Paste tomatoes, often called Romas (Roma tomatoes are a type of paste tomato), are tomatoes specifically grown for making pastes, but they are good for sauces, sun-drying, and even stuffing.
Some home gardeners explicitly make space for several paste tomato plants, while others never grow them at all. Is there a difference between paste tomatoes and regular tomatoes?
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Difference Between Paste Tomatoes and Other Tomatoes
Paste tomatoes are different from other tomatoes in that they have less water content and usually fewer seeds. One thing you will notice right away, though, is that most paste tomato varieties are elongated, especially those traced back to Italian paste tomatoes.
Because they have a lower water content, their taste is already more intense when eaten fresh, and are more easily crushed and reduced into sauce or thick paste.
You’ve likely already seen paste tomatoes before, sold as Roma tomatoes at the grocery store. If you’ve never tried them before, can buy some to compare the taste and texture to regular tomatoes.
Uses of Paste Tomatoes
Because of their less juicy flesh, paste tomatoes are, as the name suggests, tomatoes grown to be used primarily for making tomato paste and sauces.
Other tomatoes are loaded with water, so it’s much easier and faster to cook down or dehydrate paste tomatoes into a concentrated paste. Paste tomatoes are also preferred for sun-dried tomatoes for the same reason.
The reason why gardeners choose to grow paste tomatoes is for canning; not only canning pastes but also whole tomatoes to make sauce in the off-season.
Another underrated use of paste tomatoes is for stuffing. Some varieties have more hollow seed cavities, which makes it easier to scoop out and stuff them. The benefit of using paste tomatoes this way is that the flesh won’t release too many juices and water down your stuffing. The only downside is that their elongated shape does make stuffing a bit awkward.
Can I Still Use Paste Tomatoes in Salads? Can I Use Non-Paste Tomatoes for Sauce?
You can certainly use paste tomatoes in salads. Although they are not as juicy as other salad tomatoes or beefsteaks, they are still juicy enough and loaded with flavor. I would not grow paste tomatoes specifically for salads or sandwiches, but if you have them, you can use them.
You also don’t need to plant paste tomatoes to make tomato paste or sauce. In fact, over a century ago, most American gardeners didn’t use true paste tomatoes, and instead grew other tomatoes that were marketed as good for canning or fresh eating, like the Bonny Best tomato.
You can theoretically use any type of tomato for sauce/paste canning. However, expect to spend a lot longer to boil them down into the right consistency. That’s really the only downside.
A shortcut I learned from Jess at Roots and Refuge Farm is to freeze tomatoes for canning later. She explains it in the video below, but basically, you slice an X on the bottom of your fresh tomatoes and then freeze them in a resealable bag. This way, when you’re ready to process them, the thawing process will release a lot of that water already and make it easier for the skin to slip off, which will save you a lot of time if you want to can a lot of sauce.
Growing Paste Tomatoes: Things to Consider
Treat paste tomatoes in your garden the same way you’d treat other tomatoes. But you should be aware that virtually all paste tomato varieties are determinate tomatoes.
Determinate tomatoes, also called bush tomatoes, grow up to a certain height and produce most of their flowers and tomatoes at around the same time, then mostly stop producing after that. This is in contrast to indeterminate tomatoes, which grow out into massive vines which will constantly produce tomatoes all season long until the frost kills them.
The benefits of growing determinate tomatoes are that you don’t need to prune them and you can harvest most of their tomatoes all within in a short period of time. That’s another reason why they’re great for canning – you can harvest and harvest a big batch of tomatoes all at once instead of wondering what to do with one or two ripe tomatoes.
Should I Grow Paste Tomatoes?
If you mainly want to grow tomatoes for sauces, canning, sun-dried tomatoes and a bit of stuffing, I highly recommend planting paste tomatoes in your garden.
If you mainly want to eat tomatoes fresh and just preserve the surplus, you can go with more conventional varieties and use the freezing tip above for sauce-making and canning regular tomatoes. But you can still plant a couple paste tomatoes and see how they do in your garden.
Popular Paste Tomato Varieties
- San Marzano (80 days, determinate, highly recommended) – Where to find: Burpee (US), Johnny’s Selected Seeds (US), MIGardener (US), Stoke’s Seeds (US/Can), West Coast Seeds (Canada), Incredible Seeds (Canada)
- Roma (75 days, determinate) – Where to find: Baker Creek (US), McKenzie Seeds (Canada)
- Amish Paste (75 days, indeterminate) – Where to find: Baker Creek (US), Burpee (US), Johnny’s Selected Seeds (US), West Coast Seeds (Canada)
- Big Mama (80 days, determinate) – Where to find: Burpee (US), Reimer Seeds (US)