Monday, November 1, 2010

Sodium al pomodoro

In my recent reading about sodium I was reminded (no surprise) that most of our sodium comes from processed foods rather than salt added at home.  But then I read (surprise) that the five major culprits are soups, condiments, canned foods, prepared mixes and -- tomato sauce!

I phased out tomato sauce from my pantry this summer, simply because I think tomato products with more solids give better results, but reading this gave me a sudden paranoid anxiety about the other canned tomato varieties in my cupboard, of which there are many.

A fresh tomato has only 14 mg of sodium.  But thanks to the magic of industrial food processing, that's not what you get when it comes from a can. The sodium content varies greatly by type of tomato product, and also by brand.  I spent a few minutes checking labels at the store this afternoon and here's what I found among the diced tomatoes.  All serving sizes were 1/2 cup.

Kroger diced with no added salt -- 20 mg
Del Monte diced with no added salt -- 50 mg
Del Monte diced -- 200 mg
Kroger diced -- 220 mg
Hunt's diced fire roasted with garlic -- 240 mg
Hunt's diced with green pepper, celery and onion -- 280 mg
Hunt's diced with basil, garlic and oregano -- 300 mg
Hunt's diced fire roasted -- 310 mg
Kroger diced Italian style -- 330 mg
Kroger diced chili ready -- 480 mg
Red Gold diced with roasted garlic and onion -- 500 mg

I had not ever noticed tomatoes packed with no added salt, but I bought some today and unless they turn out to be awful, I think I'll use them exclusively.  I do like the fire roasted flavor but don't think it's worth the sodium price.

But these tomato products are nothing compared with sauce.  A half cup of Hunt's tomato sauce has 820 mg!!!!!!

I was surprised to find that tomato paste, which would seem to be almost as heavily processed as tomato sauce, could be had with relatively little sodium, if you read the labels carefully.  Here the serving size is 2 tablespoons.  You could multiply that by 4 to get a half cup serving to compare to the tomato sauce, but since tomato paste is more concentrated than tomato sauce, maybe we should multiply by 2 or 3.  Let's try 2.5:

Kroger tomato paste -- 20 mg (call it 50 mg to compare)
Kroger Private Selection Organic tomato paste -- 20 mg (compare at 50 mg)
Hunt's tomato paste -- 105 mg  (compare at 262 mg)
Kroger Italian style tomato paste -- 300 mg (compare at 750 mg)

Two easy conclusions:  first, there seems to be a lot more variation among brands in tomato paste than in diced tomatoes.  Second, if you want some smooth tomato product in your cooking, thin down a lower-sodium paste to the desired consistency rather than use sauce.

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