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The San Marzano Tomato: Italian Sauce Heirloom Tomato (Sardinian Agriculture)

The San Marzano Tomato: Italian Sauce Heirloom Tomato (Sardinian Agriculture)

The San Marzano tomato is a famed fruit within Italian culture, and one that is widely used for making pasta sauce, thanks to its rich flavor palette, and wide versatility. 

But what exactly is the San Marzano tomato, and what makes it special? 

What Is The San Marzano Tomato? 

The San Marzano is a variety of plum tomato that has been most famously grown in the small town of San Marzano Sul Sarno near Naples. They are known as an heirloom tomato –  a term used to refer to all manner of other vegetables. 

These have long been considered one of the best kinds of cooking tomatoes in the country, and their history stretches back to the 1700s – where the story goes that the San Marzano tomato seeds were brought to Campania in 1770, where they were gifted to the kingdom of Naples by the Viceroy of Peru. 

The first instances of these tomatoes growing as a crop saw them being planted in the volcanic soil surrounding Mount Vesuvius – a fact has contributed to their legend, and supposedly their great taste. 


Compared to other similar plum tomatoes – such as the roma tomato – the San Marzano is known for its thinner, and more pointed shape.

They also follow the same color schemes as most other species of tomatoes – transforming from green, to yellow, to orange, and then to red as they become ripe on the vine. 

It is also known for having thicker flesh than some other species of tomatoes, as well as possessing fewer seeds – something that undoubtedly makes them better for cooking.


The other great thing about San Marzano tomatoes is their taste, which is sweeter, stronger, and notably less acidic than other tomatoes – making them a great base ingredient for pasta sauces and other rich tomato dishes. 

What Is An ‘Heirloom’ Tomato? 

An heirloom plant is a plant that is not commonly produced on a mass scale – instead seeing prevalence in rural communities and isolated corners of the world, where they are often revered and thriving. 

One example is with potatoes – wherein only a handful of the numerous potato species in the world are used for mass production. Others tend to be favored by small communities, or specific ethnic groups around the world who have longer histories with these certain plants. 

These tend to be known as ‘cultivars’ – that is, strains of plants that are preserved for desirable traits, and which continually deliver these traits with each returning season. The equivalent would be animal breeding, where specific traits are bred in and maintained, and others are bred out. 

What Are San Marzano Tomatoes Used For? 

The San Marzano Tomato: Italian Sauce Heirloom Tomato (Sardinian Agriculture)

One of the most common uses for the San Marzano tomato is in sauces and pastes for cooking – and in fact San Marzano tomatoes are the base elements for most tomato pastes in the United States. 


San Marzano tomatoes are commonly used as pizza toppings – either in their paste form, as a richer sauce, or even sliced on top. 

In fact, the famed pizza Napoletana (true Neapolitan pizza) has a distinct clause that only San Marzanos (as well as pomodorino del piennolo del Vesuvio tomatoes) can be featured as ingredients. 


Most commonly, San Marzano tomatoes are used as a base for tomato sauces – with their sweetness, strong taste, and lack of acidity making them perfect for cooking. 

What’s more, the fact that they contain fewer seeds than other species means that they can comfortably be added to mixes without risking the dish being ruined or tainted. 


San Marzano tomatoes, as mentioned above, have also long been used for tomato pastes – for many of the same reasons as above. 

How Are They Grown? 

San Marzano tomatoes grow best in well-fertilized soil with plenty of drainage – due to the fact that the soil should never be too wet or dry.

They should also receive around 6-8 hours of sunlight per day, so if growing them at home, they should be kept somewhere warm and bright. 


When growing plants at home, they should be supported with wire as they get larger, to help the large vines maintain their structure. 

How Long Do They Take? 

Generally speaking, San Marzanos take around 78 days to grow to a usable maturity. 

When Are They Ripe? 

San Marzano tomatoes tend to ripen in late summer to early fall – usually at their best and tastiest between mid-August and mid-September. 

Why Do They Thrive In Italy? 

What makes the San Marzano so prevalent in Italy’s various regions is the fact that the weather is the perfect match for their needs. 

Often when a plant is transplanted from one country to another, there can be numerous problems with adapting and getting them used to a new locale. However, what makes the San Marzano so special is that they thrive in the warm and moderate temperatures that Italy has to offer. 

One reason for this is that San Marzanos have an indeterminate vine limit – which means that they can keep growing for longer. They also require a longer season than other species of tomatoes, which makes them suited to the long Italian summers, where they can grow and thrive in the rich soil. 

The San Marzano Tomato: Italian Sauce Heirloom Tomato (Sardinian Agriculture)

Are San Marzanos Healthy? 

Another thing that makes San Marzano tomatoes so favorable to foodies and chefs from all around the world, is the fact that they are also relatively healthy. 


Generally speaking, San Marzano tomatoes tend to have around 48 calories per tomato – making them pretty good against other species. 


San Marzanos do however contain a relatively large amount of carbohydrates for a tomato – with around 8g per tomato. When compared to other species – such as the Del Monte tomato, which has 6g – this figure is fairly elevated. 

Protein & Fiber

However, San Marzano tomatoes do have plenty of protein inside of them – more so in fact than other species of tomatoes – with around 2.2g per tomato. 

This makes them a beneficial part of any balanced diet – and is one of the leading contributors to the famed ‘Mediterranean diet’, which has long since been revered for its health benefits and long life potential. 

Likewise, San Marzanos also have around 2g of fiber per tomato, making them beneficial for gut and digestive health. 


San Marzano tomatoes are also pretty low in fat, making them beneficial from a dietary standpoint. Each tomato generally has around 0.2g of fat, making them a healthy choice. 

This is especially beneficial when you consider other elements of the Mediterranean diet – such as bread and cheese – which are laden with carbohydrates and fats respectively. 

Final Thoughts

And there we have it, everything you need to know about the San Marzano tomato, and the long history that it has within Italian agriculture

It’s true that the San Marzano tomato is a much loved and widely utilized fruit amongst the Italian people, and the Italian people at large, and thanks to continued methods of growing, it looks as though it will remain that way for generations to come.

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