Tomatoes—cooked, raw, fresh, canned—which is more nutritious?

The post explores which types of tomatoes have more disease-fighting lycopene and Vitamin C.

Jo Robinson explains in her book, Eating on the Wild Side, that

Tomatoes, like a few other fruits, are better for you cooked than raw. In fact, the longer you cook them, the more health benefits you get.

Cooking tomatoes for 30 minutes more than doubles the level of lycopene, an antioxidant. What’s more fascinating is that canned tomatoes (including the pastes and sauces) have more lycopene than plain cooked tomatoes. The reason for this is the amount of heat applied for canning makes the lycopene more bioavailable, and I would assume that this would also apply to the process for storing tomatoes in glass jars.

Not only are canned tomatoes higher in lycopene, but they are also more flavorful because the tomatoes are picked at the peak of ripeness and processed immediately. Tomatoes from the grocery store, on the other hand, are picked two weeks before turning ripe and then force-ripened with ethylene gas. Force ripening makes the tomatoes less sweet and more acidic than tomatoes that ripen under the sun, thereby losing much flavor.

Robinson explains that tomatoes with the darkest red color have the most lycopene. Smaller, dark-colored tomatoes also have more lycopene and Vitamin C per ounce. Smaller tomatoes have more flavor than larger tomatoes as well. Also, research has shown that the variety of the tomato has more influence on nutrition than whether or not it is organic.

The takeaway:

  • Cooked is more healthful than raw because it has more absorbable lycopene.
  • Canned/jarred is more healthful than home-cooked.
  • Sun-ripened is more flavorful than force-ripened.
  • Tomatoes with darker red color and smaller size have more nutrition.
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2 thoughts on “Tomatoes—cooked, raw, fresh, canned—which is more nutritious?

  1. My brother has been talking up tomato paste as a great thing to add to sauces to bring that umami flavor in so its great to know its adding antioxidants too. How do you pick a good brand from the grocery store? What should u look for on the label?

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    • I choose organic, though tomatoes are not a highly sprayed crop. Tomatoes in a glass jar are preferable to avoid the BPA from the inner lining of the tin can. (I’ve never seen tomatoes packed in BPA-free cans). Choose any brand whose ingredients are just tomatoes.

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