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Tomato Paste VS Sauce & How To Use Both

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Tomatoes are a key ingredient in many dishes, and they’re available in many forms, including tomato paste and tomato sauce. You may be wondering how they’re any different, and which you should use in your cooking. The thing is, they are quite different but both are extremely versatile. Let’s take a look at tomato paste vs tomato sauce, see how they differ, and how to use them. 

Tomato paste vs sauce

Tomato paste is thicker in consistency than tomato sauce, and it is made entirely of tomatoes, without other ingredients (aside from thickener). Tomato sauce is a mix of tomatoes, herbs and spices, water, and sometimes cooking oil, resulting in a thinner texture and more nuanced flavor. Tomato sauce can be used as-is, tomato paste always needs extra water, seasoning, herbs, spices, and cooking time. 

Tomato paste is very concentrated, and you only need a little. A couple of teaspoons of tomato paste is enough for most dishes, whereas tomato sauce can be used in much larger quantities.

The taste is also dramatically different. Tomato paste can be very strong if you taste it as-is, and it needs extra cooking time to unlock its full flavor (plus spices and herbs). Tomato paste is essentially a shortcut to add tomato flavor. Tomato sauce has a well-rounded flavor profile that also includes tomatoes. 

Read also: Should Tomato Sauce Be Covered When Cooking ? 

How do you use tomato paste and tomato sauce ? Well it depend on what you’re making, and your level of comfort with tomato flavors. 

If you’re making soup, stew, a braise, chili, anything at all that needs a simmer in water or broth, you can safely use tomato paste or tomato sauce. The tomato paste will need extra seasoning and should be used sparingly, while the tomato sauce can be used liberally. 

If you’re making a sauce for pizza, a salsa sauce, a taco sauce, it’s better to use tomato sauce instead of paste. It’s already seasoned and cooked, you can use it as-is or simmer it for a few minutes. Or you can cook your own, using a tomato paste base. We’ll discus that in more detail in a few paragraphs. First let’s really understand what tomato paste and tomato sauce actually are. 

Tomato paste, canned

What is tomato paste ?

Tomato paste is a tomato-based product, with a very high lycopene concentration. That’s the antioxidant found in tomatoes, and it gives them that red-orange color. 

To make tomato paste you need fresh tomatoes. You get about 1 lb of tomato paste for 6lbs of fresh tomatoes, after cooking and drying is done. Tomatoes are cut, placed in large pots, set to simmer for hours until the tomatoes break down. The resulting paste is strained for seeds and skins, and simmered again to further reduce it to a thick, concentrated paste. It is then canned. 

Some tomato paste is not 100% just tomato. Sometimes thickeners are added, to bulk up the paste and make it look richer than it really is. The ingredients should reveal this, as well as how much actual pure tomato is in there. Most tomato paste cans on the market hover around 30% pure tomato. 

The taste of tomato paste is flat, bland, and intensely tomatoey. It can very easily taste bitter, and it can make your food bitter if you add too much of it. This is usually offset by adding a bit of sugar and/or heavy cream (where appropriate).

Read also: Why Is My Stew Bitter ? 

What is tomato sauce ?

Tomato sauce is tomato-based but also employs other vegetables (usually celery, onions, carrots), seasoning, herbs (usually oregano, basil, bay, rosemary), and spices (typically garlic and black pepper).

Tomato sauce is thinner than tomato paste, and it is a mix of these cooked vegetables and herbs and spices, and can be used as-is. Most tomato sauces are formulated for a specific dish, such as arrabiata sauce, bolognese sauce, primavera sauce, and so on. But the vast majority of tomato sauce is a basic, well-rounded sauce that can easily be used in any recipe that calls for cooked tomatoes. 

Home-made tomato sauce, with chilies

Sometimes you can find tomato sauce in a chunkier formula, sometimes it’s blended into a fine puree, The taste is the same, it’s just a matter of texture and presentation. Even if this sauce can be used as-is, I still recommend cooking it for a few minutes to deepen the flavor, and it also works far better freshly simmered if you’re going to add it right onto your pasta.

Read also: How Long Does Homemade Tomato Sauce Last ?

Can you make tomato sauce from tomato paste ?

Yes, you can make tomato sauce from tomato paste by adding water (3:1 water to paste), a bit of cooking oil, and various herbs and spices (oregano, salt, pepper, basil, onion, garlic). Simmer on low for at least 30 minutes. The longer you simmer this, the better the sauce gets, so simmering for 1 hour is not unheard of. 

The consistency of the sauce is directly related to the amount of water/broth you add to the paste, and how much you simmer it (which evaporated liquid). If you want a thicker sauce but want it cooked for longer, add a bit more water when the sauce is halfway done. 

The reason you need to simmer the tomato paste and add extra ingredients is because, well, tomato paste in its own is bland, tastes flat, and needs some extra cooking if you’re going to make it better. Add a teaspoon of sugar if you want to tone down the bitterness and acidity. 

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