In 2018 Ruth & I took a cruise that included the Panama Canal. We had lots of time on board and went to some cooking demonstrations. One dish the no-nonsense woman in charge made contained tomatoes, and I was surprised that she cut up actual Roma tomatoes for it. This seemed a waste of time. We used lots of canned tomatoes in cooking. After the demonstration I went up and asked her why she didn’t just throw in canned, diced tomatoes, and she said because of the calcium chloride.
My education about this additive had begun. Back home I began looking at canned tomato labels and realized that all brands with one exception contained calcium chloride. At the same time Ruth was beginning to develop what our doctor called acid reflux, and we noticed that every time she ate canned tomatoes she had a bad night. Was there a connection?
The humble tomato was first eaten by Aztecs about 1,300 years ago. It was introduced into Europe about the 16th century and became controversial. Brits thought tomatoes were poisonous, but Italians not only ate them, they began using them in several national dishes. They brought tomatoes to America, and it’s hard to think of many Italian/American dishes today that do not contain them.
Calcium chloride is used as a firming agent in canned vegetables. It’s also sprayed on roads to prevent weathering. Should humans be eating it? It has a salty taste and, we learned, can become for some an irritant that burns the esophagus if ingested. It’s usually prohibited in organic crop production and may cause gastrointestinal irritation and lead to a condition called Hyperealcaemia, whatever that is. Serious reactions to it can include abdominal and bone pain, depression, kidney stones, and for some abnormal heart rhythm and cardiac arrest. Ruth had suffered loss of sleep and burning but nothing more severe.
Since our research resulted in better sleep and fewer digestion issues, we stopped buying canned tomatoes containing calcium chloride even though we love San Marzano Pomodoro Cubetti (diced tomatoes). We now either cut up Roma tomatoes or use Pomi, Made in Italy chopped tomatoes in little boxes. This commercial product does not contain calcium chloride. This is the only brand we have found that does not contain it. Ruth has no trouble tolerating its use in cooking.
PS Is it ethical to donate canned tomatoes containing calcium chloride in collectible food bags?