Best Substitutes for Tomato Paste

You won’t always have tomato paste on hand for your sauce. Or maybe you don’t like the taste. Either way, we’re here to share with you some delicious and easy to use substitutes for tomato paste.

The tomato paste is usually needed to thicken sauces, to offer that beautiful and enticing color and also to add a bit of extra flavor to a dish. And since it’s always used in all sorts of dishes, it’s not uncommon for us to run out of it.

So if you don’t have any tomato paste on hand and you need to replace it in a pinch, here’s what you can use.

How to substitute tomato paste for tomato sauce

We’ll try to cover various alternatives below, some offering the same or similar taste, others going for the same consistency and others for a completely new experience.

See which one fits your dish best and enjoy!

1. Use fresh tomatoes or juice

fresh tomatoes as tomato paste substitute

This shouldn’t come as a huge mystery: you can substitute tomato paste with fresh tomatoes.

However, fresh tomatoes will usually need to be boiled a bit, have the skin removed and the pureed.

Alternately, if you have it on hand, some tomato juice or tomato puree will do the trick.

Remember that these are usually more liquid, so adjust the water/liquid requirements for your dish. Usually, 1 tablespoon tomato paste = 3 tablespoons tomato juice or puree.

2. Use canned tomatoes

If I’m extremely lazy, I just pop open a can and throw the tomatoes inside into whatever I’m cooking.

But you can simmer them in a separate pot until most of the liquid is gone (around 15 minutes on medium heat). You can do the extra step of straining them to remove the seeds and you will have your own, homemade tomato paste!

3. Use ketchup

While most people would frown on this, extreme situations could require extreme measures. And in most dishes, you can safely use ketchup instead of the tomato paste to prepare your dish.

Ketchup can be used as a substitute on a 1:1 basis, but do try to use a regular one: not too sweet, nor spicy otherwise your dish will get a different taste than intended.

4. Skip adding it!

If you only need to add a small quantity of tomato paste to your dish, if you don’t have it, you can substitute it with… nothing.

While this is clearly not the best option as the tomato paste is there to thicken your sauce and add some extra flavor, the truth is that you won’t really miss it especially if you are already using a lot of ingredients and seasoning.

So in most cases, if you don’t have the paste nor any of the substitutes, just skip it!

5. Use red pepper paste / Ajvar

I recently found this Serbian delight – Ajvar – and fell in love with it instantly. This is a paste made from red peppers but sometimes eggplant is added into the mix.

If you don’t have tomato puree, chances are you don’t have any red pepper paste (or Ajvar) on hand either… but this substitute is good for when you don’t want to use the puree.

The red pepper paste has a different taste, but one that usually works instead of tomatoes. It’s also think and yummy, adding just as much red color as tomatoes would, but also bringing extra delight to your senses.

Tip: Ajvar is so good that you can actually eat it as a spread on a slice of bread (or three).

6. Use olive tapenade

We’re sticking to completely different flavors. Olive tapenade is a good substitute for tomato paste – but have in mind that you’ll get a completely different taste if you use it.

That’s not really a bad thing in most cases, but you have to try it and see if you like it. Some don’t. Use a 1:1 ratio and see which side you’re in.

7. Use more spices

If you don’t have any tomato paste, nor any of the substitutes that we’re recommending and simply skipping it doesn’t sound like a good idea… load up on some extra spices!

Just adding a bit more salt, a tiny bit of extra oil and eventually a bit of sugar (which will make the dish less healthy) could compensate for the flavor.

But depending on what you’re cooking, you can add a ton of extra seasonings and spices, like dried oregano, basil, rosemary or whatever you like and works well with the dish you’re cooking.

8. Use heavy cream

If your main aim is getting the same thickness of your sauce, heavy cream is a perfect option. Of course, your dish will have a completely different color and taste, but in most cases heavy cream can be used as a tomato paste substitute or replacement.

Use a 1:1 ratio here.

Sure, if you’re making Bolognese sauce, the result will be something completely different in taste – but it won’t be bad!

The same goes for most other dishes. In some it might not work, in some you might hate it… but you can try it.

You can go the extra mile and add half a teaspoon of flour into the mix, to get an even thicker sauce. Use warm liquid from your dish in a separate bowl and mix the flour well, then add the heavy cream and mix some more before finally adding it to your dish.

Which brings us to…

How to thicken tomato sauce without tomato paste?

Tomato sauce

If adding heavy cream isn’t really your way of doing things, you can still thicken your sauce without using tomato paste, but using one of the following substitutes:

  • Boil some more: just let the whole dish simmer a bit more until the water evaporates. Easiest method that requires no ingredients.
  • Make some roux: in a pan, heat a tablespoon of oil or butter and add a tablespoon of flour. Mix well and add to your sauce. Or use the heavy cream method above
  • Use cornstarch: The result will be similar to using flour, but it’s easier to do. Simply add a bit of cornstarch into your sauce and mix it well. Add small amounts and let them cook for at least 5 minutes to see the effect – it’s easy to add more than needed and end up with a pudding.
  • Use pasta water: This obviously works only if you’re cooking pasta. But if you do – never throw away that water and use it instead for your sauces! It already has the starch from your pasta and will taste great and make your sauce thick and nice without tomato paste!

Now you know what you can use if you don’t have tomato paste on hand. You have various substitutes above – you’ll get the same taste and even texture using some of our recommendations, or just the thickness – depending on what you are aiming for and what you need/have on hand.

Either way, replacing tomato paste when cooking is fortunately relatively easy and we probably have something in our pantry to still get the job done… and do it well.

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