Wondering what makes a plum tomato different from other types of tomatoes? There’s a reason these long and lean red tomatoes are a favorite for pasta and pizza!
Plum tomatoes are a dense, oblong type of tomato used to make tomato sauce. The most common varieties of plum tomato are Roma, San Marzano, Amish Paste, and Big Mama. Plum tomatoes are also known as processing tomatoes, sauce tomatoes, paste tomatoes, pear tomatoes, Italian cooking tomatoes, or pomodoro perini.
There’s lots to learn about plum tomatoes! Read on to learn about popular varieties, canned vs. fresh plum tomatoes, and even mini plum tomatoes!
What are Plum Tomatoes?
Plum tomatoes are long, plum-shaped, dense tomatoes grown specifically for making tomato sauce. Plum tomato plants have been bred over hundreds of years to produce the best tomatoes for making tomato sauce.
Plum tomatoes generally have an oval plum-like shape, and sometimes are pear-shaped or egg-shaped. This oblong shape allows for only 2 seed compartments, called locules, inside the plum tomato. Fewer seed compartments means more yummy tomato pulp! It also means less work while cleaning out the seed pockets as part of tomato processing. Dense tomatoes that are mainly pulp with few seeds are referred to as “meaty”.
Plum tomatoes have also been bred for market handling and packing, and generally have a long shelf life in good conditions. Most plum tomatoes are red in colour. Look for brightly-coloured skin and gently feel the tomato for plumpness. Plum tomatoes are more firm when ripe than most other types of tomatoes.
Plum tomatoes are one of the five main types of tomatoes.
“Growing in fertile soil, a tomato plant can grow to more than 7 feet tall and sport a diameter of 3 feet or more… and suck up as much as 1 gallon of water every day.The Vegetable Gardener’s Container Bible: How to Grow a Bounty of Food in Pots, Tubs, and Other Containers, by Edward C. Smith
Varieties of Plum Tomatoes
Here are some popular varieties of plum tomatoes:
Here are some harder-to-find plum tomato cultivar types:
- Speckled Roman
- Rio Grande
- Black Plum
- Lucky Tiger
- Banana Legs
- Orange Icicle
- Black Icicle
- Chocolate Pear
- Jersey Devil
- Howard’s German
- Striped Roman
- Martino’s Roma
- San Remo
It’s usually fairly easy to buy Roma and San Marzano plum tomatoes at the grocery store. For the more specialty types, you may have better luck at the farmers market, or even growing your own tomatoes!
Grape Tomatoes (Mini Plum Tomatoes)
Grape tomatoes are mini plum tomatoes. Grape tomatoes are small like cherry tomatoes, but also oblong like plum tomatoes. They’re sweet, mini plum-shaped tomatoes that are perfect for fresh snacking and on salads – especially when locally-grown cherry tomatoes are not in season.
Here are some varieties of grape tomatoes:
“It’s the ultimate escape from the urban buzz. Imagine sitting in a Mediterranean-style haven surrounded by grapes, tomatoes, lemons, and greens so fresh that they squeak while the traffic roars around you.”The Edible Balcony: Growing Fresh Produce in Small Spaces, by Alex Mitchell
Italian Plum Tomatoes
Italian varieties of plum tomatoes are certainly the most well-known types and also the most widely available. They’ve been bred specifically for making classic Italian tomato sauce! Roma and San Marzano are the most popular two varieties of Italian plum tomatoes:
- Roma Plum Tomatoes
- San Marzano Plum Tomatoes
Italian plum tomatoes are also known as paste tomatoes, pear tomatoes, or pomodoro perini. They can also be referred to Italian cooking tomatoes.
Plum Tomatoes vs. Roma Tomatoes
Roma tomatoes are one variety of plum tomato. Roma tomatoes are grown from Roma VF heirloom seeds. Roma VF tomatoes are perhaps the most common commercially-grown variety of plum tomato.
Roma VF tomatoes are the classic heirloom Italian plum tomato. This variety is perfect for making Italian-style tomato sauce and tomato paste.
- Roma Paste Tomato (Certified Organic)
Plum Tomatoes vs. San Marzano Tomatoes
San Marzano tomatoes are another popular type of Italian plum tomato. Some gardeners refer to San Marzano tomatoes as their “fancy Romas”. San Marzano tomatoes have pointed ends when compared to the more rounded Romas.
- San Marzano (Certified Organic)
Canned Plum Tomatoes
Plum tomatoes are as commonly sold canned as they are sold fresh. Most canned plum tomatoes are Italian varieties of plum tomato such as Roma or San Marzano. Some canned tomatoes are imported from Italy, while other brands are grown domestically.
An important note about canned plum tomatoes is that canned plum tomatoes are rarely labelled as “plum tomatoes”. The term “plum tomatoes” is used in english-speaking countries, while most canned plum tomatoes are imported from Italy. When buying canned plum tomatoes, look specifically for the words Roma or San Marzano, or look for a photo or drawing of oblong tomatoes (as opposed to round tomatoes).
Fresh Plum Tomatoes
Fresh plum tomatoes can be sliced up and eaten fresh, added to cooking, or processed into tomato sauce. Fresh plum tomatoes should be kept at room temperature rather than in the fridge, as the fridge can dull their flavour and give them a bit of a mealy texture.
Growing Plum Tomatoes
Plum tomatoes are generally easy to grow. They are among the smaller types of tomatoes and therefore don’t take months and months to grow on the vine. They’re also generally resistant to the typical pests and diseases of tomato plants. Plum tomatoes can be grown in containers/pots or directly in the garden soil in the ground.
Here’s a detailed guide on how to grow tomatoes. You can also take an online course specifically about growing heirloom types of tomatoes: Growing Heirloom Tomatoes, with Marie Iannotti. Keep your plum tomato plants from getting too cold, and be sure to provide lots of moisture in the soil as well as some homemade compost for nutrition.
“Chiling impedes root growth of chilling-sensitive species. The roots of cultivated tomato cease to grow at 10 degrees Celsius, and growth is slow to recover after rewarming (Scott and Jones 1986).”Mineral Nutrition of Plants: Principles and Perspectives, by Emanuel Epstein and Arnold J. Bloom
Buying Plum Tomatoes by the Pound
Plum tomatoes are sold in bulk by the pound. Generally they’re in a large bin and labelled at a price per pound. The price of fresh plum tomatoes in our area is about $3/pound ($6.50/kg).
Look for brightly-coloured fruits that are not so firm they’re hard, but not so soft they’re mushy. In terms of size, most ripe plum tomatoes are 2-3 inches long, although some specialty varieties vary widely.
How many plum tomatoes are in a pound? Generally there are about 5 or 6 fresh plum tomatoes in one pound. For canned plum tomatoes, the smaller 15 oz cans (450 ml) are equal to about one pound of fresh tomatoes, and the larger 28 oz cans (825 ml) are more like 2 pounds of plum tomatoes.