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Food Hacks

Out of Tomato Paste? Swap in One of These 15 Substitutes for Rich Flavor In a Pinch

Save yourself a trip to the store!

There’s nothing more frustrating than starting to make your famous spaghetti sauce just to realize you’re missing a key ingredient — tomato paste. It’s a staple building block of flavor in so many recipes from pastas to stews, soups and more. “Don’t fret!” reassures Woman’s World Food Director Julie Miltenberger. “There are plenty of options that can be used as a tomato paste substitute that still add rich, umami flavor to your favorite tomato-based dishes like lasagna or pizza sauce.” Here, we share our 15 favorite tomato paste substitutes that you can try right now. So if you’re ever in a pinch, here’s how to get that great tomato flavor without using tomato paste.

1. Canned tomato sauce

Next time you find yourself out of tomato paste, consider reaching for a can of tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes. Both options are delicious and can replace tomato paste in pasta sauce recipes. The trick: When using canned tomato sauce, Italian marinara or crushed tomatoes as a tomato paste alternative, remember that they are thinner than tomato paste and may need to be cooked down to achieve the desired consistency. To do, simply simmer uncovered on low until it’s the right thickness.

2. Sun-dried tomatoes

Sun-dried tomatoes can create unique and flavorful sauces, spreads, salads and pasta dishes that transport your taste buds to the Mediterranean. “To use as a substitute for tomato paste, soak ¼ cup sun-dried tomatoes in ⅓ cup boiling water for five minutes,” Julie recommends. “Then puree softened tomatoes with a few tablespoons water until consistency of tomato paste.” When using sun-dried tomatoes, remember that their concentrated flavor can be intense, so start with a small amount and adjust to taste.

3. Tomato purée

Tomato purée is a useful substitute for tomato paste. It’s thicker than tomato sauce but thinner than tomato paste, making it a common choice for recipes that require a subtly thickened texture. Plus, it adds a subtle sweetness and depth of flavor that will complement any dish. While you can purchase tomato purée or a tomato passata from your local grocery store, you can also make your own — simply blend cooked tomatoes until they reach a thick purée-like consistency, and voila!

Pro tip: You may want to create a roux by mixing in a thickening agent like cornstarch to get the consistency just right.

4. Fresh tomatoes

If you need to add a bright, acidic flavor to your dish, reach for fresh tomatoes. Whether diced or pureed, these juicy gems can add a burst of flavor without the need for tomato paste. Remember, fresh tomatoes are high in liquid content, your dish may require extra cooking time to reach the desired consistency.

Pro tip: If you want to add a richer tomato flavor, cook your diced tomatoes over high heat with a few tablespoons of olive oil.

5. Tomato concentrate

If you’d like an intense, concentrated tomato flavor with no added sugar or preservatives, then making a homemade tomato concentrate is the way to go. All you need are a few ripe tomatoes, some garlic and herbs of your choice. Julie recommends you start by halving and seeding the tomatoes, then simply simmer all ingredients until you reach the desired thickness, mashing occasionally. Strain any excess liquid, and store in an airtight container. Your homemade tomato concentrate can be used in pasta sauces, soups and stews. Yum!

6. Tomato juice

Tomato juice is a great way to add a hint of sweetness and acidity to your dish. It has the same thickness as tomato sauce and can be used for a variety of recipes, from soups to casseroles. Plus, tomato juice is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals, making it a healthier option than canned tomato sauce. You can also use condensed tomato soup as a great substitute for tomato paste in a similar way to tomato juice — just use seasonings like oregano or red bell peppers to create a flavor like your favorite tomato paste brands.

Pro tip: Want to make your own tomato juice? Simply blend one cup of diced tomatoes with ¼ cup water and a pinch of salt.

7. Soy sauce

Though it might sound strange, soy sauce is an excellent tomato paste substitute. Its salty flavor profile adds depth to recipes and helps to enhance the umami taste that tomato paste provides. When substituting soy sauce, start with a little at a time and adjust to taste. Mix it with tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes for a milder flavor.

