Oh no! You say you don't have tomato paste and need a substitute – quick!? If your pantry looks more like Old Mother Hubbard’s bare cupboard than you’d like, these tomato paste substitutes will save your stews, soups, sauces, and sanity. 

Tomato paste substitute in a jar next to tomatoes and parsley, from Shelf Cooking

We’ve all been there…stirring up a delicious dinner when we reach into the cupboard and find we're missing an important ingredient. What to do? Well, some people might run to the store to buy it. But not us (cue superhero music)! We are SHELF COOKERS and we find a way! #ShelfCooking means we come up with a handy substitute to save the day AND supper. 

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If you’ve ever made a stew, tomato-based soup, pasta sauce, or pizza sauce you’ve probably worked with tomato paste before. If you find yourself short an adorable little can of tomato paste, read on to find out some helpful and creative tomato paste substitutes. 


Tomato paste in two small condiment cups, from Shelf Cooking

Before we dive into good tomato paste substitutes, it's helpful to understand the difference between all those crazy canned tomatoes you see down the canned foods aisle. 

  • Tomato Paste (smallest can, thickest consistency) Think of tomato paste as a super-concentrated form of tomatoes. Tomato paste is made from cooking A LOT of tomatoes, straining out the skins and seeds, and then cooking the tomatoes a second time. The resulting paste has an intense tomato flavor similar to dried tomatoes. 
  • Tomato Puree (medium can, medium thickness) – Tomato puree is made from lightly cooking the tomatoes and then pureeing them. It has a more fresh and mild tomato taste. 
  • Tomato Sauce  (many sizes of cans, runniest consistency) – This is the thinnest form of canned tomatoes. It is made from chopped tomatoes cooked down and simmered until they lose that raw tomato flavor. You will often find tomato sauce flavored with herbs and spices. Think of it as more of a “ready to use” product.

You can easily swap these out for each other within your recipes. Don't worry, we'll walk you through how to do it!


Tomato paste is an ingredient often used in recipes for sauces, stews, and soups. It adds an intensity of tomato flavor without adding a lot of liquid. It also helps to thicken things up.


Now that we know a little more about canned tomato products, we're ready to #ShelfCook and use creative substitutions for tomato paste. Here are several options: 


If you’re seeking that concentrated tomato flavor of tomato paste, you can cook down tomato puree or tomato sauce. For every tablespoon of tomato paste needed, bring double the amount of tomato puree or sauce to a boil and then simmer until it has reduced by half. Make sure to watch your pan closely – nobody has time for burned tomato sauce!


Short on time? No problem! You can simply reduce the liquid in your recipe by 2-3 Tablespoons (add less of another liquid component in your recipe, like chicken broth). Then add 2-3 Tablespoons of either tomato puree or tomato sauce for every 1 Tablespoon of tomato paste. 


Diced or stewed tomatoes work well in recipes that need thickening, like stew. Remove the liquid from the can and add 2-3 Tablespoons of diced or stewed tomatoes for every 1 Tablespoon of tomato paste in the recipe.


Since ketchup contains sugar, this tomato paste substitute will sweeten up whatever you are cooking. However, in a pinch, equal parts of ketchup work as a tomato paste substitute. Use ketchup in dishes with an already-sweet element like brown sugar so it won’t be noticed. Recipes like sloppy joes or chili can handle the extra sweetness of ketchup. If you're concerned about too much sweetness, cut back on the other sweetener in the recipe.


Tomato paste in a jar next to tomatoes, garlic, and peppercorns, from Shelf Cooking

Tomato paste is great as a thickening agent, but have no fear if you find yourself short on tomato ANYTHING. You can thicken your soup with: 

  • Cornstarch – This works great to thicken a hot liquid, and you don’t need to dissolve it beforehand. Just carefully sprinkle the cornstarch into the soup so it doesn’t clump. Then whisk to incorporate.
  • Roux Sauce – A roux (equal parts of fat and flour) will thicken your soup AND add some flavor. In a small pan, heat up the fat (a couple of Tablespoons of butter or bacon drippings) until it is liquified. Then stir in equal parts of flour. Continue stirring and heating until the roux paste turns a light golden color. Then add your roux to the soup and whisk to break the paste apart. Bring the soup up to boiling to maximize the thickening of the roux. 
  • Cheese – Add a few handfuls of shredded cheese to your soup to thicken it right up (and make it taste even more amazing)! 
  • Pureed Veggies – This is a great way to use up uneaten vegetables hanging out in your fridge… throw them into a blender and puree them. Then add them to the soup. Using leftovers + sneaking in vegetables + thickening your soup = GENIUS.
  • Cream CheeseCream cheese contains locust gum, a vegetarian thickener, which helps thicken up sauces. It also lends a light, creamy flavor.

See, it's no worries if you don't have a tomato paste substitute! Get inventive and creative in the kitchen, that's when you become a master shelf cooker.


Tomato paste is a tricky ingredient. Even though the cans are tiny, a recipe typically doesn’t call for an entire can. Since we're all about using what we’ve got, here are some tricks to ensure you'll have extra tomato paste on hand the next time you need it:


If you’ve opened a can of tomato paste and have only used some of it, you can freeze the leftovers to use later! One of our favorite ways to do this is to scoop the tomato paste straight into an empty ice cube tray (each cube is about 1 Tablespoon). After the tomato paste is frozen, empty the cubes into a freezer bag and label them. The next time you're cooking a stew, soup, or sauce just throw a couple of cubes of frozen tomato paste right in! Yes!!

Pro Tip: Don't have an ice cube tray? Freeze tablespoons of tomato paste on a baking pan lined with freezer paper.


Tomato paste… In a tube? It’s like a shelf cooking dream come true! Better yet, you'll need only half as much double concentrated tomato paste as your recipe calls. This means the tube should last a long time. Plus, it stays good for several months in the refrigerator.

Whew! Now you're all set! Not only do you have a command of canned tomato products that you never knew you needed, but you also have some super substitutes for tomato paste to finish your recipe to perfection. What's your favorite thing to make with tomato paste? Let us know in the comments!

Tomato paste substitute in a jar, from Shelf Cooking

Want to learn more about #shelfcooking and get your kitchen and pantry in order? Check out these posts!

  • For another delicious tomato-based recipe, try this filling and oh-so-simple crockpot chili
  • While we're talking substitutions, make a list of these #shelfcooking pantry staples (don’t forget to add tomato paste!) so you have everything you need on hand!
  • This helpful printable kitchen inventory will help you keep track of the products you have and the things that you need to be a shelf cooking ninja.

Later, tomater!