Canned tomatoes add a burst of flavor to home-cooked meals and can be used to flavor soups and sauces without all the fuss of cooking fresh tomatoes on your own. Diced tomatoes have a uniform size and shape that remains firm when added to recipes. Stewed tomatoes, on the other hand, are cooked or stewed with other vegetables before canning and contain irregular sized and shaped sections of tomatoes. Stewed tomatoes might perform differently in certain recipes, so take some precautions before substituting.
Canned diced tomatoes are simply peeled, cooked, chopped tomatoes, typically preserved in tomato juice. They range from a petit dice to larger chunks. Diced tomatoes may also contain additional vegetables, spices and seasoning. Labeling of additional vegetables, seasonings or spices in the product is required by law. Try adding fire roasted diced tomatoes with green chilies to Cocido, a Spanish beef and vegetable soup, or add plain diced tomatoes to chili, soups or vegetable dishes to enhance your own blend of seasonings. Try petit diced tomatoes in burritos, in quesadillas, on pizza or in any dish where smaller chunks of tomatoes are preferred.
What Makes A Stew?
Stewed tomatoes typically contain bell peppers, onions, celery and garlic. They have been cooked or "stewed" to enhance the flavors of the both the tomato and the other aromatics. They also often contain sugar, making them slightly sweeter than diced tomatoes. Although they are not spicy, they do have a unique flavor created by stewing the veggies and tomatoes with additional spices before canning. Some stewed tomatoes contain additional veggies, herbs and spices. Labeling, such as "Italian" or "Mexican" stewed tomatoes, reflects the signature blend of the ingredients, while “with” indicates specific veggies and herbs added to the stewed tomatoes. Add Italian stewed tomatoes to pasta sauce or lasagna, or toss a can of Mexican stewed tomatoes in Spanish rice to kick up the flavor.
What About Flavor?
The flavor of both stewed and diced tomatoes varies depending on the added vegetables or seasonings. While stewed tomatoes are typically sweeter than diced tomatoes, this isn't always true, as diced tomatoes may contain sweet onion, peppers or sweet basil. According to the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, tomatoes may be labeled as "stewed tomatoes" if they have "characterizing amounts" of onions, peppers and celery, not to exceed 10 percent by weight. Even though diced tomatoes are prepared differently, some have a similar flavor to stewed tomatoes.
Mixing and Matching
While diced tomatoes and stewed tomatoes are sold in the same size cans and may have similar ingredients, they use different herbs, spices and veggies. This means the flavor of some diced tomatoes -- those with onions, celery and peppers -- may be very similar to stewed tomatoes. Indiscriminately substituting diced tomatoes for stewed tomatoes may alter the flavor of your recipe. In addition, diced tomatoes and stewed tomatoes differ in texture and presentation. While diced tomatoes add firm, uniform-sized tomato chunks to your favorite dish, stewed tomatoes break down during long cooking leaving behind rich flavor. Consider the flavor and texture you desire your recipe to have before substituting diced tomatoes for stewed tomatoes.
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Nannette Richford is an avid gardener, teacher and nature enthusiast with more than four years' experience in online writing. Richford holds a Bachelor of Science in secondary education from the University of Maine Orono and certifications in teaching 7-12 English, K-8 General Elementary and Birth to age 5.