From The Nutritionist

Lindsay Watts, RDN

Preserving Tomatoes for Year-Round Taste and Nutrition





My family eats tomatoes year-round. Unfortunately, here in the mid-Atlantic the quality and taste of fresh tomatoes is a hit or miss outside of the summer season. One week my salads will pop with the sweet, juicy, cherry tomato flavor and the next week they’ll fall short with a bland, mealy tomato. I rely on tomato paste, canned tomatoes, and prepared items like Prego® Italian sauces, Campbell’s® Condensed Tomato soup and others to get me through the off season. How do these products deliver a fresh tomato flavor year-round? I reached out to Dr. Daniel Sonke, Director of Sustainable Agriculture at Campbell, to learn how we preserve over one billion pounds of tomatoes grown by family farmers every summer.


Lindsay: Why do we only harvest and process our tomatoes during the summer?

Dr. Sonke: We make our products year-round and need them to taste the same whether we make them in July or January. If we only relied on fresh produce, the flavor would vary drastically from one month to the next, just like what happens when you buy tomatoes out of season vs. in season. Our tomatoes are processed within hours of harvesting, and of course, we harvest in the mid to late summer when tomatoes taste their best.


Lindsay: What types of processed tomato ingredients does Campbell make?

Dr. Sonke: We make several types of tomato paste, as well as diced tomatoes. People are sometimes surprised to learn that different types of tomato paste are required to make different products from creamy-textured tomato soup to thick Prego® Italian sauces. Some tomatoes are better for dicing, while any of them can be used for paste.


Lindsay: I understand that we use most of our tomato crops to make tomato paste. Why is that our preferred tomato ingredient to use?

Dr. Sonke: Tomatoes are about 94% water and 6% solids. The solids in a tomato provide the sweetness and flavor of the vegetable. We concentrate our tomatoes into a paste to make transporting and storing them more efficient. If we only used formats like crushed, diced, or others, we would be using a lot of resources to transport and store water. Paste helps us use what we need, when we need it, without as much waste.


Lindsay: How do the tomatoes become tomato paste?

Dr. Sonke: After tomatoes are harvested, cleaned, and sorted, we use heat and physical agitation to make a tomato pulp. This would be like heating tomatoes on your stove and using a potato masher to break them down for a smoother consistency. After we break down the tomatoes, we put the pulp, which still has skins, seeds, and tomato solids, through an “extractor.” This is just a giant version of a home mixer attachment my family uses in our kitchen to separate peels and seeds when we make applesauce or homemade tomato sauce. At Campbell, the extractors separate the skins and seeds from the pulpy tomato solids and juice. We only use the solids and juice to make paste, but the skins and seeds get shipped off to be turned into animal feed by other manufacturers.


Lindsay: Do we add any other ingredients to help preserve the tomatoes?

Dr. Sonke: At this point in the processing, we heat up the paste and then rapidly cool it to prevent any microbial growth. We fill the paste into sterile bags and heat seal them. Similar to how you can your tomatoes at home, the heating and sealing is what preserves the food.

We add citric acid to our diced tomatoes and sometimes to our paste. This is like adding lemon juice to your canned tomatoes at home. A lower pH helps to make it last longer on the shelf. We also add calcium chloride to our diced tomatoes to help them stay firm. This helps them keep their texture and is what you would find in canned, diced tomatoes you buy in stores.


Lindsay: The process we use for making tomato paste and diced tomato ingredients sounds similar to what you would do at home. What are the biggest differences?

Dr. Sonke: The scale and the equipment we use. Otherwise, it is very similar to what you would do at home. My wife and I can Campbell tomatoes that don’t make it into the truck during harvest each year. A lot of what we do in our kitchen is like what happens in the plants, just on a much smaller scale.

We want consumers to understand how we make our products and the experts that guide us behind the scenes. This Q&A session with Dr. Sonke sheds light on how processing fresh tomatoes at peak ripeness allows consumers to enjoy consistently delicious taste and nutrition from the brands they know and love all year round.

