There are many different kinds of tomatoes. And yes, they are pretty versatile fruits (or vegetables?), but not all breeds of tomatoes suit the same purposes. Plum tomato, for example, is well-known as the ideal type of tomato for making sauces and pastes, but why? What makes them so special?
Well, in this article, we will talk about all you should know about plum tomatoes, how to recognize them, and what recipes you can prepare with them.
Let’s start with a quick definition:
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What are plum tomatoes?
Plum tomatoes are a kind of tomato specifically cultivated for making tomato sauce. They generally have a long, oval shape, which separates them from the classic rounded tomatoes. However, the primary difference between them and regular tomatoes is that they have only two locules (seed compartments), meaning less water and more meat.
That meaty texture is the main reason why plum tomatoes are so good for canning, cooking, and making sauces and pastes. Also, as they have more pulp, it is easier to remove the seeds when processing them for sauces.
On top of that, plum tomatoes have a more palatable and slightly sweeter flavor that adds a delicious taste to the food. They are suitable for any culinary application that requires meaty tomatoes, whether it is a hot dish, salad, or paste. Moreover, their flesh can stay firm even when ripe, so they have a longer shelf life and are perfect for use during the tomato off-season.
Overall, plum tomatoes (sometimes called paste tomatoes) are exceptional due to their anatomy and density, allowing more pulp and flavor for making thick, flavorful sauces and pastes.
Are plum tomatoes the same as Roma tomatoes?
Although many people say they are the same thing, Roma tomatoes are a variety of plum tomatoes. They are the most common type of plum tomato and are super easy to find in any market.
But why is there confusion about them?
Most vegetables and fruits have countless cultivars, and sometimes people can’t tell the difference. Plum and Roma tomatoes are no exception. They are often labeled the same way, so many people have no idea that Romas are just a breed of plum tomatoes.
If you want to know more, we will talk about other subtypes besides Roma tomatoes later.
What are plum tomatoes good for?
In general, plum tomatoes are the perfect type of tomato for making sauces because of their meaty consistency and slightly sweeter, purer flavor. They have less water and seeds, so they are easier to process into a thick paste too. Likewise, they are suitable for canning, sun-drying, and preparing hot dishes.
Plum tomatoes are pretty versatile. You can eat them fresh in salads, snacks, and sandwiches, but they are better when cooked, such as stir-fried dishes, soups, casseroles, chili, or roasted.
Mini guide on how to identify your tomatoes
There are different ways to classify tomatoes, and as you may imagine, there are almost infinite cultivars. You can separate them according to their shape and size, cultivation history, growing habits, and culinary uses. Of course, when it comes to cooking, it is the latter aspect that interests us most. So, how can we choose the ideal tomato for a specific purpose then?
Luckily, the shape and size of tomatoes are often closely related to their culinary applications, so it is vital to know how to distinguish each one.
That said, there are six main types of tomato that you should learn to recognize:
- Globe tomatoes
- Beefsteak tomatoes
- Cherry tomatoes
- Pear tomatoes
- Plum tomatoes
- Grape tomatoes
Each of these varieties is best suitable for a specific purpose. Some are better for eating fresh, while others are better for making sauces and tomato paste— such as plum tomatoes. Let’s talk about the primary qualities of each one:
These are the classic round-shaped tomatoes that you can see in every market. They have firm, regular skin and are usually bright red, but you could find some green or yellow varieties.
Globe tomatoes are high in water and have a mild, slightly acid flavor, so they are best suited for salads. Yet, they are pretty versatile, so you can use them for sandwiches or tangy sauces, for example.
By the way, if you are looking for sweeter types of tomato, try to look for yellow tomatoes. Generally, they tend to be less acidic than regular red tomatoes, not to mention that they add beautiful color to salads and side dishes.
Beefsteak tomatoes are easy to recognize because of their huge size and irregular shape—sometimes they look like tiny red pumpkins! They have a delicious, classic-tomato flavor and are one of the largest varieties of tomato, some of them even weighing more than 1 Lb. (450 grams).
