Food News

Are 95 Percent of America's San Marzano Tomatoes Fake?

Back in July, gustiBlog ("Italy's Best Foods") interviewed Edoardo Ruggiero, the president of the Consorzio San Marzano, who proceeded to drop a bombshell. "First thing Edoardo said was: maximum one percent of tomatoes in America sold as San Marzano are real San Marzano." When the blogger informed Edoardo that it would put in writing, "he said, OK, let's say 5% to be on the safe side."

Considering how many brands of San Marzano tomatoes are sold on supermarket shelves, and how many Italian restaurants and pizzerias (locally and nationwide) tout that tomato, this is pretty surprising news. As the story goes, in Italy the "D.O.P." stamp has legal backing, while in America it does not. So shady companies send unbranded tomato tins to this country, where labels saying "San Marzano" and "D.O.P." get slapped on.

Then there is this scam as well. What's that? You don't read Italian? Well, the article says that 34 tons of "presumed" fake tomatoes were seized at the port of Naples before getting shipped to America. In this case the tins did have labels, and they were perfectly in sync with DOP rules -- proper numbers, symbols, etc. The producer, however, has been accused of taking its legit DOP number and cloning it so it could be applied to other tomatoes.

The Italian Consorzio warns that "Real San Marzanos are never pureed, chopped, diced, made into sauce, or even 'organic'. The only real ones are whole and peeled. And they're in a can that says 'Pomodoro San Marzano dell'Agro Sarnese Nocerino D.O.P.' with a consorzio number and a consorzio symbol."

It's easy enough to check that when shopping at the market. Restaurants are a bit less transparent. Next week we'll ask a few local Italian joints that tout San Marzano whether or not they've got the real tomato.

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Miami New Times' restaurant reviewer for the past decade, and the world's indisputable master of disguise.
Contact: Lee Klein