tomato sauce substitute

What Can I Substitute for Tomato Sauce?

Tomato sauce forms a base ingredient for a great variety of savory dishes from pizza, pasta, and pork, to chicken, stew, meat, and fish dishes. This versatile sauce brings texture and loads of flavor. 

If you are in the middle of cooking dinner and realize there’s no tomato sauce in the pantry, there are a number of tomato-based substitutes that can be used instead. In this guide, you’ll discover the best tomato sauce substitutes and what unique properties each alternative can bring to your dish.

What is Tomato Sauce?

Tomato sauce can be purchased ready-made in most grocery stores. It is available in natural or seasoned varieties containing herbs, spices, or other added ingredients such as onions and garlic. It  is made by cooking fresh tomatoes until they break down and reduce into a medium-thick sauce. The seeds and peels are then strained or blended for a smoother consistency. 

The sauce can be used as-is in pasta dishes since it is much less concentrated than tomato puree or paste. It also forms a base for stews and soups. Ripe tomatoes are naturally sweet so look for a brand that does not contain added sugar when purchasing ready-made tomato sauce. 

Best Alternatives for Tomato Sauce

#1. Tomato Paste

Tomato paste is an ideal tomato sauce substitute and has a highly concentrated flavor. You will need to dilute the paste to get the right consistency and flavor balance.

Substitute quantity: Combine equal parts of tomato paste with water and mix well. For an authentic tomato sauce flavor, cook finely chopped onion and garlic in a little oil. Add the tomato paste and water mix and heat everything together seasoning with salt, pepper, herbs or spices to taste.

Best used in: Stews, slow-cooker meat or chicken dishes, and pasta.

#2. Canned Tomatoes

Canned tomatoes provide a great thickness and intense tomato flavor to dishes. They do come packed in a lot of liquid. Whether you are using whole, stewed, diced, or crushed tomatoes you will need to drain off the liquid first. 

Once drained, blend the tomatoes in a food processor or blender. If the processed tomatoes seem too wet, drain off more liquid, or cook them down to thicken without losing flavor. Some canned tomato products have additional seasonings. Taste the blended mixture and season to taste with salt, pepper, oregano, basil, or other spices.

Substitute quantity: 

  • You will need two tablespoons of canned tomatoes for every tablespoon of sauce required in your recipe. 
  • If you have made your own sauce by blending, seasoning, and cooking down the drained canned tomatoes, substitute the canned tomato mixture measure for measure.

Best used in: Any dish requiring tomato sauce. Reduce the mixture further for a thicker consistency that can be spread on pizza.

#3. Tomato Juice

You can juice or blend fresh tomatoes as a substitute for tomato sauce that doesn’t contain preservatives or additives. Juice the tomatoes in a juicer or blend them using a food processor. Saute some finely chopped onion and garlic in a little olive oil. Add the tomato juice and pulp to the pan and reduce to the desired consistency. Season with salt, pepper, a pinch of sugar, herbs, or spices according to taste.

Substitute quantity: 

  • If you are using fresh juice, replace ½ cup tomato sauce and ½ cup water with 1 cup of freshly juiced or blended tomatoes.
  • If you have reduced your tomato juice by heating it as per the above-mentioned method, replace it cup for cup.

Best used in: Most recipes that require tomato sauce. Be careful when using raw juice as the consistency will be much thinner and not suitable for pizza, dips, toppings, or spreads until it has been reduced or thickened.

#4. Tomato Soup

Using tomato soup is a quick and easy way to substitute sauce without having to do extra preparation or cooking. Tomato soup is slightly sweeter so you may need to adjust your recipe with spices or a little salt.

Substitute quantity: When using canned tomato soup to substitute tomato sauce  in your recipe, cut back on the other wet ingredients to accommodate the extra liquid from the soup. This will prevent your sauce from being too runny.

Best used in: Spaghetti, stews, and chili.

#5. Ketchup

Using ketchup is another very convenient alternative. Since it contains vinegar, sugar, and spices already, using too much of it can alter the flavor of your dish.

Substitute quantity: One tablespoon of ketchup per one tablespoon of tomato sauce.

Best used in: Sauces, marinades, pulled pork, and ribs.

#6. Homemade Tomato Sauce

Although this method takes a little more time, it provides an authentic home-cooked tomato sauce flavor perfect for pasta, chicken, and fish dishes.

To make your own tomato sauce without using any canned or processed ingredients you will need:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ finely chopped onion
  • ½ carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 finely chopped small stalk of celery, including the leaves
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tbsp basil leaves, chopped (or ½ tsp dried basil)
  • 1 ¾ pound fresh tomatoes chopped (peel and deseed if desired)
  • Salt and black pepper to taste

Cooking method:

  1. Heat the olive oil and cook the chopped onion, carrot, celery, and parsley on low heat for 15 to 20 minutes until softened.
  2. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds.
  3. Add the chopped tomatoes with their juice, basil, salt, and pepper. Simmer uncovered until thickened for approximately 15 minutes.
  4. If you did not peel or deseed the tomatoes beforehand you can puree your cooled sauce in a blender for a smoother consistency. Do not blend while piping hot. 

FAQ

How long can you keep homemade tomato sauce?

Homemade tomato sauce will last 3-5 days in the refrigerator. Alternatively, you can freeze the sauce for up to three months.

How can you tell if tomato sauce has gone off?

Tomato sauce that has gone bad will have an off odor and odd, sour taste. Any sauce showing signs of mold should be discarded straight away.

Can you leave seeds in tomato sauce?

It is recommended to leave the seeds in during cooking since a lot of the tomato flavor is contained in the center pulp and gel around the seeds. For the best flavor use whole, unpeeled tomatoes and blend it once cooked for a smooth consistency. 

Conclusion

Tomato sauce pairs well with a variety of meats and vegetables in worldwide cuisine. If you have run out of store-bought sauce there are many alternative options. The replacement you choose will depend on whether you need something quickly or have extra time to spend cooking a sauce from scratch. 

Replacements such as ketchup and tomato paste have a strong flavor. They are best used in smaller quantities and added to other ingredients so they don’t overpower your dish. The great thing about tomato sauce is that you can be creative and adjust it completely to your preference by adding herbs, chili, garlic, and other spices you enjoy.

tomato sauce replacement

*image by bhofack2/depositphotos

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