Most beefsteak tomatoes are pink or red, and they have several small locules. Even so, they are meaty and solid enough to keep their shape when sliced, making them perfect for hamburgers and sandwiches. Other popular applications include sauces, casseroles, stews, salads, and toppings. Also, due to their size and thickness, they are ideal for stuffing.
Cherry tomatoes are super notable for their fun-sized look and versatility. They are sweet, juicy, small, round-shaped, and have a deep red color (although there are some yellow varieties).
These tiny tomatoes are very watery and refreshing, making them excellent for eating fresh in salads or snacks. However, you can eat them in hot dishes too. They are delicious when roasted and are great for pasta, sauces, sautéed dishes, toppings, and side dishes.
As the name implies, pear tomatoes are a kind of pear- or teardrop-shaped tomatoes. The term includes an extensive group of indeterminate heirloom tomatoes, and there are yellow, orange, and red varieties. The most common subtype is the yellow pear tomato, which looks like a tiny pear with firm skin.
Pear tomatoes are sweet and juicy, and they make a colorful and flavorsome addition to salads, although they also taste good roasted and sautéed. In addition to that, they are great for preserving and pickling.
Contrary to other tomato breeds, pear tomatoes are rarer and more difficult to find.
As we already know, plum tomatoes are oval, egg-shaped, meaty tomatoes. They have less water and seeds, being ideal for making sauces and pastes. What’s more, they can stay firmer and last longer than other types of tomatoes due to their density, making them easier to handle and sell in supermarkets.
Plum tomatoes are suitable for many different purposes besides making sauces and tomato paste. Since they are medium-sized and flavorful, they are convenient for canning. Additionally, they are perfect for sautéing, roasting, sun drying, and slicing. All in all, plum tomatoes are better for cooked dishes, but you can still eat them fresh in salads and snacks.
Grape tomatoes are a mix of cherry and plum tomatoes. They are bite-sized (like cherry tomatoes, but smaller) and have the same oval shape as regular plum tomatoes.
These mini grape-shaped tomatoes are sweet but not as watery as cherry tomatoes. Instead, they have more of a meaty texture. Still, both kinds of tomatoes serve the same purposes. You can eat fresh grape tomatoes as snacks or use them for salads, sautéing, pasta, roasted dishes, sandwiches, and more.
Varieties of plum tomato
- Roma tomatoes: often called Italian tomatoes, these are the most common plum tomatoes and are best suited for cooking. They are easy to find in any local supermarket, as they are mainly cultivated for commercial purposes. They are medium-sized, egg-shaped, and have an intense red color. If you like to prepare homemade sauces, this is your winner choice.
- San Marzano tomatoes: this type of tomato also comes from Italy, and it is ideal for making thick sauces for pasta and pizza. The main difference between San Marzano and other plum tomatoes is that they are thinner and have pointed ends. They are like a longer, more cylindrical version of the classic Roma tomatoes.
- Grape tomatoes: many people confuse grape tomatoes with cherry tomatoes, as they both are sweet and tiny. Nevertheless, grape tomatoes are a subtype of plum tomato. Just like we mentioned a few lines above, they are oval-shaped and small enough to eat them in one bite.
- Amish paste: as their name suggests, Amish paste tomatoes are a kind of plum tomatoes coming from Amish origins. They are one of the bigger types of tomatoes and are suitable for eating fresh or cooked.
Other varieties of plum tomatoes:
How to pick a good plum tomato
Now that we know how to differentiate plum tomatoes from other types of tomatoes, it’s time to pick the best one. Keep in mind that it is always best to shop local and in-season, as you will find more quality and freshness.
Here are some general tips for buying plum tomatoes— although they are also applicable for any other type of tomato!
- Look for tomatoes with an intense and consistent red color. Green or yellow patches indicate that the tomato has not ripened well, and the flavor is not as strong. And, for other orange or yellow varieties, the same rule applies: look for tomatoes with a deep, uniform color.
