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4 Tomato Paste Substitutes for Sauce, Soup and Beyond
Photo: Liz Andrew/Styling: Erin McDowell

You’re ready to fire up the oven and make your grandmother’s recipe for lasagna with delicious homemade sauce when…crap. You forgot to buy tomato paste at the grocery store. Do you really have to go all the way back to buy one of those tiny cans? Nope. Here are four substitutes for tomato paste—and one foolproof way to make it at home.

But first, what is tomato paste, exactly?

You know it’s tomatoey. And, uh…pasty. But besides that, you’ve never really thought about what goes into making tomato paste. Well, it’s actually a highly concentrated version of tomato sauce—that’s why it turns into a soupy liquid when you add water. It’s made by chopping up tomatoes, removing the skin and seeds, and cooking it until it reduces and becomes dark red and thick. How much does it reduce? Well, you’ll need about ten pounds of tomatoes to make 20 ounces of tomato paste. That’s why most people just buy it at the grocery store rather than making it from scratch.

But not all store-bought tomato paste is created equal. If you’re buying it ready-made, it’s best to stick to plain tomato paste rather than one that’s flavored with other seasonings, like basil—just use the paste and add fresh or dried basil to the dish yourself, because it will be more fragrant and flavorful that way. We’re partial to Amore tomato paste, which is sold in grocery stores and online, is a product of Italy and comes in a convenient squeeze tube, so you don’t have to worry about covering that little mini can with tin foil and the forgetting about it in the back of the fridge for three months.

Can I make my own tomato paste at home?

Yes, you can totally make tomato paste at home. It’s not hard, but it is time consuming and you will need several pounds of tomatoes. There’s no one right way to make tomato paste—some recipes suggest whirring the tomatoes in a blender before simmering, and some suggest simmering on the stove until it’s reduced by half and then spreading the mixture on a baking sheet to pop it in the oven to further reduce. Some add olive oil, basil, oregano and other seasonings. But the simplest way to do it?

  1. Quarter the tomatoes
  2. Remove the seeds and skin
  3. Simmer them on the stove with a tablespoon of olive oil until it reaches the consistency you like (this can take up to six hours).

But let’s say you’re out of tomato paste and don’t have ten pounds of tomatoes on hand (or six hours to spare). What do you do?

4 substitutes for tomato paste

1. Ketchup.

OK, hear us out: Ketchup might not have the same thickness as tomato paste, but it is a bit thicker than tomato sauce and can add a touch of tanginess because it contains vinegar and sugar. Try it in recipes that don’t rely on tomato paste exclusively as a thickener, like chili. Because ketchup is thinner and has more water than tomato paste, you might need to reduce your dish on the stove for longer than usual to get it to the right thickness. Swap in 1 tablespoon of ketchup for every tablespoon of tomato paste the recipe calls for.

2. Tomato sauce.

For some dishes (like these adorable cauliflower-crust breakfast pizzas), crushed tomatoes and tomato paste are combined to create a sauce. You can skip both of these ingredients and use an ingredient that does the work for you: a store-bought tomato sauce. Just remember that the recipe won’t be nearly as thick as it would if you had used tomato paste, and might need some extra time to reduce on the stove. But if you’re looking for tomato flavor without the thickness, sub in 3 tablespoons of tomato sauce for every tablespoon of tomato paste.

3. Crushed tomatoes.

Don’t have six hours to make tomato paste from scratch, but still want a bit of that flavor and thickness? Open a can of tomatoes, strain out all the liquid to make it as thick as possible and then mash it with a spatula as it cooks. This quick pantry pasta from Half Baked Harvest would taste delightful with some extra crushed tomatoes swapped in for the paste, don’t you think? Start with 2 tablespoons of crushed tomatoes for every tablespoon of tomato paste, then adjust according to taste and thickness.

4. Pureed red peppers.

Let’s say you’re cooking a dish that calls for tomato paste to provide a pop of flavor, but tomato isn’t a crucial flavor that needs to be included in the dish. (Vegetable tagine with fluffy couscous, for example.) Grab a jar of roasted red peppers—or roast them yourself, if you’re so inclined—then remove the skin and stick them in the food processor. Puree the red peppers until smooth, then add the puree to your recipe. It’s not going to add the exact same thickness to the dish, but it will create a depth of flavor that will have your guests trying to guess the secret ingredient. Use 1 tablespoon of red pepper puree for every tablespoon of tomato paste.

Ready to cook? Here are 5 recipes you can make with tomato paste

Italian Pinwheels
Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup Casserole
Cheater’s Slow-Cooker Beef Bourguignon
Cheater’s Skillet Paella
One-Pot Orecchiette Ragu

RELATED: 30 Dinners You Can Make with a Jar of Tomato Sauce

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