This sounds like a weird mystery novel, but the only mystery here is what you are likely to find in commercially canned tomato products…truly scary! Tomatoes have been referred to as the “workhorse of the kitchen”. They have been fundamental to the diets of so many yet the commercially available product is a far cry in purity, nutrition and flavor from that salubrious, aromatic, red orb that was the inspiration for so many of our favorite dishes.
Why should you can your own tomatoes?
- Flavor, Flavor, Flavor. The taste of ripe, real tomatoes and nothing but tomatoes in your marinara, soups and casseroles will transform your efforts from ho hum to inspired. But, if you have had a diet consisting of largely industrially processed food, it will take a bit to “lift the veil” from you little buddies. See next item.
- We add no salt to our tomatoes so you can control your sodium intake. The average American consumes 46% in excess of the recommended daily allowance. Keep in mind, that’s the average which takes into account the foodies and low sodium folks. You can resist salting your food at the table, but that’s only responsible for about 6% of the average American’s intake. Processed and prepared foods account for a whopping 77% of that figure. Salt is used commercially to give the perception of flavor that is missing in the fundamental ingredients. We habituate to levels of salt and require more and more for our now desensitized taste buds to be satisfied. If you cut back on your salt levels for a mere two weeks, your tongue– your amazing tongue, will reacquire a heightened sensitivity to flavors and your enjoyment of food will increase. Your heart will thank you as well.
- Excess Sugars in commercial tomato products is a similar issue as the excess sodium. We have become habituated to more and more sugar in our food. Not coincidentally the industry has tremendous amounts of government subsidized high fructose corn syrup for which it needs to find a happy home. It creates a “mouth feel” that we have been told is pleasing. We crave sweet, and we’re told it’s a vegetable. What’s not to like about that? The sugars are listed on the ingredient panel under many names on the same product, adding up to “one heckava lotta” sugar. Give your tongue a break and find out what the real fruit tastes like. That spaghetti dinner fares a lot better with the calorie counter looking at tomatoes instead of sugary syrup.
- Bisphenol A gives us reason all on its own to avoid all products in a commercial can. This includes lids on jars. “BPA is an endocrine disruptor, which can mimic the body’s own hormones and may lead to negative health effects. Early development appears to be the period of greatest sensitivity to its effects.Regulatory bodies have determined safety levels for humans, but those safety levels are currently being questioned or under review as a result of new scientific studies.” Our more prudent neighbors to the north have outlawed the use of BPA for food contact. (update 10/2010, Canada has listed Bisphenol A as a toxin) The science is clear, the politics are murky. The high acid content in tomatoes exacerbates the leaching of BPA into your food. The levels of toxins in the non organic produce that survive the processing of canned tomato products is disconcertingly high and their side effects not insignificant. GMO tomatoes have shown very negative to unexplained effects, yet they remain part of our diet.
- Home canned tomatoes make great fast food. It’s convenient to have them on the shelf. Cut down on your trips to the grocery store. Whip up a pretty tolerable marinara in 15 minutes. It makes the pasta night a dinner to look forward to instead of “I can’t think of anything else so let’s have spaghetti.” Use a quart as a great soup base. This has absolutely no relationship to the little red and white cans we grew up with.
- It brings security and peace of mind to have real, sustaining food “put up” on your pantry shelves.
It takes some work to sterilize the jars, gauge the ripeness of the fruit, slip the skins, and get all those beauties packed and on the shelves, but the benefits so far exceed the costs. Work that happens around real food is energizing and when done communally, is a lot of fun. Make it an annual tradition that will sustain you and give you pleasure all year long.