The Best Tomatoes for Making Tomato Sauce

The 9 Best Paste Tomatoes

Ingredients for roasted tomato sauce.
Diana Rattray

You can make tomato sauce out of numerous kinds of tomato, but if you want a really delicious sauce, go with a paste tomato. These varieties tend to have a firmer, meatier texture and they usually have fewer seeds and less water to deal with. That means less prep work and cook time for you, as well as more sauce for your money. Of all the tomatoes you can grow or buy, nine paste tomatoes are the best for tomato sauce.

best tomatoes for sauce
Illustration: Elise Degarmo. © The Spruce, 2019

Classic Paste Tomatoes

Traditionally, two varieties of tomatoes are recommended for making sauce. These tend to be the easiest to find, whether at the market or as plants to grow in your garden.

  • Roma: This is the classic tomato used in Italian cooking. It's popular for canning and making tomato paste, and is readily available. Though the classic Roma is 3 inches long, larger varieties are now available. The downside is that Romas are not as sweet as some of the similar heirloom tomatoes, such as Amish Paste; orange Romas are a little sweeter than the common red variety.
  • San Marzano: Considered the classic paste tomato, the San Marzano has a dense, almost dry, sweet flavor. The tomatoes typically grow to 2 to 3 inches. Legally, and to be called a San Marzano, this tomato has to be grown in Valle del Sarno, the "Valley of Sarno," in Italy.

Oval Tomatoes

These tomatoes share a similar oval or sausage-like shape. There are differences in taste, however, and that's especially important when you're planning to make tomato sauce.

  • Amish Paste: Similar to Roma tomatoes, the Amish paste tomato is sweeter with a fresher flavor. It can grow up as large as 8 to 12 ounces.
  • Opalka: This Polish heirloom is far richer and more flavorful than most paste tomatoes. It's a long, pepper-shaped variety with fruits that grow to 4 to 6 inches long.
  • Polish Linguisa: As the name implies, this tomato is a Polish heirloom, brought to New York by Polish gardeners in the 1800s. The tomato is a meaty 10 ounces and very sweet.

Large Tomatoes

If you want to minimize the amount of work needed to process tomato sauce while getting a good amount for canning, consider one of these larger varieties.

  • Big Mama: This plum-shaped, meaty tomato is enormous, growing up to 5 inches long and 3 inches across. It's a new favorite among gardeners who want an easier-to-process tomato than the smaller Romas.
  • Jersey Devil: This heirloom was bred to be used as a paste tomato. Shaped like a banana pepper, it's very juicy and grows to about 5 to 6 inches in length.
  • Jersey Giant: This heirloom paste tomato is rare, but if you can find it or plan to grow it, it's an excellent option. A couple of plants yield plentiful harvests, with each fruit growing between 4 and 6 inches long.

Buying Tomatoes

If you'll be growing your tomatoes, it's easy to order seeds for any of the varieties mentioned. But, if you'll be buying your tomatoes, your choices will be limited. Buy directly from a farmer or stop by a farmers market for the best selection. Locally grown tomatoes are bound to be riper than anything you can get at the grocery store.

Most of the tomatoes on this list are determinate varieties, meaning they tend to ripen at once. That's ideal for sauce and paste making. So plan to stop by a farmers market at the end of the day, and you're likely to find vendors ready to negotiate, especially if you're looking to buy a lot at once.

Making Tomato Sauce

To get the most out of your tomatoes, take the time to learn how to make the sauce at home on your stovetop. It's also easy to make tomato paste. If you're not excited about all the work, you can make tomato sauce in the slow cooker, too. The process is simple and requires no coring, seeding, or peeling, and you won't have to stand over a hot stove.

Canning and Freezing

Made more sauce than you can use at the moment? Can your tomato sauce and you'll have plenty to store for future meals. Since modern tomatoes aren't as acidic as they used to be, you will need to add lemon juice to increase the acidity.

You can also freeze your tomatoes until you have more time to deal with them. Some canners (farmers especially) are in the habit of freezing their garden harvest, so they can wait to process it in the winter when life slows down a bit, and a warm kitchen is a welcome respite.