown and processed according to strict traditional standards, making them the gold standard in canned tomatoes. These high-quality tomatoes are peeled and packed whole in thick tomato juice. They are perfect for homemade tomato sauce such as marinara sauce.