You say tomato, I say tomahto. Whether strained, pureed, crushed or stewed, the average supermarket seems to contain dozens of varieties of processed tomatoes. Before you call the whole thing off, realize that their differences can be clearly defined. While the differences between strained tomatoes and tomato puree are minor, recognizing them can help you navigate new recipes more easily, especially those that hail from Italy.
Puree vs. Passata
Strained tomatoes, otherwise known as passata or passata di pomoro, are essentially the same as tomato puree. Both products are made by boiling freshly harvested tomatoes to break them down, pureeing the tomatoes, and straining the seeds and skin. They both have a smooth, silky texture that looks like marinara sauce. However, some versions of passata use uncooked tomatoes. Check the label on both items to see whether they include extra flavorings, such as onions, garlic or basil.
Availability at the Market
Strained tomatoes are a pantry staple in Italy, often referenced in recipes from Britain or Europe. They are less visible in American supermarkets, especially compared with tomato puree, which can reliably be found in the canned foods aisle. However, several major brands of strained tomatoes are sold in the United States, typically packaged in glass gars instead of cans. If you do not see them at your regular supermarket, check an Italian deli or an organic grocery store.
Uses in Cooking
Cooks have different opinions about whether tomato puree and strained tomatoes are interchangeable. Because of their similar texture, both products are best suited to dishes in which a full tomato flavor and a smooth texture are equally desired. When making thick soups, stews or sauces, both are preferable to fresh but out-of-season tomatoes, because these varieties are often bred for firmness rather than flavor. Some cooks find strained tomatoes, or passata, to be of higher quality, using them over tomato puree when tomatoes are a central ingredient.
Storage and Expiration
Store unopened containers of both products for up to two years at room temperature. Once opened, they should be stored in the refrigerator, ideally for no more than a few days. For the longest possible use, store in an airtight container in the back of the refrigerator, which is typically colder than in the door. Leave some open space so that air can circulate. You can freeze both for up to three months, but use within 24 hours of thawing. Freezing them in ice cube trays allows you to thaw small amounts at a time.
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