Today’s article is educational in many ways, but mainly we will be looking at the best tomato sauce substitutes you can use. We’ll also discuss some differences between popular tomato products and how you will need to adjust them to make a suitable substitute.
What are you replacing?
Before I dive into some alternatives for tomato sauce, it’s important to understand the difference between different popular tomato products. Why? Because each of these has a different texture, consistency, and even flavor. Therefore, they all technically have different functions.
Despite being substitutes for each other, you are still looking for the BEST substitute for tomato sauce. And, in order to get that, you need to know what you are replacing.
Let’s start with the first and most confusing one there is. Tomato puree and tomato sauce are NOT the same.
“Puree” is simply a blended form of fresh or cooked tomatoes. It doesn’t contain any seasoning ingredients or preservatives. Its consistency is very runny and shouldn’t be adjusted at all.
Tomato sauce, on the other hand, usually contains seasoning ingredients. Now, this doesn’t just mean that “ketchup” is tomato sauce. Most of the pasta sauces or pizza sauces you buy are in fact a type of tomato sauce as well. These sauces are also usually thicker or chunkier than puree, which is completely smooth and runny.
The reason their differences are important is that you will need to adjust the flavor and consistency of tomato puree if you use it as a substitute.
I’m not going to lie, this one makes me a little bit mad. For some reason, many write recipes that should contain tomato paste, but they call it tomato puree or tomato sauce. It’s NOT the same thing!
Tomato paste is a highly concentrated form of tomato puree. It has an incredibly bitter, savory, and tangy flavor. Because of its concentrated consistency, you only use a teaspoon or two in the recipes. It helps create a deeper flavor in your dish.
However, it does not contain nearly as much liquid as tomato sauce or puree does. So, to use this substitute for tomato sauce, you will need to make a lot of adjustments.
There are many different kinds of canned tomatoes, but none of them are necessarily tomato sauce. You get the canned paste, canned puree, canned chunky, diced, whole, halved, and canned tomato sauce.
So, always make sure that you know what you are buying in this can before simply using it.
What Can I Substitute? Choosing The Best Alternative
First, I would go for tomato sauce alternatives with similar tomato-like flavors. It’s easier to adjust their consistency than it is to recreate or replicate a natural tomato flavor.
Secondly, I would choose alternatives with a similar consistency. So, whole tomatoes wouldn’t be my go-to option when I have tomato puree or canned diced tomatoes instead.
And finally, you can also consider how you needed to use the tomato sauce. If it was simply in a stew, you can get away with a lot of options. But, if it was as a topping or a sauce, you may need to make your own from scratch or recreate it using other alternatives.
10 Best Tomato Sauce Substitutes
Finally, what you’ve all been waiting for! Here are the best substitutes for tomato sauce.
Keep in mind that some of these will work a lot better in some dishes than others. But I’ll guide you through everything you need to know. And if you still have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask me in the comments below.
1. Canned Diced Tomatoes
This is hands-down my number one choice, and here is why!
First, it’s very easy to find and usually affordable. You can find different sizes, and some are even flavored with herbs and spices.
Secondly, you can also buy whole, halved, chunky, diced, and chopped canned tomatoes. This makes it easy to adjust the consistency of the tomatoes to what you want. You can use chopped tomatoes as-is to create some texture in your sauce or stew, or you can blend them to make them smooth and creamy.
Furthermore, canned tomatoes give you a blank slate to work on. You can create any flavor that you’d like and adjust it to your liking.
So, why is it better than fresh tomatoes? Because they are already chopped and you can keep these in your pantry for years!
2. Tomato Paste
Next up, we have tomato paste. To use this tomato sauce substitute, you only have to use about 1 teaspoon per 1 cup of tomato sauce. You can use a little more if you’d like.
Tomato paste is incorporated into the dish when the onions and garlic are fried. You have to cook it a little for the savory flavor to shine through.
The only downside to this alternative is that you will need to increase the liquid in your recipe. So, if you needed 1 cup of tomato sauce, use 1 teaspoon of paste and add 1 cup of liquid after you’ve created the flavoring base.
This option won’t work great for tomato-based pasta sauces or toppings. But it’s amazing for stews, soups, and slow-cooking techniques.
3. Tomato Puree
When using tomato puree, you may need to thicken the liquid a little before using it as the recipe requires. This is especially important if you are making an actual sauce and not just adding flavored liquid to a stew.
You can make the puree thicker by either cooking it for a while over medium heat, or you can make a roux. You can also use cornstarch. If you use thickeners, just remember to boil the sauce to remove the starchy flavor and texture.
4. Fresh Tomatoes
Fresh tomatoes work in exactly the same way canned tomatoes do. You can adjust the consistency to your liking, alter the flavor, and play around with different textures.
The downside and why it’s not higher on my list is that it requires more work. You have to clean and chop the tomatoes.
5. Tomato Soup
Tomato soup is similar to pre-made tomato sauces like pasta sauces. Their consistency is just runnier and less textured. However, you can find different options.
If you do use tomato soup, remove about a quarter of what is called for in the original recipe. This will help add tomato flavor without making the consistency of your dish too runny.
6. Traditional Store-Bought Ketchup
This is a great tomato sauce substitute. But you have to make some big flavor adjustments to get rid of the sweetness these products have.
That’s very easy though. You can achieve this by adding more salt, spices, or a little bit of acid (lime juice, lemon juice, or vinegar).
The consistency is already pretty much what it needs to be. So you can use a one-to-one substitution for this alternative.
7. Bell Pepper Puree
If you don’t like tomatoes or have an allergy, this is the best non-tomato replacement for tomato sauce.
You can either pan-fry, roast, or bake the red bell peppers. Then, remove their skins and seeds and blend them until you are happy with the consistency.
The flavor won’t be as savory as what tomatoes will give you. But again, you can play around with spices and herbs to mimic tomato sauce as closely as you can. And a bonus is that these red capsicum peppers already give you the red color!
8. Marinara Sauce
I love a good marinara sauce! And you can buy a premade option to replace tomato sauce.
Many variations of this sauce can include capers, olives, and even wine. Make sure you know what to expect before chucking an entire batch in the dish.
Again, the consistency of this sauce is similar to that of tomato sauce. So you don’t need to adjust the quantity.
9. Tomato Juice
So, what makes juice different from puree? Well, the juice is usually strained to remove any fibers and pulp. This naturally makes it runnier than puree.
So, if you are using tomato juice, it’s best to use it in runny sauces and soups. Anywhere where you can easily adjust the flavor and consistency.
Again, you can use a roux or some cornstarch to make a thicker end product. I do not recommend trying to reduce the juice by cooking it. It will take way too much time!
10. Beet And Carrot Puree
My final tomato sauce substitute of the day is another non-tomato-based one – just in case you don’t like red bell peppers either.
To make this option, you can roast or boil the beets and carrots. Then, blend them together and adjust the consistency and flavor as needed.
These options will give you a lot of range for seasoning. But keep in mind that the beetroot will make everything purple.