Tomato Puree vs Paste – What is the difference?

Written by Luisa Davis on . Posted in food

Tomato puree and tomato paste are the basis for a wide variety of recipes. Tomato puree is the prepared tomato pulp from which tomato sauce and tomato paste are made. Canned tomatoes and tomato sauce can be juicier or even chunky, but tomato puree has been carefully pulped and the seeds removed. Tomato Paste is that same puree cooked down to a quintessential thickness. We take a deep dive into tomato puree vs paste, and how they are prepared.

What is Tomato Paste & Tomato Puree

Tomato paste begins its life as tomato puree, which is made from fresh tomatoes. Certain types of tomatoes are better suited to making paste than others. Roma tomatoes are especially fine for this process because of their small size and their high ratio of pulp to seeds and flesh. However, almost any kind of tomato can be used. Some tomatoes are higher in acid than others and will make a rather tart product, while others are milder. For the very mildest flavor, select yellow tomatoes for a sweet, gentle sauce.

How to Make Tomato Puree

Begin the tomato puree with fresh, ripe, firm tomatoes. Cut out any blemishes or bad spots and discard any that have an odd odor or that seem “off.” Blanche the tomatoes by dipping them in scalding hot water. An easy way to do this is to place them in a basket and dip the basket into your water bath canner while it is full of boiling water.

Pull out the tomatoes, let them cool enough to handle, and the skins will easily peel off. Next, run the tomatoes through a blender or food processor to mush them up into a smooth pulp. If you don’t have an automated device, the old-fashioned way to do this is to rub it through a wire sieve or to squeeze it through a potato ricer.

If you’ve never seen a potato ricer, it has a colander-like base and a long arm with a plate that fits right into the base. You fill the base, then press the paddle down onto the ingredients using the long arm pieces to create the pressure. The contents of the base will be pressed out through the holes in the ricer. Potato ricers and wire sieves are available at most cooking supply stores.

A potato ricer won’t remove the tomato seeds, so a better choice of manual appliance for processing your tomatoes than a potato ricer is a food mill.  A food mill will quickly and easily separate the seeds, skins, and pulp. Food mills, like potato ricers, tend to outlast their electric powered cousins.

If you use a blender, food processor or ricer, next press the pulp through a sieve to remove the seeds. If you use a food mill, you might still want to use this step just to be certain you get all the seeds. You want a smooth pulp and juice blend that is as nearly seedless as you can manage.

From Puree into Paste

The next step is to put the puree in an enamel cooking pot, such as one intended for spaghetti or for water bath canning. Because of the acid in tomatoes, it is not a good idea to cook them in aluminum or even an iron or stainless steel because the fruit can cause the metal to pit.

The metal can sometimes leach into the cooking sauce adding unwanted minerals. Alternatively, you can cook the sauce in a slow cooker or crockpot.

How to Thicken Tomato Sauce

As the pulp cooks, the water will evaporate out of it and it will thicken into a paste. The longer you cook it, the thicker it will become. The tricky part is to cook down the tomatoes until they are thickened without scorching.

This is why, when you see the traditional Italian mother in her apron, she is always stirring and stirring that cooking pot of sauce. The secret is to cook the mixture over a low heat and stir often, being sure to move the sauce off the bottom of the pot. Even when cooking in a crockpot, the sauce will need to be stirred now and then, especially in the latter stages of the thickening.

Some people like to dehydrate the tomato paste in shallow pans in the oven. This adds a bit of caramelization that you might not get using the stovetop or slow cooker method. You could even start the cooking down on the stove or in the crockpot, then resort to dehydration pans in the final stages.

How to Make Tomato Sauce from Tomato Paste

Creating tomato paste is essentially a dehydration process. Tomato paste works great applied directly to pizza crust and the basic layer for pizza. To return it to the soupier status of tomato sauce, add water or tomato juice back into it at a one to three ratios, as in one can of paste to three cans of water. Spice according to taste or recipe. Add meat, mushrooms or other vegetables for a heartier sauce.

Substitute for Tomato Sauce & Tomato Paste

Finding a substitute for tomato sauce or tomato paste really depends on why you need a substitute in the first place. If it is simply that you do not have the precise item on hand, there are several things that you can do. For example, although it tastes a little odd, you can use catsup as a base for a pizza. You can also use a tablespoon or so of regular spaghetti sauce, the kind that comes in a jar.

Tomato paste will give you a much better flavor and texture than either of these two stop-gap ingredients, but if you have a hungry family to feed and no time or money to go to the store, you can turn out a product that is credibly a pizza. You can also use fresh tomatoes, canned tomatoes, or crushed canned tomatoes. Some kinds of canned tomatoes, such as the Mexican mix make a truly delightful taste change.

Dealing With Allergies

If you have a family member who is allergic to tomatoes, you have a different sort of challenge. Tomatoes belong to the nightshade family, along with eggplant and peppers. Not everyone can eat just any kind of tomato, and some people can’t eat them at all.

For problems with acid reflux or painfully acid tummy after eating tomato products, try using yellow tomatoes. Although they will not keep as well as the red ones, their mild flavor and low-acid content can make a huge difference for your tomato lover with the delicate tummy.

To develop an alternative sauce for people with a true tomato allergy, try pureed pumpkin, squash or even applesauce or peanut butter as the basis for a pizza. For spaghetti or similar noodles, try buttered noodles (you can use margarine), Alfredo sauce, or even a brown beef gravy. Butternut squash or pumpkin soup also makes a good alternative sauce.

