If you’re looking to make your own homemade tomato sauce from scratch, the type of tomato you use makes a huge difference. Sure, you could use any old tomato, and while it will still be okay, it might end up too watery, bland, acidic or anything else that just isn’t that good. Want to make a hearty, rich tomato sauce bursting with flavor? It’s all about choosing the right tomato!
Check out this list and hopefully get inspired to try some unique heirloom varieties in your garden this year!
What kind of tomatoes do you use for tomato sauce?
Typically, sauce tomatoes are known as paste tomatoes. Paste tomatoes are meaty, lower in water and seed content, and have thinner skins than slicing tomatoes. Some are coreless as well, which makes them easy to process with little going to waste.
Paste tomatoes are smaller and more oblong-shaped than typical slicing tomatoes – think of a Roma tomato vs. a big beefsteak tomato. Some paste tomatoes are even pointy and wrinkled like a hot pepper! Slicing tomatoes are typically larger, rounder and juicier than paste tomatoes. They are perfect for slicing up and eating fresh on a nice toasted tomato sandwich with mayo, salt and pepper (okay now I’m making myself hungry writing this), but they don’t make great sauces or salsa compared to paste tomatoes. You can still do it, but you might end up with your salsa or sauce being too watery.
What makes a good tomato sauce, you might ask? Well essentially, a good tomato sauce should be hearty with a well-balanced flavor – not too acidic and not too sweet. These heirloom sauce tomatoes have been grown for generations for their balanced flavor that really comes alive when they are cooked down.
Are paste tomatoes good for salsa?
Paste tomatoes are an excellent choice for making salsa, since they have fewer seeds and are not as watery as regular slicing tomatoes, so you won’t have to worry about your salsa being too runny. The rule of thumb is that tomatoes that are good for making tomato sauce will also be good for making salsa.
With that being said, you can make a delicious salsa with any of your fresh tomatoes – even cherry tomatoes! I’ve made this amazing corn and cherry tomato salsa a few times and it’s always a favorite – the jars don’t last very long in my household with a bag of tortilla chips around!
Remember to only use safe and tested recipes when you are doing any canning, especially water bath canning. Don’t trust a random blog unless they provide a verified source! Keep in mind that you can substitute other things in safe recipes to get that perfect taste! This canning blog is my holy grail when it comes to canning recipes! You will be sure to find that perfect salsa recipe in this salsa section as well as some very useful information on safe practices and all the substitutions you can make! It’s honestly such a hidden gem with so much information.
Now without further ado, check out my top 10 heirloom tomatoes for sauce (and salsa) and start planning your tomato garden!
1. San Marzano
This is THE classic sauce tomato. Originating from a small region in Italy close to the city of San Marzano, this famous heirloom paste tomato is prized for its balanced sweet-tart flavor, firm flesh and low water content that really shines when cooked. It’s the gold standard for canning whole and making sauce for a reason! These plum-type tomatoes grow in clusters on semi-determinate vines, so you’ll enjoy a prolific harvest in a smaller space – but make sure to allow for lots of airflow!
Like most paste tomatoes (and really most tomatoes in general), you’ll have to watch out for blossom end rot. I found that San Marzano tomatoes seem to be particularly susceptible, but that could just be me. Check out this awesome resource from the Farmer’s Almanac on how to prevent blossom end rot in tomatoes!
Days to Maturity: 78-80
San Marzano tomato seeds are available at TomatoFest.com.
2. Amish Paste
This paste tomato is – dare I say – a close competitor to the San Marzano when it comes to the best heirloom tomatoes for sauce. In fact, many people prefer this variety and consider it the ultimate tomato for canning or making sauce. These tomatoes grow nice and large, and the flesh is meaty and juicy. What I love about these heirloom sauce tomatoes is that they seem to be perfect in any application, whether it be making tomato sauce, canning homemade salsa, or chopping up and eating fresh! It has actually become one of my staple varieties in my garden.
Days to Maturity: 85
Amish Paste tomato seeds are available at TomatoFest.com.
This Polish variety is another one of the best heirloom tomatoes for sauce. This variety has an excellent flavor and produces vigorous, high yields with an unusual shape – they almost resemble hot peppers with their pointy tips! These tomatoes are coreless, meaty and have very few seeds, so they are super easy to process for sauce or canning. You’ll definitely want to save the seeds for next year’s planting!
Days to Maturity: 80
You can find Opalka tomato seeds at TomatoFest.com.
