How to choose the healthiest fried tomato?
The industrially produced fried tomato had its origin in Spain in the middle of the last century. During the weeks of confinement it has been revealed as one of the star products, although it was already the king of sauces before. We consume about one kilo per household each month, which means that about 140,000 tons are eaten each year. Much of its success is surely due to its versatility (we can use it in countless recipes, from a pasta dish to a pizza or a pie). But also to other no less important characteristics, such as saving time and effort, its duration, its price (affordable), its composition (similar to what we can make at home) and its organoleptic characteristics (appearance, taste, texture …). We thoroughly analyze this product that, in general, is not so different from what we can make at home.
As is obvious, the fundamental ingredient in this sauce is tomato. To make it, mainly pear tomatoes are selected because its pieces are fleshy and have a low proportion of water compared to other varieties, which achieves a higher yield. In addition, its elongated shape facilitates peeling. It is also important to control their degree of ripeness, not only to comply with the legal requirements that establish that tomatoes must be ripe, but also to obtain a suitable product, neither too acid nor too sweet.
Tomatoes can be added in different ways: fresh and cut, juice, puree, paste or tomato concentrate. Among the products analyzed in our buying guide for May, some brands specify the use of fresh tomatoes, such as Hida and Pedro Luis, something that is considered a sign of a higher commercial category, because, in principle, it provides better aroma and flavor. In other products, part of the tomato comes from concentrate, which contributes to increasing the intensity of color, flavor and aroma, as well as the consistency of the sauce, but it remains commercial category. This is the case of Solís, Solís Oliva, Solís Casero and Eroski Oliva.
How much tomato do these sauces contain?
Legislation also requires that fried tomatoes contain a minimum of tomato, specifically 25%. It is something that is more than fulfilled in all the brands analyzed, where the approximate amount of tomato is between 79% for Pedro Luis and 90% for Apis, Hida and Eroski Oliva. This aspect is not easy to know when consulting the labeling because the legislation indicates that in this type of product the quantity of tomato must be expressed according to the weight used to prepare 100 grams of finished product. This is done to take into account the moisture losses suffered by the tomato as a result of the heat treatment applied in the production of the sauce. Thus, we find that the amounts are between 138 g of tomato / 100 g of the sauce labeled Hida and 170 g / 100 g of that of Apis. The amount of tomato is greater than that of sauce because, as has been commented, during the production process some of the water evaporates. The Gvtarra label does not show the amount of tomato used, which can be considered a significant breach of the law.
With what oil is industrial fried tomato made?
Oil is another essential ingredient in fried tomato. The most common is to use sunflower oil (as in Orlando, Apis, Solís, Gvtarra) or olive oil (Solís Oliva), which in most of the cases analyzed is extra virgin (Pedro Luis, Hida and Eroski Oliva). There are also brands that use a mixture of the two types of oil, such as Solís Casero (5.7% sunflower and 1% olive). From a nutritional and organoleptic point of view, the best option is extra virgin olive oil, which is obtained directly from the pressing of olives (olive oil is a mixture of refined olive oil and virgin olive oil) . However, none of them can be considered a bad option, not even the sunflower one, which, despite what is sometimes believed, cannot be considered insane.
According to the legislation, the amount of oil in the fried tomato must be at least 3%. It could be said that the products analyzed in this guide meet this requirement, but not in all of them we can know this data with certainty. They only have the obligation to do so when they highlight the presence of oil on the label, either with words or images. This is what happens in most of the products analyzed, where the amount of oil is between 3.2% of Solís Oliva and 6.7% of Solís Casero.
Apís and Solís do not indicate this information because they have no obligation to do so. In these cases, we can get an idea of the composition by observing the amount of total fat shown in the nutritional information, which is around 3% (it is possible to do so because these fats come almost exclusively from oil, as there are no other ingredients fat in this product). On the other hand, the Gvtarra fried tomato does highlight the presence of oil on its label, showing the image of an oil can, so you should specify the amount in the ingredients list, which it does not do.
The fried tomato, does it have a lot of sugar?
One of the characteristics of the fried tomato that usually generates the most suspicion is the sugar content. The idea that a lot of quantity is added to this type of product is quite widespread, but this is not the case. The legislation establishes a maximum limit of 5% of added sugars, which represent 5 grams of sugar (approximately one dessert spoon) in 100 grams of product. That is, it is something similar to what we do at home when we make fried tomato and add a little sugar to correct the acidity that the tomato provides.
The main reason why many people think that fried tomatoes contain a lot of added sugars is that they misinterpret the labeling and, more specifically, the nutritional information. In this section, no distinction is made between the sugars naturally present in food, such as those contained in tomato, and the sugars added during the production of the product. It is the latter that we should limit (the World Health Organization recommends not consuming more than 50 grams per day).
In the cases analyzed, those with the highest amount of total sugars varied between 7.8% and 4.5%. This does not necessarily mean that the products they contain are those with the most added sugars, since the values could be due to the use of tomatoes with a higher amount of sugars. In any case, we have already seen that the maximum amount of added sugars that they can contain is not very significant (5%), so we should not worry too much about this aspect, especially considering that in the size of a portion (40 g) there may be only a maximum amount of added sugars of 2 g.
Attention to salt
Judging by the composition of the analyzed products, what should attract our attention is not the amount of sugars, but the amount of salt. It is estimated that a food has a lot of salt when it exceeds 1.25 g per 100 g. Two of the products exceed this amount: Orlando and Apis (both with 1.5% salt). Of course, none of them exceed the maximum amount allowed by the legislation for fried tomato, which is 2.5%. In addition, the amount of salt per serving is not very significant (in the worst case it is 0.68 g in 40 grams of product), but we must take it into consideration. The brands with the least amount of salt were Hida (0.6%), Gvtarra (0.88%) and Solís Casero (0.9%). In commercial sauces, salt fulfills the same main function as in those we make at home: enhancing the flavor of the food.