I must confess I’ve never met a fan of tomato puree or at least one who boldly holds themself out as one. Tomato puree is a mainstay of many popular cooking methods and recipes. From Italian dishes such as bolognese or chicken cacciatore to paella, stews, soups and pizza. Tomato puree has certainly earned its claims to fame and dare I say ubiquity. Tomato puree is widely available from grocery to convenience stores so its hard to fathom that you may find yourself without tomato puree when you need it. However, it does happen and you may want a list of tomato puree substitutes. Before we discuss the options that are available to substitute the distinct concentrated tomato tang of tomato puree let’s understand what it is and how it is made.
What is tomato puree?
Tomato puree is a substance made from cooking and straining tomatoes to provide a thick liquid. There is often confusion about the difference between tomato puree, tomato paste and tomato sauce. Strictly speaking, tomato puree contains only tomatoes though there may be a little seasoning included, not enough to alter the taste. Contrast this with tomato sauce which often has enhanced flavouring and is sweetened to give it a more favourable taste. Tomato paste is similar to tomato puree in the lack of additional flavour but tomato paste is much thicker with a consistency similar to peanut butter. Being comprised of mainly tomatoes, tomato puree can have a tang of bitterness to it. For this, its flavour contribution is unmatched in pizza, marinara sauce, stews and soups. What can you use to substitute tomato puree in recipes?
Tomato sauce is something that most people are likely to have ready in their pantries and cupboards so it makes sense to start a list of tomato puree substitutes with it. You will find many references about making your tomato sauce from tomato puree so going the other way isn’t too much of a stretch. However, as mentioned before tomato sauce is usually seasoned and sweetened and this will impact on the flavour. In a recipe like a marinara sauce, tomato sauce may not cut it. If you’re using it to substitute tomato puree on pizza it should just about do the job. If you desire the concentrated tomato flavour ketchup will make a better substitute. You will likely need to reduce your tomato sauce to get the same consistency as tomato puree. This can be done by reducing it on the stovetop.
Not quite as ubiquitous and popular as tomato sauce, tomato paste may be the perfect substitute for tomato puree. It is widely available in shops and supermarkets. Tomato paste is made in a similar way to tomato puree. Tomatoes are skinned, cooked, reduced and strained. After straining the substance it is further reduced to produce a very thick paste. The advantage of tomato paste is that it has a flavour very similar to tomato puree so you will still get that strong tomato tang. If you desire the consistency of tomato paste you can reconstitute the tomato paste by adding water to it. It’s best to do this gradually and stirring so as not to make a mixture that is too thin.
While speaking of tomato puree substitutes we should also go to the source. The tomato fruit is a good substitute for tomato puree though you will need to prepare it a little bit. What you will be doing is in essence making your own tomato puree. The best tomato variety to use for this is Roma tomatoes but if you are not particular or do not have access to Roma tomatoes any tomato will do. All you will need to do is chop up your tomatoes and place them in a pot to simmer. You can include the skins but if you prefer you can always skin them before simmering. Simmer down the tomatoes for 10 to 15 minutes. Once they have simmered and resemble a sauce allow them to cool. Once cooled you can use a blender or food processor to make a smooth mixture.
Can’t get them fresh? You can use canned tomatoes as a suitable substitute for tomato puree. Canned tomatoes come with a host of advantages including most notably being widely available at the same price all year round. If you have difficulty finding Roma tomatoes fresh, you may have a bit more luck finding canned Roma tomatoes. Just as you would do with the fresh tomatoes you will place your canned tomatoes in a pot and simmer then blend. Just avoid seasoned version if you want to match the flavour of tomato puree.
Ketchup is a bit of weird one as a tomato puree substitute. Its concentrated tomato flavour is a plus however ketchup also happens to be heavily seasoned and flavoured. Tomato ketchup is made with tomatoes, sugar, vinegar/acetic acid and spices which gives it a bit more of a tang to the seasoning. Tomato sauce is made from tomatoes, oil, meat or vegetable stock and spices. No vinegar is used in the recipe and because of this, you will find tomato sauce sweeter. Ketchup will work as a tomato puree substitute if you are hard-pressed and the other alternatives on this list are not available to you.
You have a few candidates for tomato puree substitutes. Tomato paste ranks highest if you want to maintain flavour and consistency. Fresh tomatoes and canned tomatoes can be made into a tomato puree alternative in the home on the stove. Tomato sauce and ketchup can be used though you will need to reduce them to match the consistency of tomato puree. They also have a different taste because they are seasoned.