Tomatillos offer a different kind of substitution, one that is primarily a matter of flavor. They are also a nightshade, so are probably not a help for allergies. Ripe tomatillos (don’t eat the green ones) are the primary ingredient in Salsa Verde.

The salsa can be used as the basis for a pizza or as a dipping sauce.

You can also use umeboshi paste, tamarind concentrate, molasses or peanut butter in some recipes. The key is to ask yourself, “What role does the tomato play in this recipe? Does it act as a fruit, a vegetable, a binder or an accent?” You won’t always be able to successfully come up with a substitute for the tomato in a recipe, but in many cases,  you can develop a tasty alternative.

Recipe

For those who can eat tomatoes, who enjoy the flavor and the tart bite or the genuine mellow sweetness of ripe tomatoes, there is nothing like homemade tomato paste. You can make plain tomato paste, or you can add other vegetables and spices.

Super Simple

Ingredient list:

Tomatoes (8 pounds is an ideal amount, but use what you have.) If you have more than eight pounds, it is a good idea to prepare the paste in batches. Roma tomatoes are ideal, but whatever kind of tomato you have, even the little cherry tomatoes will do.

Process:

Core the tomatoes and cut away any bad parts. Blanche the tomatoes by dipping them in boiling water and remove the skins. If you are preparing cherry tomatoes, skip the blanching and peeling, it is just too much trouble.

Run the tomatoes through a potato ricer, a food mill, a food processor or blender – anything to break them up into tiny pieces. Strain the tomatoes to remove seeds and skins, forcing the pulp through a screen. This latter part might not be necessary if you are using a food mill.

Place the tomato puree you have created in a pot that has at least a four inches head space to make stirring easy. The pot can be a slow cooker or crockpot.

Cooking times will vary but allow most of the day for allowing the sauce to cook down. If desired, you can put it in dehydrator pans for the final reduction. As the water cooks away, the tomato mixture will become thicker. If you plan to use it for sauce, you can simply stop the dehydration process when it reaches that point of saturation.

When the mixture has reached the desired thickness, you can bottle it in glass canning jars and pressure can the results – which will cook it just a little bit more — or you can pour it into molds and freeze it.

Either will work just fine.

Additives for your recipe:

You can add spices, peppers, onions or garlic to your tomato mixture before the cook down process if you want a tomato paste with a little more kick. Ideas for eight pounds of tomatoes include:

  • 2 sweet green peppers
  • 1 small hot pepper
  • 1 bay leaf (remove before bottling or freezing)
  • 2 cloves crushed fresh garlic
  • 1 teaspoon Thyme
  • 1 teaspoon Oregano
  • ¼ teaspoon turmeric
  • ½ teaspoon rosemary
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive or other vegetable oil

Prepare your tomato puree. Sauté the onions and garlic until they are translucent. Add the spices and peppers and stir until they are heated through and coated with oil. Add them to the tomato puree and begin the cook down process. Use a slow heat, and stir often making sure you move the materials at the bottom of the pan to the sides and top.

When the mixture has cooked down to the desired thickness, place in canning jars. Use the directions for your water bath or pressure canner for processing times. It is best to pressure can yellow or low acid tomato preparations.

Alternatively, place in individual freezer cups or in ice cube trays and freeze the mixture.

You are now set for a long winter of spaghetti, minestrone, and other tomato-based soups.

Pumpkin or Butternut Squash Sauce

Can’t eat tomatoes? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Pumpkin and squash both cook up into a delicious sauce that does not have to be mixed with eggs, milk and made into a custard that is otherwise known as pumpkin pie. For people who would like to enjoy a thick sauce but have trouble with tomatoes, the squash family can provide a thick, tasty soup.

Ingredient list:

  • 1 small pumpkin or 1 butternut squash
  • 1 cup Chicken broth
  • ¼ Onion
  • 1 clove Garlic
  • McCormick’s Curry powder mix
  • Tablespoon olive oil

Process:

Cut the pumpkin or squash in half, remove the seeds and stringy parts, cover with foil and turn cut side up on a baking pan. Bake in a moderate oven at around 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 45 minutes, or until it is soft. Remove the pumpkin or squash from the oven, cool and scrape the cooked pulp out of the shell.

Sauté the onion and garlic in olive oil until translucent. Combine the cooked squash, chicken broth, spices, onion, and garlic in a saucepan and simmer for perhaps 20 minutes, stirring often. In a much shorter time, than it takes to cook down tomatoes, you will have a nice paste that can be used as the base for an open-face sandwich or spread on a pizza crust.

Experiment with different toppings.

Alternatively, you can enjoy it as a thick, winter soup. Serve with crusty whole-grain bread or crackers.

If you prefer your squash or pumpkin sweet, leave out the onion, garlic, savory spice, and chicken broth. Instead, add cinnamon, a dash of cloves, a pinch of nutmeg and a cup of half and half, along with a half cup of sugar. Dust the top with a little extra cinnamon and serve with sugar cookies.

Having looked at tomato puree vs paste, we can see that they’re both similar and can be used in a variety of ways best suited to your taste.

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Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis is a frelance writer and foodie based in Portland, California. Though raised on her mother's homestyle Italian cooking, she has spent most of the last five years traveling and immersing herself in other countries' cuisines. Her work have been published in various publications, both online and offline.

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