We’ve all dug out a recipe we want to make, only to find out we’re missing that one key ingredient. Tomato paste is a good example of something I don’t always have in the pantry.
I don’t want to drive to the store – what can I use instead of tomato paste? Here’s a look at the best substitutes for tomato paste.
Tomato Paste Alternatives
- Tomato sauce
- Tomato puree
- Canned tomatoes
- Fresh tomatoes
- Red peppers
- Green salsa
- Red wine and cornstarch
- Butternut squash
Before exploring each of these choices, there are a few important rules to remember about making substitutions.
- The first is that a substitution will provide a slightly different result than the original ingredient.
- The second is that the result you want may point the way to the substitution you choose.
- And third, if you need to add more of the alternative to achieve the same result as the paste, you may need to reduce the amount of liquid present in other ingredients in the recipe.
In the case of tomato paste, for instance, if you are looking for tomato flavor, you will want to look to one of the tomato-based subs. If the desired end result is binding or thickening, something like pureed squash may be an ideal choice.
Most people opt for tomato sauce or tomato puree as their first choice to replace paste. But it’s important to note the differences before jumping to decide.
Tomato Puree vs. Tomato Paste
Obviously, these are both made from tomatoes, but differences in preparation make them unique.
- Paste is made by simmering tomatoes slowly for several hours, giving them a thick, rich consistency with an intense tomato flavor. Often used in relatively small amounts for thickening or adding flavor, paste can make a dish taste like it has been cooking for hours.
- Puree is made by cooking tomatoes briefly to soften, and then processing them to create a thinner consistency than paste. Puree is often used as a base for sauces.
Tomato Sauce vs. Tomato Paste
Both are also made from tomatoes, with variations in preparation making them different. Tomato sauce is made by cooking tomatoes and then processing them; paste is like tomato sauce that’s been reduced until thick.
- Sauce tends to have an even thinner consistency than puree, and can be used as a base for pasta and other sauces.
- Paste will add intense flavor and color without excess liquid. It also thickens and binds and can be added to give a touch of “pink” color to a cream sauce.
Now that you’re armed with knowledge about paste and what it can imbue a dish with, let’s look at the alternatives to paste and any tips for making the switch.
Tomato Paste Alternatives
Tomato sauce is quite a bit thinner than paste, so if you opt for this as an alternative, you have two options.
First is to boil the sauce until it is reduced to the amount of paste you need. To do this, you will need to double the amount of sauce before simmering it.
The second option is to do a straight substitution, but you will also need about double the amount of sauce to replicate the results of paste.
If the recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of paste, use 2-3 tablespoons of sauce. You will then have to reduce the liquid called for elsewhere in the recipe by 2-3 tablespoons, or risk the dish being runny.
You can also increase the amount of time you simmer the recipe once all ingredients are added, to help thicken the dish.
Make sure you don’t use seasoned sauce, as that will change the flavor of your recipe.
Puree can be handled in a similar way to sauce as an alternative for paste. It can be reduced, again using double the amount of puree to create the paste. You can also do a straight substitution and reduce the liquid elsewhere in the recipe.
The same consideration holds true for puree – if using it instead of paste, don’t use a seasoned puree unless you’re prepared to have those flavors in your dish.
Canned tomatoes will also have to be reduced to use as an alternative. First, drain all the excess liquid from the tomatoes. Then, simmer in a saucepan until the tomatoes are reduced and thickened to a consistency like paste.
Once again, you will need about double the amount of tomatoes to create the right amount of paste.
Ketchup is a relatively easy substitution as it can be quite thick and can be reduced to create a thicker consistency. However, ketchup is seasoned and has sugar in it, so that may alter your decision.
You can make your own tomato paste from fresh tomatoes, but this will be a labor-intensive job just for a tablespoon or two of paste. It all starts with knowing how to ripen tomatoes.
To do this, dice tomatoes and simmer them in a pot with olive oil until the skins are peeling off. If possible, you need to get the skins off and eliminate the seeds, which can be done by pushing the tomatoes through a large-holed strainer or a food mill.
The pulp is then spread on baking sheets and reduced in the oven.
You can also cook the tomatoes, blend them, then reduce them in a pot, similar to canned tomatoes.
If you do opt for one of the choices that require reducing, you can season the alternative as you cook it down, providing additional flavor if desired.
These are particularly good for pasta sauces. To use peppers, slice them, roast them in the oven, and puree them.
If you’re making a dish that doesn’t require the red color of tomatoes, a good option is green salsa or “salsa verde.” It’s made from tomatillos or green tomatoes, so can provide tomato flavor without the color.
It’s a thinner consistency than paste, however, so you may have to reduce it or adjust liquid from other ingredients.
Red Wine And Cornstarch
This is an ideal substitute in a spaghetti sauce, because you will likely have other forms of tomato flavor among your ingredients. Add a few splashes of wine, for a rich flavor, and use cornstarch as a thickening agent.
Carrots are an interesting alternative to paste, particularly for those who have food allergies. To make “not tomato” paste from carrots, simmer chopped carrots and onions in oil in a saucepan, adding garlic if desired.
SEE ALSO: What is a Spanish onion?
Add a little water and vinegar, and if you want a reddish color, you can throw in some diced beets. Simmer for 20 minutes until the vegetables are tender. Throw the mixture in the blender and you have an original version of paste
Butternut squash is an ideal thickening agent. There are two options for using squash. If you don’t need the tomato color or flavor, you can roast the squash and puree it to create a thick replacement for paste.
If you do require tomato color and flavor, you can slice tomatoes and roast them with the squash, then puree them together to create a paste with a unique flavor and thicker consistency than tomatoes alone would provide.
You can also purchase and use canned squash puree. If you want some of the acidity of tomatoes, add a dash of vinegar.
Similar to butternut squash, pumpkin puree can be used as a replacement for tomato paste. You can roast the pumpkin or purchase canned pumpkin puree. Like squash, if you want some of the acidity of tomatoes, add a dash of vinegar.
As you get farther down the list, you are probably starting to think I have lost my mind! But for those who have allergies to the tomato family (known as nightshades), some of these options are perfect.
Rhubarb can be sliced and boiled down in a pan to make a delicious sauce. As it gets reduced, it will thicken to a paste-like consistency.
You can add spices or even other vegetables to vary the flavor, and you can blend it at the end if you want to adjust the consistency.
If you’re really in a pinch, there are a couple of other options, depending on what you’re making.
If it’s a barbecue sauce, a small amount of molasses can add flavor and moisture. In some recipes, such as Asian or Indian dishes, you could try peanut butter, which will serve as a thickening agent and provide a unique flavor pop.
There should be more than enough items in your pantry to give you options for replacing tomato paste, if you happen to find yourself without this flavor enhancer and thickener on hand.