The 4 Best Tomato Paste Substitutes

updated Sep 14, 2022
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A tube of tomato paste on a wooden cutting board
Credit: Joe Lingeman

A can or tube of tomato paste might not be something you think of as a pantry luxury. But tomato paste is an essential ingredient in some of our favorite recipes: sloppy Joes, mushroom ragù, and more. It makes tomato sauces more robust and gives tangy balance to creamy cheese sauces with just a tablespoon. We love keeping it on hand to boost tomato sauces and more. Because we’re prone to opening a can and then freezing the remainder for future use, we often assume that tomato paste is always on hand.

Turns out, many home cooks run out and could use a tomato paste substitute from time to time. Luckily, tomato paste can be replaced pretty readily by its tomato brethren — both canned and fresh tomatoes can step in when you’re out of paste, as can some other pantry staples.

Here are the four best substitutes for tomato paste when you don’t have a can or tube on hand.

Credit: Maria Do

1. Tomato Sauce or Purée

Both tomato sauce and tomato purée can be pinch hitters in recipes where tomato paste is used for flavoring. Substitute 1 tablespoon tomato paste with 2 tablespoons tomato purée or tomato sauce and the reduce the other liquid in the recipe by 2 tablespoons.

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2. Canned Tomatoes

Got a can of diced or whole tomatoes in the pantry? You can use their liquid as a substitute for tomato paste. Substitute 2 tablespoons of strained canned tomato liquid for every tablespoon of tomato paste a recipe calls for, again reducing the liquid in the recipe accordingly.

Credit: Kara Whitten

3. Fresh Tomatoes

Tomato paste is made by cooking down fresh tomatoes, so it totally makes sense that you can use whole fresh tomatoes in place of tomato paste with a little bit of elbow grease. You’ll need one medium tomato for every tablespoon of tomato paste. Mash or blend the tomato, and then cook it for about 10 minutes to concentrate the flavor.

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4. Ketchup

Tomato ketchup has the body and robust flavor of tomato paste with a bit of added sugar and seasoning, so it makes a great substitute for tomato paste in cooking. You can swap tomato ketchup one-for-one for tomato paste!

Credit: Danielle Centoni