- Plum tomatoes should be dense enough for slicing without losing their shape. So, pick a tomato that feels firm and heavy. Try to gently squeeze the tomato to make sure it is solid but not too hard it doesn’t react to the pressure. Also, rest the tomato on your palm to feel the weight. The heavier, the better (as it means it has more pulp)!
- Avoid tomatoes with soft spots. That is an indicator of bruises that can damage the tomato and shorten its shelf life.
- Smell the tomato. Tomatoes should have a rich, sweet, earthy scent. The more they smell, the more flavorful they are.
As a final recommendation, try to avoid artificially ripened tomatoes, and if possible, choose organic. Sometimes, farmers pick up green tomatoes and spray them with ethylene gas to speed up ripening while heading to the grocery market.
Sadly, that can take a bit of the flavor out of the tomato, and sometimes it can turn the tomato red but does not finish ripening. That is why you should always touch and smell the tomato before buying.
How to store your tomatoes
There is an endless debate on how to store your tomatoes properly so they can last longer. Some people say you can’t put them in the fridge; others say that keeping them at room temperature will make them rot sooner. Both statements are partially correct, but that will depend on the type of tomato you bought.
So, what should you do?
If you bought unripe tomatoes, you should leave them at room temperature until they are fully ripe. Otherwise, the cold might stop the ripening process, affect the texture, and reduce the flavor and aroma of the tomatoes. And nobody wants a bland tomato, do they?
Conversely, if you bought fresh, ripe tomatoes, you have two options: you can put them on the counter if you are willing to cook them soon or store them in the fridge if you won’t use them in the following days. Another option to preserve ripe tomatoes is to can them and use them for sauces and pastes.
Ripe and overripe tomatoes can last longer in the fridge with no problem, but you should leave them out so they can take off the cold before using them. Think of it as a recovery time.
In any case, avoid refrigerating tomatoes for too long, as they might get mushy and lose flavor.
Recipes using plum tomatoes
Like we previously mentioned, although plum tomatoes are best suited for cooking and sauce-making, they are pretty versatile. For that reason, here are some recipe ideas for different purposes so you can make the best out of them and get creative in the kitchen:
Sauces and pastes
- San Marzano sauce – A recipe for true Italian cuisine lovers! This classic tomato sauce is thick, palatable, and easy to prepare. It’s perfect for pasta, pizza, bruschettas, and everything that needs a flavorsome tomato sauce, such as this cheesy chicken Sorrentino.
- Raw tomato sauce for Spanish Bread with Tomato (Pan con Tomate) – The perfect quick snack for tomato lovers. As this is a raw sauce, you need meaty and sweet tomatoes like Roma or San Marzano.
- Tomato Sauce with Onion & Butter – A delicious Italian sauce by the world-famous cooking writer Marcella Hazan. You can find this recipe in her book Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.
- Homemade tomato paste – An easy recipe from author and cooking instructor Rosetta Costantino for making your own tomato paste with fresh plum tomatoes.
Salads and cold dishes
- Caprese salad – The classic Italian Caprese salad is a perfect opportunity to use meaty and sweet plum tomatoes for a more flavorful dish. This recipe is from the Natasha’s Kitchen blog, and it is delicious and easy to make.
- Coctel de Camarones – This is a cold dish that works as a light lunch or appetizer. Plus, it is a refreshing mix of flavors, ideal for summer. For this recipe, I like to use Roma tomatoes, given their sweetness and firm texture.
- Easy tomato salad – From the blog Cookie and Kate, this is a simple summer salad that involves different types of tomatoes and other fresh vegetables. You can mix plum, grape, and cherry tomatoes (even with various colors).
- Creamy Tomato Tortellini Soup – An easy-to-make and filling dish from Italian cuisine. It is full of veggies, and you can adapt the recipe to suit your taste and make it healthier.
- Salmorejo – This is a traditional cold soup from Andalusia, Spain. It has tomato, bread, olive oil, and garlic. Most people in Spain add hard-boiled eggs and Serrano ham as toppings.
