San Marzano tomato: the red gold of Agro Nocerino-Sarnese

by Roberto Iossa

Today we tell you the story of a journey. The protagonist is the "San Marzano" tomato, the undisputed king of his kind. And our fruit has come a long way! Between hard to dispel myths and historical facts, his is a real epic, straddling continents and peoples so different from each other but united by the boundless passion for this excellence of mother earth.

Il pomodoro San Marzano: l'oro rosso dell'Agro Nocerino-Sarnese
Ph. Gianfranco Pignataro

The origin of the "golden apple"

Almost everyone is now aware of South American origins of tomato. And its undisputed fame is linked to the overflowing variety of products that still exist today. Among these, the "San Marzano" is the most appreciated and used also in the culinary field, above all thanks to the possibility of transformation into "bald“.

As confirmed by numerous studies, the tomato arrives in Europe following the discovery of America. In South America its use is primarily of type ornamental (only later its food value is learned). In the 1544 the botanist Pietro Andrea Mattioli he begins to study this fruit, to which he will give the name of "tomato"(As its shape resembles that of an apple, a "apple" in fact!). From that moment on over the centuries its knowledge and use has improved, especially in the kitchen.

Il pomodoro San Marzano: l'oro rosso dell'Agro Nocerino-Sarnese
Ph. Gianfranco Pignataro

Once upon a time there was a King of Peru and his tomato

Legend traces the origins of the “San Marzano” tomato back to 1770. According to popular belief, the seed of this type of fruit it was donated by the King of Peru to the King of Naples, who then decided to plant it in land corresponding to the current municipality of San Marzano sul Sarno, which is part of the territory ofAgro Nocerino Sarnese. In reality this story lacks any foundation.

There legend of the Peruvian King it is not reliable as at that date, Peru was still under the control of the Spain of the "conquistadors". Furthermore, no written document reports this version, corroborated solely by the oral tradition. So what do we actually know about the “San Marzano” tomato?

Il pomodoro San Marzano: l'oro rosso dell'Agro Nocerino-Sarnese
Ph. Gianfranco Pignataro

The red gold of Agro Nocerino-Sarnese

At the beginning of the 20th century, some texts were published describing this variety as the result of the combination of three types of tomatoes: "King Umberto“, “Fiaschella" And "Flask"(Other studies consider it instead a derivative of the local strain called"Lamp"). The success of the "San Marzano" is guaranteed by healthiness of the land where it is grown. The district ofAgro-Nocerino-Sarnese it is mostly covered with pyroclastic material of volcanic origin and has a lot of land deep e fluffy. To this aspect are added theair and the Mediterranean climate which contribute to the improvement of the "San Marzano".

The “San Marzano” tomato has a sweet and sour taste, a bright red color and is characterized by a typically elongated shape. Its chemical characteristics and its unmistakable flavor make it perfect in the kitchen. In the 1996 is awarded the recognition "PDO" of the European Union, however, referring to its transformations into "bald" And "peeled into fillets“.

Il pomodoro San Marzano: l'oro rosso dell'Agro Nocerino-Sarnese
Ph. Gianfranco Pignataro

The trade and production linked to this fruit constituted the fulcrum of the Agro's economy, so much so that it deserved the nickname of "red gold". Towards the beginning of the '900 the first conservation industries arise by Francesco Cirio. In the eighties, however, the crop underwent one strong reduction due to production choices. The "San Marzano" in fact needs one treatment and an attention that is badly reconciled with the needs of the market and the need to reduce production costs.

But in recent years there has been a revived interest in this product, thanks to a recovery action that starts from conservation of pure genetic lines. Today the "Consortium for the Protection of San Marzano Tomatoes from Agro Sarnese Nocerino” è l’organo preposto alla salvaguardia del “San Marzano” e al suo rilancio su base internazionale. Ciò ha contribuito al rinnovato success of this juicy type of tomato, demand now all over the world.


History of the San Marzano Tomato, Jason L Morrow,, January 2010.

San Marzano, the king of tomatoes, Luciano Pignataro,, July 2008


Gianfranco Pignataro

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