Condiment

7 Tomato Paste Substitutes for Pantry Pasta Emergencies (& More!)

Just think "umami," and you're on the right track.

December 17, 2020
Photo by Jenny Huang

Tomato paste is having a moment. Made by boiling down tomato juice into smooth, concentrated form, tomato paste is absolutely packed with umami. Just a tablespoon can transform a braise, stew, or soup, imbuing it with an unplaceable but vibrant richness. Knead it into bread dough for a ruby-red pop, or add it to tomato sauce to make it even more tomato-y. The opportunities are endless, but this rich, sweet vermillion substance is just the kind of thing I’m constantly forgetting on my grocery runs. So if you’re staring down a recipe that calls for some paste and need a quick tomato paste substitute, we have your back.

Here are 7 tomato paste substitutes you probably have on hand:

DIY Tomato Paste

In essence, tomato paste is just crushed, reduced tomatoes. Though the stuff in a tube (or tiny can) is boiled for many hours from fresh tomatoes, you can achieve a similar result much quicker by starting with a can of crushed canned tomatoes or tomato puree. Measure out five times as much crushed or pureed as the amount of tomato paste you’ll need into a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a gentle simmer, stirring frequently, until reduced to a thick paste.

Canned (or Homemade) Tomato Sauce

Tomato paste adds richness, sweetness, umami, and, of course, tomato flavor to everything it touches. While tomato sauce is much less concentrated than tomato paste, and doesn’t have the same deep flavor profile that come from slow-cooking, it’s in the ballpark. And if you’re making a braise or stew that’s meant to cook down over several hours, the tomato sauce will have a chance to gain some of paste’s depth and richness as it simmers.

Fresh Tomatoes

To turn fresh tomatoes into tomato paste, cook them down, strain out the skins (and/or puree the flesh) and then cook down further until very thick.

Ketchup

A tempting substitute because of its similar color and viscosity, ketchup can work as a substitute in a pinch when replacing small amounts of tomato paste in recipes. Though it’s important to note that ketchup is seasoned with sugar and vinegar, and lacks the savory umami character of tomato paste. If substituting with ketchup, you can remove additional sweeteners like honey or sugar in the rest of the recipe.

Miso

Bear with me here. Miso may be from a different culinary universe than tomato paste, but think of them as long-lost cousins. Where tomato paste derives its rich umami character from tomatoes themselves (which are full of glutamic acid), and from the Maillard reaction, the flavor-chemical cacophony that erupts when amino acids are heated with reducing sugars, miso is umami-loaded by way of fermentation. Both pastes have a rounded sweetness and an earthy undertone. I always add a touch of miso when I make tomato sauce to give it that secret richness, and you should too. Be aware, of course, that miso tastes nothing like tomatoes, and will not lend tomato flavor to dishes.

Oyster Sauce

I’m really going out on a limb now, but seriously, what isn’t improved by a dash of thick, salty-sweet oyster sauce? Though most common in recipes of East and Southeast Asian origin, you can sub an equal amount of oyster sauce in place of tomato paste in braises and stews. But anticipate a darker color and less acidity as a result (and no tomato flavor, of course). As it’s made with oysters, it’s also important to note that this substitute won’t work for vegetarians.

Worcestershire Sauce

This peculiar blend of anchovy, vinegar, tamarind, onions, spices, is beloved around the globe for its sour-savory kick. (Again, vegetarians will want to abstain from this tomato paste alternative.) No one would mistake it for tomato paste, but it does contribute the umami and sour notes your dish may be missing in its absence. Add a few dashes to taste in braises or stews, and consider adding a pinch of sugar to compensate for the acidity.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“By the way, tomato paste tastes a little more like tomatoes than sun dried tomatoes (another favorite for Umami boosting) do, but not much.”
— Smaug
Comment

What do you reach for when you're out of tomato paste? Let us know in the comments.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Ellen
    Ellen
  • W J Freeman
    W J Freeman
  • Rosalind Paaswell
    Rosalind Paaswell
  • Smaug
    Smaug
  • AntoniaJames
    AntoniaJames
Sam is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn. Find more of his work at arecipefordisaster.org.