- Classic Tomato Soup – A simple but tasty recipe for preparing a classic (and creamy!) blended tomato soup with fresh ripe tomatoes and herbs at home. Top it with cheese or croutons for a special finishing touch.
Other hot dishes
- Spanish Pisto Manchego – A Spanish vegetable stew made of fresh tomatoes, zucchini, green pepper, and olive oil. It is commonly served with fried eggs.
- Tomato Bredie – This is a South African stew made with lamb or mutton and vegetables. It takes a long time to cook, but it is full-bodied and delicious.
- Sautéed Zucchini with Plum Tomatoes – A simple side dish to get the best out of fresh zucchini and plum tomatoes. You can add more vegetables and adapt the recipe to use your favorite herbs for seasoning.
- Roasted Plum Tomatoes with Garlic and Thyme – A versatile recipe that you can serve as a side dish, appetizer, or sandwich filler. You can also toss roasted tomatoes into pasta, pizza, or even stews.
Best substitutes for Plum tomatoes
If you want to make sauces or stews with good consistency and you don’t have plum tomatoes on hand, here are the 4 best substitutes:
- Canned tomatoes
Canned tomatoes are the best substitute for plum tomatoes when it comes to cooking and sauce-making. Unfortunately, they are not a good choice for salads. Yet, they will work great for stews, soups, baked dishes, casseroles, and more. They are versatile, tasty, juicy, and super easy to find in any market.
For each pound of fresh plum tomatoes, use about one cup and a half of canned tomatoes. That will be a good proportion to maintain a similar texture and savor.
- Beefsteak tomatoes
Due to their thickness and strong, tomato-y flavor, Beefsteak tomatoes are perfect to replace plum tomatoes in almost any recipe. Also, as they are large, they yield a lot of pulp for sauces and dips, and they are excellent for salads and filling hamburgers.
You can use them fresh as you would use plum tomatoes. Just make sure they are fully ripe so that their flesh can have a better texture and flavor.
- Globe tomatoes and tomato paste
If you want to prepare a sauce but can’t find plum tomatoes for it, you can still use regular globe tomatoes. All you need to do is blend them with tomato paste to add more consistency and reduce the acidic flavor.
Remember that ordinary tomatoes are super watery, so you need to enhance their texture and taste with a few tablespoons of thick paste (and a bit of sugar, of course).
Globe tomatoes and tomato paste do a great job substituting plum tomatoes for any cooking dish. And, you can use fresh globe tomatoes for salads, sandwiches, and other applications too.
- Sun-dried tomatoes
Often preserved in sunflower or olive oil, sun-dried tomatoes are another good substitute for plum tomatoes. They have a strong flavor and chewy texture that adds a yummy taste to a wide variety of dishes and sauces and also work as a topping for salads, pizza, and pasta. Additionally, they can last for long periods in your pantry.
If you want to use dry-packed sun-dried tomatoes, you should first reconstitute them in hot water or oil.
Plum tomatoes are the perfect type of tomato for sauces due to their shape, texture, and slightly sweeter flavor. Even so, given their composition and intense taste, they are ideal for a lot of recipes besides sauces, such as stews, casseroles, sautéed dishes, soups, salads, and other cold dishes— the possibilities are endless! Best of all, they are easy to find almost anywhere.
In short, plum tomatoes are versatile, meaty, and delicious, whether fresh or cooked. But, as with any other ingredients, you have to learn how to use them to take advantage of their full potential. Hopefully, this guide will provide you a solid starting point for that.
Now, it’s time for you to pick some fresh plum tomatoes and start making thick, flavorful sauces at home.
If you try any of the recommended recipes in this post or want to share extra tips or ideas, leave a comment below!
Owner and Food blogger on The Cookware Geek. She loves cooking, baking, traveling, playing with the cats, and knitting. She believes that eating delicious meals doesn’t require a culinary degree or a Michelin-star chef in your kitchen.