Skip to main content

Tomato Puree

Published March 2009

How we tested

In the family of canned tomato products, tomato puree is the neglected middle child, often overlooked in favor of whole peeled or diced tomatoes. The reason is clear: While whole and diced tomatoes offer a passable substitute for fresh tomatoes (they are simply skinned and processed), tomato puree is cooked and strained, removing all seeds and all illusions to freshness. That’s not to say that tomato puree doesn’t belong in most kitchens, it’s just more suited to long-cooked dishes where the thick, even texture of puree is important and fresh tomato flavor is not.

Although we haven’t developed many recipes using tomato puree, we do find it necessary to achieve full tomato flavor and a smooth richness in our Simple Beef Chili with Kidney Beans (March/April 2003). But which brand is best? We gathered eight popular brands of tomato puree and tasted them plain. We then tasted the winner and loser of the plain tasting in our chili.

We had a tie in the straight puree tasting, with one being praised for ”layers of flavor,” while another won points for its “strong tomato flavor.” One puree was unanimously faulted as too thin and watery, though a handful of tasters liked the “vegetal” flavor that one taster described as being like “wicked salty V-8.”

For part two of our tasting, we pitted one of the winners against the losing puree in our chili recipe. Although we found it easy to sort out the winners and losers in the straight puree tasting, we wondered how clear the differences would be once the puree had simmered for two hours with a half-dozen spices. The answer: not very clear. While some tasters found one batch ”thicker” and “more full-flavored,’’ some found the other batch “slightly meatier’’ and “fresher and sweeter.’’ Most agreed with the taster who wrote, “I would use either one.’’ Given that most recipes calling for tomato puree involve long cooking times and lots of ingredients, it’s safe to say that one brand is not going to make much of a difference over another in the final dish.

3 Sites. No Paywalls.

Included in your trial membership

  • 25 years of Cook's Illustrated, Cook's Country, and America's Test Kitchen foolproof recipes
  • NEW! Over 1,500 recipes from our award-winning cookbooks
  • In-depth videos of recipes and cooking techniques
  • SAVE all your Favorites for easy access
  • Up-to-Date reviews and product buying guides

Get America's Test Kitchen All Access — become the Smartest Cook you know, guaranteed.

Email is required
How we use your email address

The Results


Skippy Peanut Butter

In a contest that hinged on texture, tasters thought this "smooth, "creamy" sample was "swell" and gave it top honors, both plain and baked into cookies. Its rave reviews even compensated for a slightly "weak" nut flavor that didn't come through as well as that of other brands in the pungent satay sauce.

$2.39 for 16.3-oz. jar (15 cents per oz.)*

Jif Natural Peanut Butter Spread

The big favorite in satay sauce, this peanut butter's "dark, roasted flavor"—helped by the addition of molasses—stood out particularly well against the other heady ingredients, and it made cookies with "nice sweet-salty balance." Plus, as the top-rated palm oil-based sample, it was "creamy," "thick," and better emulsified than other "natural" contenders.

$2.29 for 18-oz. jar (13 cents per oz.)*

Reese's Peanut Butter

This is what peanut butter should be like, " declared one happy taster, noting specifically this product's "good," "thick" texture and "powerful peanut flavor." In satay sauce, however, some tasters felt that heavier body made for a "pasty" end result.

$2.59 for 18-oz. jar (14 cents per oz.)*

Skippy Natural Peanut Butter Spread

The only other palm oil-based peanut butter to make the "recommended" cut, this contender had a "looser" texture than its winning sibling but still won fans for being "super-smooth." Tasters thought it made an especially "well-balanced," "complex" peanut sauce.

$2.39 for 15-oz. jar (16 cents per oz.)*
Recommended with Reservations

Peanut Butter & Co. No-Stir Natural Smooth Operator

Though it says "no-stir" on the label, this "stiff" palm-oil enriched peanut butter was "weeping oil" and came across as "greasy" to some tasters. However, it turned out a respectable batch of cookies—"chewy in the center, crisp and short at the edge"—and made "perfectly good" satay sauce.

$4.49 for 18-oz. jar (25 cents per oz.)*

Maranatha Organic No Stir Peanut Butter

On the one hand, this organic peanut butter produced cookies that were "soft and sturdy" yet "moist," with "knockout peanut flavor." On the other hand, eating it straight from the jar was nearly impossible; its "loose," "liquid-y," and "dribbly" consistency had one taster wonder if it was "peanut soup."

$5.69 for 16-oz. jar (36 cents per oz.)*
Not Recommended

Smart Balance All Natural Rich Roast Peanut Butter

Besides being unpalatably "tacky" and "sludgy," this "natural" peanut butter suffered from an awful "fishy" flavor with a "weird acidic aftertaste" that tasters noted in all three applications. Our best guess as to the culprit? The inclusion of flax seed oil, an unsaturated fat that's highly susceptible to rancidity.

$3.59 for 16-oz. jar (22 cents per oz.)*

Smucker's Natural Peanut Butter

With its only additive a negligible amount of salt, the only truly natural peanut butter in the lineup elicited comments ranging from mild dissatisfaction ("needs enhancement with salt and sugar") to outright disgust ("slithery," "chalky," "inedible"). Cookies were "dry and crumbly" with a "hockey puck" texture, and the satay sauce was "stiff," "gritty," and "gloopy."

$2.69 for 16-oz. jar (17 cents per oz.)*