8 Comments

Ellen January 5, 2021
Have discovered a great tomato substitute for paste, sauce, chunks, salsas, curries.

It's Fuyu persimmon, both ripe and unripe. If I could only get them year-round.
 
W J. January 3, 2021
The obvious answer is crushed tomatoes plus a good helping of MSG. Tomato paste contains about 2% w/w glutamic acid.

If you're among the science challenged, who believes MSG is bad in some vague, unproven way do your homework with credible, peer reviewed science journals and not just hearsay on the Internet. Glutamic acid is one of the 20 essential amino acids that make up all our, animal and plant proteins. And its presence or absence makes up a large part of that savory, mysterious fifth flavor, i.e., umami.

To be sure tomato paste contains other things such as pectins, sugars and other flavor components. Here is one general analysis:

Tomato paste (per 100g)

Proxymates
Protein 4.32 g
Fat (total Lipids) 0.47 g
Carbohydrate, Total (by Difference) 18.91 g
Calories (energy) 82 kCal
Sucrose 0.3 g
Glucose 5.75 g
Fructose 5.85 g
Lactose 0 g
Maltose 0.28 g
Alcohol 0 g
Moisture 73.5 g
Caffeine 0 mg
Theobromine 0 mg
Energy (kilojoules) 343 kJ
Sugar, Total 12.18 g
Fibre, Total Dietary 4.1 g
Cholesterol 0 mg
Saturated Fat, Total 0.1 g

Minerals
Calcium 36 mg
Magnesium 42 mg
Phosphorus 83 mg
Potassium 1014 mg
Sodium 98 mg

Trace elements
Iron 2.98 mg
Zinc 0.63 mg
Copper 0.365 mg
Manganese 0.302 mg
Selenium 5.3 µg

Vitamins
Vitamin A (retinol) 0 µg
Beta Carotene (provitamin A) 901 µg
Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) 4.3 mg
Vitamin D (micrograms) 0 µg
Vitamin C 21.9 mg
Vitamin B1 (thiamin) 0.06 mg
Vitamin B2 0.153 mg
Vitamin B3 (niacin) 3.076 mg
Vitamin B5 0.142 mg
Vitamin B6 0.216 mg
Vitamin B11 (folacin) 12 µg
Vitamin B12 0 µg
Vitamin K 11.4 µg
Vitamin B9 (folic Acid) 0 µg

Amino Acids
Aspartic Acid 0.661 g
Glutamic Acid 2.11 g
 
Rosalind P. January 3, 2021
To be sure I always have tomato paste on hand, and because most recipes require only a relatively small amount, I freeze whatever is lef, in the can, well sealed with foil and plastic. It's a little work subsequently, to take out the tablespoon or two that are needed, but it's doable (scrape with a fork or chip it away with a table knife.) Tubes are also a way to keep tomato paste on hand, but it's much more expensive that way.
 
Smaug December 18, 2020
"Umami" has of course been known to and used by western cooks for centuries, but having found a name for it it's become something of a fad and as such is being badly overused, even in places (Bolognese sauce comes to mind) where it can be quite inappropriate. Professional chefs, whose main aim is to catch your attention, are quite fond of both buzzwords and anything that adds flavor, but more is not always better and it's easy to muddy up a dish with add ins like fish sauce or even tomato paste. By the way, tomato paste tastes a little more like tomatoes than sun dried tomatoes (another favorite for Umami boosting) do, but not much.
 
AntoniaJames December 17, 2020
Mushroom powder, which I get from nuts.com. It provides a terrific umami boost, even in quantities small enough not to make you notice the mushroom flavor. ;o)
 
Stephanie G. December 17, 2020
I rarely even buy tomato paste anymore. Ketchup usually works well with adjustments.
 
Rosalind P. January 3, 2021
Interesting possibility -- but ketchup is sweet, so, IMO, limited in applicability. On the other hand, a good substitute if some sweetness is what you're after.
 
Hannah December 17, 2020
I’ve used a balsamic reduction in my tomato sauce. Balsamic vinegar never disappoints me!