Tomatoes and the Vitamin C Disappearing Act

Tomatoes naturally contain a good amount of Vitamin C. Even after heating and processing, products like salsa and pasta sauce should still retain a portion of their vitamin C. But this isn’t always the case.

So where did the vitamin C go?

Chalk it up to modernity.

So-called modern marvels, such as growing tomatoes in nutrient-poor soil or being able to pick unripe tomatoes and then ripen them in-transport, are in part to blame. Scientists also postulate that the use of pesticides, fungicides and herbicides may play a part.

When choosing tomato based products, even those that are processed should still have some vitamin C. Don’t be fooled by labels – organic tomatoes can be grown in sand and picked green. Conventional tomatoes can be grown in nutrient-rich soil and ripened on the vine. Sadly, it’s the imported tomato products have the highest levels of vitamin C, not USA tomatoes.

When buying a tomato-based product, aim for the following levels of naturally occurring vitamin C:

  • Fresh Tomatoes – 40% Vitamin C or more
  • Pasta Sauce, Canned or Boxed Tomatoes – 30% Vitamin C or more
  • Salsa – 10% Vitamin C or more

For more information on the topic, check out Barry Estabrook’s book, Tomatoland, or his blog Politics of the Plate.

  • The Candid RD

    Really wonderful point here. I don’t know if I’ve noticed any tomato products that don’t have vitamin C (or that lack the amount they should contain) but now I’ll be looking!

    I didn’t know that about organic and conventionally grown tomatoes….thanks for the info!

  • Paula Jakobs

    Ok, I just checked Emeril’s pasta sauce in my pantry and it has 0 vitamin C. :( My organic whole peeled tomato can has only 15% :( I guess I’ll be growing more tomatoes in my garden this spring so I can do some canning myself.

  • Carol H.

    Pasta sauce wouldn’t have that much regardless of the kind of tomatoes, when they were picked, etc., due to all the cooking/processing, which destroys most vitamin C. Fresh salsa is the only thing that might have a significant amount. There is a lot of incorrect vitamin C data on food product labels.

  • NY

    Honestly, I travell often and ate tomatoes overseas and can tell you they do taste better than USA tomatoes. Not sure about levels of C but being in different ny international destination I noticed that tomatoes and many other fruits and vegetables are much tastier especially along the Mediterranean Sea

  • BillyB

    It looks like green tomatoes have more vitamin C than red. Why would picking green result in decreased vitamins C?

    • Carol H.

      All unripe fruits have more vitamin C than when ripe, because vitamin C is very unstable. This is why the longer your fruit/veggies sit around the less nutritious they will be (and why processed, cooked, dried fruits, etc also have less vitamin C).

  • Dori Magleo

    it so masarap promise……..

  • Luis

    Ive always wondered this. I check the lables and see no or very little C. I do add onions, garlic, and a little bell peppers if i have them this way i increase my C by a little. Also spices usually contain some black pepper, oregano. Of course i understand adding these will probably only modestly increase Vit C.