8. Tamarind paste

Tamarind paste is a popular ingredient in many Asian dishes. It’s thick, sweet and tart, making it an excellent substitute for tomato paste. Tamarind has been around for centuries and can add flavor to curries, soups, sauces and marinades. You can purchase tamarind paste from the international food aisle of your local grocery store or online. Just be sure to use it sparingly, as it has a much stronger flavor than tomato paste. (One brand to try: Pure Indian Foods’ Organic Tamarind Paste, Buy from iHerb.com, $9.89)

9. Miso paste

Miso paste is a traditional Japanese ingredient that’s made from fermented soybeans. It has a salty, umami flavor that pairs well with many dishes. It can also be used to thicken soups, sauces and marinades. Julie recommends pairing it with mushrooms for a double dose of earthy deliciousness. To use it in lieu of tomato paste, start with a small amount and adjust to taste — a little goes a long way. Often, miso is sold in the refrigerated section of your grocery store or you can order it online. (One brand to try: YUHO Organic Shiro White Miso Paste, Buy from Amazon, $12.99)

10. Roasted red peppers

Try roasted red peppers if you’re looking for a milder flavor than tomato paste. They also add a touch of sweetness and smokiness to your dish. Roasted red peppers can be used in place of tomato paste in sauces, stews and soups. Plus, they’re easy to make — roast whole bell peppers until slightly charred, then place in a bowl and seal tightly with plastic. Let stand for five minutes, then remove skins, core and seeds. Purée in a food processor or blender. 

Pro tip: If you’re using roasted red peppers as a tomato paste substitute, add some balsamic vinegar or Worcestershire sauce to give the dish an extra kick.

11. Ketchup

While not the most refined ingredient, ketchup can come to the rescue when you’re in a bind and need a quick tomato paste substitute. Its sweetness and tanginess can work well in recipes where tomato paste isn’t the star of the show, such as barbecue sauces or meatloaf.

When using ketchup as a tomato paste alternative, consider reducing any added sugar in the recipe to account for the sweetness of ketchup. Additionally, keep in mind that ketchup is thinner than tomato paste, so you may need to adjust the liquid content of the recipe accordingly.

12. Puréed carrots

Carrot purée is a surprisingly good substitute for tomato paste. It has a mild, sweet flavor and can thicken sauces, soups and stews. Carrots are also an excellent source of vitamins and minerals, making them a healthier alternative to tomato paste. To make puréed carrots, simply boil or steam some carrots until soft, then blend in a food processor or blender until smooth. Divide any extra carrot purée in ¼ cupfuls, wrap in plastic, and freeze for another use. 

13. Harissa

Harissa is a spicy and flavorful condiment that blends dried chilies, garlic, cumin and other spices. This North African staple can be added to a variety of dishes, from stews and soups to couscous and roasted vegetables. It has strong flavors, so start by adding a teaspoon at a time and adjust to taste. (One brand to try: Mina Mild Harissa, Buy from iHerb, $7.71)

14. Red wine

Red wine is a great way to add flavor and depth to many dishes, including sauces, stews, soups and more. Just a splash can do wonders when you need to replace tomato paste as a flavor booster, but it won’t have any thickening properties. Depending on the dish, you may opt for a full-bodied red like Cabernet Sauvignon or a more subtle varietal like Pinot Noir; extend cook time if you’d like the dish to thicken up a bit. 

Pro Tip: For an added flavor boost, consider using beef stock in combination with the wine.

15. Olive purée

Last but certainly not least, there’s olive purée — also known as tapenade. This puree is made from olives that have been cooked, mashed and blended with spices for a rich and flavorful result. It adds a Mediterranean twist to sauces, stews and other dishes instead of tomato paste. You can find olive puree at any grocery store or whip up a batch at home. To substitute this for tomato paste, simply sauté some onions and garlic in olive oil. Once the vegetables are browned, add olives and enough water to cover the ingredients. Simmer until the olives are soft, then blend them with spices and a bit of olive oil to create a thick puree.

Switch it up

Embracing tomato paste alternatives can open up a world of culinary possibilities and help elevate your cooking game. Whether experimenting with exotic flavors like tamarind paste or putting a Mediterranean spin on your dish with sun-dried tomatoes, these alternatives can add depth, complexity and variety to your culinary creations. So go ahead and spice up your cooking game with these exciting tomato paste substitutes — trust us, you’ll be glad you did!

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