Cheers,

Lindsay


Lindsay's Bio

Lindsay is a nutrition communications analyst at the Campbell Soup Company where she coordinates health professional and consumer communications. She also works with internal and external partners on retail health and wellness programs. Prior to her role at Campbell, Lindsay worked as an in-store retail dietitian. She received her Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics from West Chester University and completed her dietetic internship with Pennsylvania State University. Currently, Lindsay is studying for her Master of Science in Health Communications and Marketing with Boston University.  

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En Papillote Technique

1. Prepare the parchment paper
Get a large piece of parchment paper, approximately 2.5 times as large as a single portion of food. Cut the paper into a heart shape, lightly brushing one side with oil. This creates a slight barrier to water, preventing the paper from becoming soaked too quickly. Another option, though not as attractive, is to use tin foil instead of parchment paper.

2. Select the ingredients
This is a very quick-cooking approach, so it works best with tender proteins such as fish and shellfish. The accompanying ingredients, like julienned vegetables (matchstick size), must be small enough to cook at the same rate as the fish. In some cases the vegetables can be blanched, or quickly cooked in boiling water, to ensure proper doneness. Fresh herbs will go a long way in providing flavor.

3. Assemble the packet
Lay the oiled, heart-shaped paper on a baking tray, oiled side up. Season your vegetables with salt, pepper, extra virgin olive oil, and half of the herbs. Toss them around for an even coat. Place enough for one portion on half of the paper. Bunch them up to create a bed for your fish, leaving about two inches between the food and the edge of the paper. Place the seasoned fish on the vegetables and sprinkle the remaining herbs. Add a splash of the liquid on top of the fish, just enough to add moisture.

4. Seal the packet
To seal, fold the heart over to enclose the fish and vegetables (so it resembles a teardrop). Starting at the top of the heart, fold about 1/4" of the edge toward the center. Fold over again to create a seal. Continue along the length of the parchment, folding each section twice. When you get to the point of the heart, twist and fold to finish the seal.

5. Bake your dinner
Bake the packet in a 425°F oven for 10-14 minutes, depending on the size of the fish. The packet will puff and brown while in the oven and as the steam builds. When cooked, remove from the oven and carefully place the packet on a plate. With a knife or scissors cut an "X" on the top and fold back the edges for a dramatic presentation and a delicious, healthy meal.

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Spicy Flounder and Clams with Summer Vegetables

Prep Time: Less than 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 10-14 minutes
Yield: 2 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup carrots, finely cut julienne
  • 1/3 cup sugar snap peas, cross cut thinly
  • 1/3 cup zucchini, yellow, finely cut julienne
  • 6 each cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1 Tbsp. shallot, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp. parsley, fresh, minced
  • Dash salt
  • Dash black pepper
  • 6 oz. fillet, flounder (2 fillets, 3oz. each)
  • 2 Tbsp. Low Sodium Spicy Hot V8® 100% Vegetable juice
  • 3/4 lb. clams, in the shell

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
  2. Combine the carrots, sugar snap peas, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, shallot, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, half of the parsley, salt and pepper in a bowl. Toss well to combine.
  3. Lightly oil two large heart shaped pieces of parchment paper.
  4. With the parchment paper on a sheet tray, place half of the vegetable mixture in the center of one half of each heart leaving about a 2" border.
  5. Lightly season each fillet with salt and pepper. Fold or roll the fillet to create a uniform thickness and place on top of the vegetables.
  6. Top the fish with the remaining herbs and the Low Sodium Spicy Hot V8® 100% Vegetable juice.
  7. Place half of the clams around each portion of vegetables and fish.
  8. Fold the heart over to enclose the fish and vegetables so that it resembles a teardrop.
  9. Starting at the top of the heart, fold about 1/4" of the edge towards the center. Fold over again to create a seal.
  10. Continue with this method along the length of the parchment packet folding each section twice to make an attractive edge.
  11. When you get to the point of the heart twist and fold to finish the seal.
  12. Bake the packets for 10-14 minutes (depending on the thickness of the fish).
  13. Remove from the oven and serve by cutting an "X" in the top and folding back the edges.

Nutrition Information (per serving):

Calories 180, Total Fat 9g, Saturated Fat 1g, Monounsaturated Fat 5g, Polyunsaturated Fat 1g, Cholesterol 50mg, Sodium 450mg, Carbohydrate 10g, Fiber 2g, Sugar 4g, Protein 16g.