Ingredient Intelligence

What Is Tomato Paste? Plus, How to Make It and Use It at Home.

published Aug 17, 2022
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Credit: Danielle Centoni

If you love saucy dishes like comforting Sunday sauce with pasta, hearty Greek moussaka, or carne guisada, then you know tomato paste is that one ingredient that adds a subtle burst of flavor to any meal, even if you only use a small amount. You can find quality tomato paste in a large squeeze tube, medium-sized jars, and, of course, in cans — and you can also make homemade tomato paste. If you’re like a lot of people, however, and are not a tomato expert, then you might have some questions, such as “What exactly is tomato paste?” Here’s everything you’ve wanted to know about this kitchen staple.

So, What Is Tomato Paste?

Tomato paste is a very thick and concentrated tomato sauce made from tomatoes that have been cooked for hours to extract their water content. The seeds and skins in these tomatoes get strained out and the liquid that is left behind is cooked further until it turns into an extremely viscous sauce. The mixture becomes so thick and concentrated that it’s no longer pourable.

What’s the Difference Between Tomato Paste and Tomato Sauce or Tomato Purée?

The main difference between tomato paste, tomato sauce, and tomato purée is texture. Tomato sauce and tomato purée still have a good amount of water content and are much thinner than tomato paste. Tomato purée is thinner than tomato paste, but thicker than tomato sauce.

Additionally, canned tomato sauce often has added seasonings, such as oregano, onion, and garlic. And because tomato paste is so concentrated, its flavor is much more powerful than sauce or purée.

Why Use Tomato Paste in a Recipe?

One of the main purposes of using tomato paste is to help build a rich tomato flavor and give an umami punch to a wide range of dishes. Using tomato paste in combination with tomato sauce, tomato purée, or canned tomatoes can go a long way in making a meal with multidimensional flavor.

And because it doesn’t contain a lot of liquid, tomato paste is great for adding flavor to dishes like meatloaf and sloppy Joes without making them watery. Tomato paste is also a great thickener for sauces, stews, and chilis.

Credit: Laura Rege

How to Use Tomato Paste in Recipes

Tomato paste is almost always great in any tomato-based sauce. It’s also a perfect addition to many stewed dishes as well as hearty meals that use beef, turkey, chicken, pork, fish, or tofu. Put your canned or homemade tomato paste to use with these tasty recipes.