Almost everyone has found themselves in a situation where they're in the middle of making a recipe and realize they don't have one of the ingredients needed to finish. If you find yourself in a predicament like this, take heart. Most things can be substituted for something else. You just need to figure out what the desired effect of the original ingredient is and how you can simulate it with something else. Who knows? You might find a better way to make the recipe in the process.
What Is Tomato Paste?
Tomato paste is different from tomato sauce that has been cooked. And tomato puree is simply a processed version of very briefly cooked and softened tomatoes. Tomato paste is the reduction of tomatoes that have been slow-cooked for hours to achieve a thick, flavorful consistency that's used to add depth of flavor and thickness to dishes that call for tomato flavor.
Tomato paste is used in a variety of cultures' recipes, from Italian to Mexican to Thai cooking. Anytime there's need of a strong tomato flavor, tomato paste can be used. If you're cooking a recipe calling for tomato paste, but find that you are out of it, it can be especially frustrating, since tomato paste is usually only called for in small amounts.
Tomato paste is one of those ingredients that you don't always have on hand, but that you may not realize you're out of until you find yourself in the middle of a recipe. Fortunately, tomato paste is easily substituted with any number of other tomato products that you are likely to have on hand, including tomato sauce or reduced tomato puree.
What Can You Substitute for Tomato Paste?
When substituting any ingredients, think about the end product. What is the tomato paste going to do for the dish? Is it going to add thickness? Is it there to add a dash of tomato flavor? Is it simply going to bring a savory, tangy acid to the recipe? Once you've narrowed down the reasons for adding tomato paste in the first place, you can decide on the most appropriate substitute.
Tomato sauce is generally the most popular substitute. This is because tomato sauce is basically just a less-concentrated form of tomato paste. Tomato paste has less moisture than tomato sauce, but thickness can be achieved by cooking the tomato sauce down until the liquid evaporates and you're left with a thick paste, not unlike tomato paste itself.
Tomato sauce may not have as much salt as tomato paste does, but you can add it to taste depending on the purpose of using the ingredient. Taste as you reduce the sauce, stirring gently. While keeping an eye on it to make sure that it thickens properly, also take care that the liquid doesn't reduce so much that the sauce burns.
Other Substitutes for Tomato Paste
Tomato puree is another helpful substitute for tomato paste. Puree is a lightly cooked blend of softened tomatoes. It's thinner and more liquid than tomato sauce, calling for a further reduction in volume to achieve the desired consistency. If you can't reduce the puree enough before you''ll need to use it, simply do a straight substitution, but plan to reduce liquids elsewhere in the recipe. For example, if you need 2 tablespoons of tomato paste and 1/4 cup of water, substitute 2 tablespoons of tomato puree and add less water.
Ketchup is another possible alternative to tomato paste, although it does have added sugar. Check your recipe to see if it makes sense to substitute ketchup and compensate by reducing the sugar somewhere else in the recipe.
Ashley Friedman is a freelance writer with experience writing about education for a variety of organizations and educational institutions as well as online media sites.