What’s the Best Substitute for Tomato Paste?

For some reason, tomato paste is one of those ingredients that's hard to keep stocked. Learn about what you can substitute for tomato paste in a pinch.

I’d like to think I have a pretty well-stocked pantry. I keep all my staple foods in large, plastic containers, and the shelves are lined with homemade canned goods. On any given day, I can whip up a tasty dinner without too much thought, but the one ingredient I have a hard time keeping in stock is tomato paste. And I bet I’m not the only one. When I’m out of the stuff, I’ve had to learn (the hard way) what to substitute for tomato paste.

The cure for running out of this pesky ingredient? Pick up a resealable tube of tomato paste, which will stay good in the refrigerator for months. Because when was the last time you actually used an entire can? (I’ll go first: almost never.) If you’re not on the tomato-paste-in-a-tube train yet, read on to find some stellar substitutes. For more cooking tricks, learn about these secret pantry ingredients that make your recipes better.

What can I substitute for tomato paste?

Tomato Sauce or Tomato Puree

If you just want to add tomato flavor to your dish and don’t need paste to thicken things up, look to these canned products. Tomato sauce is slightly thinner than tomato puree, but either one will work. Because these products are less concentrated than tomato paste, you’ll need at least twice as much to get the same amount of tomato flavor.

How much to use: Use 2 to 3 tablespoons of tomato sauce for every tablespoon of tomato paste. In recipes that call for large quantities of paste, simmer the sauce to reduce it by half before adding it to the mix.

When to use it: Use this swap in recipes that have a touch of tomato flavor, like Easy Slow-Cooker Chicken Ropa Vieja or Slow-Cooked Moroccan Chicken.

Canned Tomatoes

A can of diced or stewed tomatoes works well when you want tomato flavor with a touch of thickening power. Because these products are typically packed in so much liquid, you’ll want to strain out the juice and only use the solids. Like tomato sauce, canned tomatoes aren’t as concentrated as the paste, so you’ll need to double the amount to get the flavor right.

How much to use: Use 2 tablespoons of strained canned tomatoes for every tablespoon of tomato paste.

When to use it: Use this swap when you don’t mind adding texture to your dish, like Roasted Eggplant Spread or Southwestern Chicken & Lima Bean Stew.

Fresh tomatoes

Using fresh tomatoes is a bit tricky. Tomato paste is cooked down to concentrate its flavor, and even canned tomato products have the skins and seeds removed. To use fresh tomatoes as a substitution, you’ll need to do a little work. You can peel the tomatoes using one of these methods, and the easiest way to get rid of the seeds is with a food mill. Then, you’ll want to simmer the tomatoes until they reduce by half to remove the excess liquid.

How much to use: Use one large tomato for every tablespoon of tomato paste.

When to use it: Use this swap when you want a burst of tomato flavor, like Corn Okra Creole or Smoky Quinoa with Mushrooms.


This is my least favorite of the substitutions, but it works in a pinch! It’s not quite as thick as tomato paste, but it’s much thicker than sauce or fresh tomatoes. Keep in mind that ketchup contains vinegar, sugar, and spices, so adding ketchup to your favorite recipes will certainly change their flavor profile.

How much to use: Use one tablespoon of ketchup for every tablespoon of tomato paste.

When to use it: Use this swap in recipes that might already be sweet and tangy, like Slow Cooker Sweet & Spicy Pulled Pork or Sweet ‘n’ Sour Ribs.

How to make your own tomato paste

For soups and stews that require the thickening power of tomato paste, the other substitutions on this list might not do. Luckily, it’s super easy to make your own!

You’ll Need:

  • 1 pound fresh tomatoes, or 1 can (14.5-ounce) of crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce

Yield: About 10 tablespoons (6 ounces)

Step 1: Remove the seeds and skins from fresh tomatoes

If you’re using canned tomatoes, move onto the next step. Otherwise, peel the tomatoes using one of these methods and run them through a food mill ($50) to remove the seeds.

Step 2: Blend until smooth

Place your tomatoes into a high-powered blender and puree until the mixture is super smooth.

Step 3: Simmer

From here, it’s all about removing the excess liquid. Place the blended tomatoes in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring the mixture to a light simmer, stirring frequently. As the water starts to evaporate, reduce the heat to low and continue stirring to keep the mixture from burning. Reduce the tomatoes until they’re a third of the original volume, about 2/3 cup. Now that you feel confident in the kitchen, try these healthy ingredient substitutions you’ve never thought to use.

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Lindsay D. Mattison
Lindsay D. Mattison is a professional chef and a food writer. After graduating from Cascade Culinary school, Lindsay became the Executive Chef at Jackson's Corner in Bend, OR, from 2013 to 2016. Her genuine passion for food and sustainable food practices led her to find the farmer in herself. She lives in Durango, CO, where she enjoys the trials and errors of small plot farming. Lindsay is currently working on a cookbook that teaches home cooks how to craft beautiful meals without a recipe, tentatively titled "The Art of Bricolage: Cultivating Confidence and Creativity in the Kitchen."