Did you know that tomatoes offer the best plant-based source of umami? Their sweet-savoury character comes from the fact that they have a high level of glutamate – an amino acid that needs to be present in the creation of our fifth primary taste, umami. Umami is a rich ‘savoury’ flavour profile that you’ll find in ingredients like mushrooms, parmesan cheese, seaweed and anchovies.
Tomatoes add depth and richness to your cooking, the intensity of the umami varying depending on how concentrated the type of tomato is. When a tomato ripens, the loss of moisture increases its ‘umami-ness’. Drying it out takes this a step further. That leads us to all the different types of pre-prepared tomato products that are available on the shelf for us to use. We’ve broken them down so you can shop and cook with confidence.
Tomato paste is without a doubt one of the most underrated ingredients. An intense version of tomato puree, tomato paste adds body to the entire dish. You can use it in mince, pasta sauces, casseroles, stews and soups. However, people tend to miss out on its potential if it’s not added early on in the cooking process and cooked for long enough. Top tip: Always cook your tomato paste for longer than you think you need to before adding other ingredients. It should turn from a bright vibrant red to a rusty colour. This application of heat gets rid of the tart mineral flavour and concentrates the natural sugars in the tomato, which caramelise and become unctuous and delicious.
Tomato purée is made by simply cooking and straining tomatoes into a liquid. It’s thicker than tomato juice and less concentrated than tomato puree. Use it in things like Nepolitana sauces, tomato granitas, Bloody Marys, or the base for dips and dressings.
Whole and chopped tinned tomatoes
Whole tomatoes often have a fresher and sweeter flavour than chopped tinned tomatoes as they are less processed than chopped ones. You can always break up the whole tomatoes by mashing them with the back of a wooden spoon. The longer they cook, the more they’ll break down. Use tinned tomatoes for pizza bases, curries, ratatouille and pasta bakes.
Passata is an uncooked tomato purée that has been strained of seeds and skins. It has a smooth, sauce-like consistency and is also known as passato and passata di pomodoro. Use passata for getting intense flavour really quickly or for dishes that call for tomatoes but it’s not vital to have visible pieces of tomato. The key thing to know about passata is that the tomato is uncooked – thereby offering a ‘fresher’ product.
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