Tomato paste is a must for adding depth, thickening, coloring and enriching the flavor of tomato sauces, soups and stews. Usually only a small amount of tomato paste is required for a recipe, and often the rest gets thrown away before another opportunity arises to use it.
When you realize you've got no tomato paste on hand, there are some great alternatives that can be used. Let us help you maneuver your way around the kitchen when you're in a pinch!
Here's our favorite tomato paste substitutes.
What is Tomato Paste?
Tomato paste is essentially tomatoes in their most concentrated form. Fresh tomatoes are boiled down for hours to reduce water content, blended into a purée, strained of seeds and skin, and boiled down again to form a thick, dark red tomato concentrate.
Traditionally, tomato paste is made in Sicily, Souther Italy and Malta by spreading a thick tomato sauce onto wooden boards, and letting them sit in the hot summer sun to dry. It's then scraped up into a dark, thick ball of extremely potent tomato paste.
Pastes usually come in a small can, but are also found in tubes (which are better for long-term storage). Usually no more than a tablespoon is needed in a recipe, as the concentrate is very strong and adds the unique umami flavor found in tomatoes. It is generally added at the beginning of the cooking time, so as to fully sauté and achieve caramelization.
Overall, tomato paste is an incredibly versatile kitchen staple that makes a great thickening agent with a deep, intense, rich tomato flavor.
1) Canned Tomatoes
If you don't have a can of tomato paste on hand, it's possible you have some canned tomatoes! Depending on what form they're in, you will want to strain your canned tomatoes as much as possible before use, and then slowly heat and mash or blend them into a purée.
If you have some extra time and want to thicken your tomatoes to even further resemble paste, a flour or cornstarch slurry can be slowly added until desired thickness is reached.
Similarities: Flavor, touch of thickening power, color
Suggested Conversion: 2 tablespoons canned tomatoes for 1 tablespoon tomato paste
Flavor Notes: sweet, fresh, fruity, acidic
Suggested Dishes: sauces, soups, chilis, stews
2) Tomato Passata
Tomato Passata is essentially uncooked Italian tomato purée that has been strained of skins and seeds; tomato sauce in it's rawest form. It tends to differ from American tomato purée brands, which are often more cooked-down and have a sweeter flavor.
Passata is typically canned with the most flavorful, in-season tomatoes, so the flavor is fresh and strong, making it a great alternative to tomato paste.
Similarities: texture, flavor, color
Suggested Conversion: 1:1
Flavor Notes: bright, fresh, rich
Suggested Dishes: sauces, soups, stews, pizza sauce
3) Tomato Sauce/Purée
Tomato sauce typically has added seasonings, salt and oil, but can be used as an alternative if it's what you have on hand. If you have a "pure" tomato sauce or purée, this can be substituted for tomato paste with quite a good outcome.
Tomato purée tends to have less additives than a tomato sauce (making it the better alternative), but is slightly less thick than tomato paste. If you are looking for more thickening power, you can heat your tomato sauce or purée and slowly add a thickening agent such as a flour or cornstarch slurry.
Similarities: flavor, color, slight thickening power
Suggested Conversion: Use 2-3 tablespoons tomato sauce for every 1 tablespoon tomato paste
Flavor Notes: sweet, mild, fresh
Suggested Dishes: salsa, hot sauce, marinara sauce, pizza sauce
Although ketchup usually contains added sugar, vinegar and spices, it can be a substitution for tomato paste, depending on the recipe. Ketchup is not as thick as tomato paste, but it's thicker than tomato sauce or fresh tomatoes. Keep in mind, depending on what brand of ketchup you use, it will alter the flavor profile of your dish.
Different ketchup brands add varying seasonings and spices such as onions, allspice, coriander, cloves, cumin, garlic, and mustard, and sometimes include celery, cinnamon, or ginger. Make sure to taste your ketchup before adding it to a recipe, as they can really differ in flavor.
Similarities: Taste (somewhat)
Suggested Conversion: 1:1
Flavor Notes: sweet, tangy
Suggested Dishes: marinade for meats, anything "sweet and sour," pizza sauce
5) Whole Fresh Tomatoes
If the only tomato product you have lying around is whole tomatoes, you can use them in your recipe, but it will take some work.
The skins and seeds must be removed and then the tomatoes must be boiled down until the liquid is reduced by half. If your end product is too bitter for your taste, ¼ teaspoon baking soda can be added to neutralize acidity. Alternately, a teaspoon of butter melted in can help.
Suggested Conversion: 1 large tomato is needed for every tablespoon tomato paste
Flavor Notes: sour, tangy
Suggested Dishes: where you want a burst of tomato flavor, sauces, soups and stews
Frequently Asked Questions
How Can I Thicken Tomato-Based Sauce?
If you are making a tomato-based sauce and tomato paste is requested for its thickening powers, there are other ways to thicken your sauce if you don't have any paste on hand.
There you have it! Our favorite tomato paste swaps. Keep in mind, nothing will replace tomato paste perfectly. Substituting effectively will take time and experience.
We hope we've made the learning process easier!
If you have any questions or comments, don't hesitate to leave a note below.