What is Tomato Puree?
Tomato puree is the processed paste of chunky sauce produced from tomatoes. It has a variety of synonyms, including marinara or simply tomato sauce.
Some sources make the added distinction that tomato puree is thinner than other forms of tomato paste, such as dedicated pizza sauce — but ultimately, any processed tomato-based product counts as a tomato puree.
Tomato puree can vary a bit from one distributor to the next. In general, the tomatoes used in tomato puree are cooked to soften them and then packaged with all of their juices intact in cans or jars for sale. Some brands have more chunks than others, but ultimately tomato puree comes out in a slightly chunky paste.
But not everyone likes tomatoes, and some people are even allergic to them. This raises the question: what are the five best substitutions for tomato puree?
Top 5 Tomato Puree Substitutes
The best substitutes for tomato puree are diced tomatoes, ketchup and fish or worcestershire sauce. Squash puree and vegemite are also good tomato puree alternatives.
1. Diced Tomatoes
The first possible substitute for tomato puree is none other than diced tomatoes. Because tomato puree does not usually have many additives, it is easy to replicate with simple diced or minced tomatoes from the produce aisle. The trade often comes in the form of texture. Tomato puree is often far smoother than diced tomatoes and easier to swallow on its own.
For some tomato lovers, this is fine. Some people like to taste their tomatoes and do not mind the little bit of added chewing that goes with it. It can also depend on the recipe whether or not a chunkier tomato topping is appropriate or not.
If diced tomatoes are going to be used in a recipe that calls for tomato puree, it is important to understand that it is not a one-to-one translation from one to the other. For every one tablespoon of tomato puree that a recipe calls for, a person will need to substitute two tablespoons of diced tomato. This has a lot to do with the difference in surface area between the two.
The old faithful of American condiments, ketchup is ultimately made from tomatoes in some capacity.
While typical tomato puree is unseasoned, the added sugar in ketchup can lead to a bit of a different taste when eating. Ketchup also has a different texture to most forms of tomato puree. Despite all of these factors, ketchup can still be a good substitute for tomato puree if used correctly.
With diced tomatoes, a person should use two tablespoons for every one of the purees. With ketchup, the opposite is true. Ketchup has a relatively strong flavor compared to the unseasoned puree, so the flavor will need to be diluted with another substance. This can be done at the chef’s discretion, either by watering the ketchup down or by adding another neutralizer like certain kinds of oil.
Using ketchup as a substitution for tomato puree works best in recipes containing a small amount of tomato puree — not enough to justify a grocery store trip on its own. While not ideal, ketchup does work well in many dishes in place of proper tomato puree.
3. Fish Sauce or Worcestershire
Not everyone likes tomatoes, and some people still want to cook dishes that would generally include tomato puree in one form or another.
For this category, there are two options a chef can use interchangeably for the same reason. If a recipe calls for tomato puree as a primary flavor component or a sauce base, either fish sauce or Worcestershire Sauce will do.
Both sauces lack the sweetness of tomato puree or either of the two substitutes listed above, but they add a comparable zest to the meal. Both also work similarly as a binding agent in sauces which require it. Both also have a similar mouth feel to tomato puree, provided that they are finely mixed with other ingredients.
However, both options are thinner sauces with a much more overpowering flavor compared to the tomato puree. The difference in taste admittedly does not make them the best substitute for tomato puree, and a chef will need to adjust their measurements and possibly water down either of these sauce substitutes, but either one will fill the same role as the tomato puree in cooking.
4. Pumpkin or Squash Puree
Yes, pumpkin or squash puree is also a suitable substitute for tomato puree. Both come from the same family of gourds and are both noticeably similar to tomato puree when canned through the same process. The trade-off is that neither of these two winter squashes is known for having much juice in them, so the resulting puree can be a bit dry.
The consistency is much more like tomato paste than true tomato puree, being that it comes out a bit thicker and dryer, but this is an easy fix with the addition of oil or water in the mix. That said, a chef should measure roughly one tablespoon of tomato or squash puree for every two tablespoons of tomato puree.
In terms of taste, there are only some superficial differences. Either of the two substitutes for tomato puree has strong and distinct flavors all of its own, but many of those notes will get lost in all of the other spices and flavors used in most dishes that call for tomato puree in the first place. It is not recommended to replace tomato in dishes where it is the main feature.
We saved the most outlandish for last. Vegemite is more common in Europe than in the United States, but it is still readily available in most places if a person wants to find it. It’s included on this list because it has a similar consistency and texture to most brands of tomato puree.
If a recipe calls for tomato puree as a spread or base for other ingredients, rather than just a flavor enhancer, vegemite is a near-perfect substitute for people who do not want tomatoes in their food.
Vegemite is typically used as a sandwich spread and comes in both jars and squeeze tube forms. The jarred variety often has the same vaguely chunky yet soft texture as a substitute for tomato puree.
The tastes are quite different, with vegemite being much more bitter and grittier. However, vegemite also absorbs other spices added to it. All told, this is one of the few substitutes that a person could follow the same measurements 1-to-1 within a recipe.
If a chef wanted to, they could use vegemite in place of tomato puree and create a new and unique flavor combination none of the people they want to serve have ever tasted before.
Tomato puree is not hard to substitute. If you don’t want any tomatoes in the dish you’re cooking, or simply don’t have tomato puree in your pantry, you have plenty of options.
Cooking is inherently creative, and most ingredients have appropriate substitutes of some kind or another. Tomato puree is no exception!