4. Polish Linguisa
Another top-tier Polish heirloom variety, Polish Linguisa heirloom tomatoes were brought to America over a century ago. These tomatoes are HUGE for paste tomatoes! If you’re looking for heirloom tomatoes for sauce that are on the larger end, you can’t go wrong with these. Polish Linguisa tomatoes are extremely productive and have a wonderful flavor. Want to make a big batch of salsa this year? How about tomato sauce? These ones would be perfect, and the bonus is that they are just as good for eating fresh, freezing and dehydrating as well! Just make sure you give it plenty of staking to support the heavy tomatoes.
Days to Maturity: 73
Polish Linguisa tomato seeds are available at TomatoFest.com.
5. Jersey Devil
Although this variety takes a little longer than others to mature, you won’t be disappointed. This heirloom paste tomato is well loved among those who grow them! Check out this anecdote from a master gardener in Pennsylvania who was very pleasantly surprised at how beautifully they turned out – they were devoured so quickly that there weren’t any left to make salsa in the end! But really, though, these are awesome heirloom tomatoes for canning and making sauce. They kind of resemble hot peppers too with their slightly wrinkled and oblong shape.
The Jersey Devil variety gave way to another, similar variety: the Jersey Giant. As you probably guessed, Jersey Giants are just like Jersey Devils except EVEN BIGGER!
Days to Maturity: 80-90
6. Santa Clara Canner
Another excellent paste tomato hailing from Italy, this heirloom variety dates all the way back to 1910. As you can probably guess from the name, it became very popular for canning, particularly in the Santa Clara Valley, California. And rightfully so – these tomatoes have a wonderful, rich flavor, and they are perfect for many applications besides canning, including making juice, eating fresh and making sauce. Because of their uniformity, they are a popular variety to sell at farmers markets as well.
Days to Maturity: 79-85
Santa Clara Canner seeds are available at TomatoFest.com.
7. Italian Gold
Looking for a determinate variety rather than the sprawling indeterminate paste tomatoes? Italian Gold is a highly productive, Roma-style paste tomato that grows on dense, compact bushes. They have a beautiful apricot orange color to them, so if you’re looking to add a little color into your tomato repertoire or make a golden tomato salsa, these heirloom paste tomatoes would be perfect!
Days to Maturity: 75-80
Italian Gold tomato seeds are available at TomatoFest.com.
If you’ve never heard of Heidi heirloom tomatoes yet, you’ve got to check these ones out! This heirloom paste tomato was originally brought over from Cameroon, West Africa, and unsurprisingly it has excellent drought and heat tolerance, and it is extremely productive! Every gardener that’s grown it seems to adore it – not only is it prolific and hardy, but it is also surprisingly resistant to blossom end rot (one of the issues I’ve had with San Marzano personally) and arguably has a fuller flavor than some other paste varieties – although you can’t go wrong with any on my list if you ask me!
So if you’re in a hotter and drier area or are worried about blossom end rot, I’d highly recommend trying Heidi tomatoes!
Type: Indeterminate (some consider it semi-determinate)
Days to Maturity: 75
You can find Heidi tomato seeds at TomatoFest.com.
9. Russian Big Roma
This is another favorite heirloom tomato for sauce and canning amongst gardeners. As the name implies, this Russian heirloom produces huge Roma-style tomatoes with a rich, tomato-y flavor and dense, meaty flesh. They are said to be resistant to some diseases, including blossom end rot. This is another excellent choice for sauce tomatoes!
Days to Maturity: 85
Russian Big Roma tomato seeds are available at TomatoFest.com.
10. Ten Fingers of Naples
This gorgeous heirloom tomato grows very fittingly to its name! It may not be as well-known as the famous San Marzano paste tomato, but this heirloom tomato is just as good for making Italian-inspired sauces and dishes. It grows in large trusses, with the elongated shape that is typical to paste tomatoes, resembling, well, fingers. The tomatoes are meaty, low in seeds, and have a beautiful rich flavor that is right up there with the best tomatoes for sauce! I love the way these tomatoes look on the vine with the way they grow in bunches.
Days to Maturity: 72-75
You can find Ten Fingers of Naples tomato seeds at TomatoFest.com.
That’s a wrap! These are my top 10 heirloom tomatoes you can grow for making great tomato sauce or salsa. I feel like you can’t go wrong with any of these varieties. After all, they’ve been grown for decades (and some for over 100 years!) for this very purpose!
There really is something special about harvesting ripe, juicy tomatoes straight from your garden and making your own homemade sauce from scratch. I always recommend growing heirloom varieties in your home garden as much as you can – not only do they have the best and richest flavors in my opinion, but they also help preserve the legacy of traditional tomato cultivars from all over the world and you have that connection to a piece of history.
What is your favorite heirloom tomato to use for canning and making sauces? Let me know in the comments!