What’s the Best Tomato Paste Substitute?

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Tomato paste is one of those ingredients that can be hard to keep stocked. When you're in a pinch, these are the best tomato paste substitutes to use.

I’d like to think I have a pretty well-stocked pantry. I keep all my staple foods in large plastic containers and the shelves are lined with homemade canned goods. On any given day, I can whip up a tasty dinner without too much thought—but the one ingredient I have a hard time keeping in stock is tomato paste. And I bet I’m not the only one. I’ve had to learn (the hard way) how to come up with the best tomato paste substitute.

The cure for running out of this pesky ingredient? Pick up a resealable tube of tomato paste, which will stay good in the refrigerator for months. Because when was the last time you actually used an entire can? (I’ll go first: almost never.) If you’re not on the tomato-paste-in-a-tube train yet, read on to find some stellar substitutes.

What Can I Substitute for Tomato Paste?

Tomato sauce or tomato puree

These canned products are the easiest tomato paste substitutes when you want to add tomato flavor to your dish without needing to thicken the recipe. Tomato sauce is slightly thinner than tomato puree, but either one will work. Because these products are less concentrated than tomato paste, you’ll need at least twice as much to get the same amount of tomato flavor when using them as a tomato paste substitute.

Running to the store right now? Our Test Kitchen put 11 tomato sauces to the test to find the best spaghetti sauce.

How much to use: Use 2 to 3 tablespoons of tomato sauce for every tablespoon of tomato paste. In recipes that call for large quantities of paste, simmer the sauce to reduce it by half before adding it to the mix.

When to use it: Use this swap in recipes that have a touch of tomato flavor, like Easy Slow-Cooker Chicken Ropa Vieja or Slow-Cooked Moroccan Chicken.

Canned tomatoes

A can of diced or stewed tomatoes works well as a tomato paste substitute when you want tomato flavor with a touch of thickening power. Because these products are typically packed in a lot of liquid, you’ll want to strain out the juice and only use the solids. Like tomato sauce, canned tomatoes aren’t as concentrated as the paste, so you’ll need to double the amount to get the flavor right.

How much to use: Use 2 tablespoons of strained canned tomatoes for every tablespoon of tomato paste.

When to use it: Use this swap when you don’t mind adding texture to your dish, like in Roasted Eggplant Spread or Southwestern Chicken & Lima Bean Stew.

Fresh tomatoes

Using fresh tomatoes as a tomato paste substitute is a bit tricky. Tomato paste is cooked down to concentrate its flavor, and even canned tomato products have the skins and seeds removed. To use fresh tomatoes as a substitution, you’ll need to do a little work. You can peel tomatoes three easy ways, but we found the easiest way to get rid of the seeds is with a food mill. Then, you’ll want to simmer the tomatoes until they reduce by half to remove the excess liquid.

How much to use: Use one large tomato for every tablespoon of tomato paste.

When to use it: Use this swap when you want a burst of tomato flavor, like in Corn Okra Creole or Smoky Quinoa with Mushrooms.

Ketchup

This is my least favorite of the substitutions, but it works in a pinch! It’s not quite as thick as tomato paste, but it’s much thicker than sauce or fresh tomatoes. Keep in mind that ketchup contains vinegar, sugar, and spices, so adding ketchup to your favorite recipes will certainly change their flavor profile.

How much to use: Use one tablespoon of ketchup for every tablespoon of tomato paste.

When to use it: Use this swap in recipes that might already be sweet and tangy, like Slow Cooker Sweet & Spicy Pulled Pork or Sweet ‘n’ Sour Ribs.

Tomato soup

I don’t love using tomato soup instead of tomato paste. It does have a similar flavor to tomato paste, but it’s sweeter and contains significantly more liquid. That can cause your recipe to turn out runny. If it’s your only option, go for it, but you’ll need to reduce the other liquid ingredients in the recipe.

How much to use: Add one 10.75-ounce can of tomato soup to your recipe, reducing the other liquid ingredients by 1/4 to 1/2 cup.

When to use it: Use this swap for recipes that are already made with a lot of wet ingredients, like Garden Vegetable Beef Soup or Mushroom Hunter’s Sauce.

How Do I Make My Own Tomato Paste?

For recipes that require the thickening power of tomato paste, the other substitutions on this list might not do. Luckily, it’s super easy to make your own!

You’ll Need:

  • 1 pound fresh paste tomatoes, or 1 can (14.5-ounce) of crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce

Yield: About 10 tablespoons (6 ounces)

Step 1: Remove seeds and skins from the fresh tomatoes

If you’re using canned tomatoes, move onto the next step. Otherwise, peel the tomatoes and run them through a food mill to remove the seeds.

Step 2: Blend until smooth

Place your tomatoes in a high-powered blender and puree until the mixture is super smooth.

Step 3: Simmer

From here, it’s all about removing the excess liquid. Place the blended tomatoes in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring the mixture to a light simmer, stirring frequently. As the water starts to evaporate, reduce the heat to low and continue stirring to keep the mixture from burning. Reduce the tomatoes until they’re a third of the original volume, about 2/3 cup.

Step 4: Store

Homemade tomato paste can last up to three to four weeks in the refrigerator. After the paste has cooled, place it into clean jars, cover the top with 1/8 inch olive oil and close the lid tightly. For longer storage, you can can and process the tomato paste in a water bath, or freeze tablespoon-sized portions in an ice cube tray.

Now that you’re a tomato paste expert, learn this tomato paste technique to pull the most flavor from that tiny little can.

Homemade vs. Store-Bought Tomato Paste

Making your own tomato paste might take time, but it’s totally worth it—especially if you can get your hands on farm-fresh tomatoes at the farmers market. Getting to choose the tomatoes makes a huge difference in the flavor profile of the tomato paste, as those flavors get concentrated as the paste cooks down.

For best results, look for meaty tomatoes like roma or San Marzano. Heirloom tomatoes contain more water, and while they create a delicious paste, they won’t yield as much final product.

How to Thicken Sauce Without Tomato Paste

Tomato paste adds a rich flavor and bright color to soups, sauces and stews, but it also helps to thicken the dish. Because it has a naturally thick consistency, it adds tomato flavor without increasing the liquid content. Of course, there are other ways to thicken sauce, including using a flour-based roux, adding a cornstarch slurry or reducing the sauce and letting the excess moisture evaporate. They won’t add tomato flavor, though, so you’ll want to keep that in mind when substituting other methods for tomato paste.

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Lindsay D. Mattison
After years of working in professional kitchens, Lindsay traded her knives in for the pen. While she spends most of her time writing these days, she still exercises her culinary muscles on the regular, taking any opportunity to turn local, seasonal ingredients into beautiful meals for her family.