Scam in a Can: Are Your San Marzano Tomatoes the Real Deal?

At least 95 percent of so-called “San Marzano tomatoes” in the U.S. are fake, according to one expert, but it’s not hard to recognize them.




While Italy strictly regulates the growing and labeling of San Marzano tomatoes to ensure authenticity, it’s “buyer beware” in the U.S., and fraud is rampant.

 

Where did your can of San Marzano tomatoes come from? If you guessed San Marzano, you’re probably wrong.

Famously tasty and ideal for pasta and pizza sauces, San Marzano tomatoes have an outsized reputation among pizzeria operators and restaurants specializing in Italian cuisine. They’re essential to authentic Neapolitan pizza, according to the rules of the APN and VPN. They’re expensive, too, and where there’s a lot of money at stake, fraud is often rampant. According to Taste, the vast majority of tomatoes marketed as San Marzanos in the U.S. are phony, including some that appear to bear Italy’s DOP label of authenticity.

“In 2011, Edoardo Ruggiero, the president of Consorzio San Marzano, told the small Italian importing company Gustiamo that at maximum 5 percent of tomatoes sold in the U.S. as San Marzanos are real San Marzanos,” Taste reports. “So according to the guy who oversees the certification of those tomatoes, at least 95 percent of the so-called San Marzanos in the U.S. are fake.”

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Part of the problem is that the U.S. has no equivalent to Italy’s DOP requirements or the Consorzio San Marzano for growing and labeling the tomatoes. It’s a case of “buyer beware,” and some buyers don’t know enough to be wary.

“We see all these crazy, sketchy things,” Danielle Aquino Roitmayr of Gustiamo told Taste. “Italians will send tomatoes to the U.S. with no label, and companies here will put a DOP label on it. In America, you can’t put a USDA Organic label on [just] anything, but DOP is not regulated here.”

Real San Marzano tomatoes are grown near Naples, in the Agro Sarnese-Nocerino area under Mount Vesuvius, and harvested by hand by Italian farmers. So how do you tell the phonies from the real deal? For starters, the real ones are sold whole or in fillets, and they’re always peeled or canned. A can of diced, crushed or pulped tomatoes with the San Marzano label does not come from San Marzano. 

To further verify your San Marzanos, look for both the DOP seal and the Consorzio San Marzano certification number on the bottom of the can. The label should also read, “Pomodoro S. Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese-Nocerino.”

 

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