Best Substitutes for Tomato Sauce

can of tomato sauce, open, on blue countertop

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Tomato sauce is a staple in many people’s diets, and it can be used to make many delicious meals. Whether you are making pizza, spaghetti, or shakshuka, you will need tomato sauce to make your dish complete.

But if you are out of tomato sauce or do not have time to make some from scratch you may be looking for a substitute in a pinch. Fortunately, there are a number of alternatives for tomato sauce you can try. Here is what you need to know about finding just the right substitute.

Common Uses for Tomato Sauce

Generally considered a pantry staple, tomato sauce is a commonly used and versatile ingredient. Tomato sauce at its most basic can be made by cooking down tomatoes after they have been peeled and seeded and seasoning with salt, herbs, and spices.

Typically known for its Italian applications in dishes, tomato sauce is a popular ingredient in spaghetti, lasagna, ziti, and pizza. It is also the base for chicken tikka masala, shakshuka, and various curries, stews, and moles. Meanwhile, marinara sauce, which is a quick and simplistic version of tomato sauce, can be served alongside mozzarella sticks or calamari for dipping.

Why Use a Substitute?

There are a few reasons you might want to use an alternative to traditional tomato sauce. For one thing, you might just not have it on hand. Even though canned or jarred tomato sauce is easy to keep in the pantry, you are bound to run out at some point. Instead of calling off your dinner plans and ordering take-out or making a last-minute trip to the grocery store, you can whip up a substitute from the options below.

There are also certain health reasons why you may want to avoid tomato sauce. For instance, anyone with a tomato allergy should refrain from consuming tomato sauce. Some anecdotal research also suggests that tomatoes can prompt gout, although studies have not confirmed this.

If you are prone to heartburn or acid reflux you also might want to avoid tomato sauce, as tomatoes and tomato-based foods can trigger these conditions.

Tomatoes are nightshades, which are a botanical family of foods and spices that contain chemical compounds called alkaloids. In large doses, alkaloids can be dangerous, but the amount in tomatoes is small.

Still, certain diets advise limiting or avoiding nightshades due to the possibility that they can promote inflammation. Research has not yet confirmed this connection, but many people claim they feel better when they are not eating them. Keep in mind the reason why you’re swapping your sauce in order to choose the best tomato sauce substitute for you and your meal.

Tomato Sauce Nutrition

The following nutrition information, for 1 cup of canned tomato sauce, is from the USDA.

  • Calories: 59
  • Fat: 0.74g
  • Sodium: 1160mg
  • Carbohydrates: 13g
  • Fiber: 3.68g
  • Sugars: 8.72g
  • Protein: 2.94g
  • Iron: 2.35mg

Tomato-Based Substitutes

If you are looking for an alternative because you are out of sauce but are all clear to eat tomatoes, you have a number of options available to you. Try one of these tomato sauce swaps when you need to find a substitute.

Tomato Paste

Tomato paste is often considered the best substitute for tomato sauce because it is essentially the same thing but in a more concentrated form. Mix the paste with water until it reaches the consistency you want. You can season your sauce to taste, but the traditional choices are herbs, garlic, and onion. Olive oil and sugar can be added as well. 

Because tomato paste is more concentrated, it will have a higher caloric content per 1 cup, but because you are mixing it with water to achieve a sauce-like consistency it will balance out once you serve it. If you are specifically monitoring salt or sugar intake, this substitute could be a better option than a pre-made sauce because you can control how much salt and sugar you add.

Canned Tomatoes

Canned tomatoes—whether whole, stewed, diced, or crushed—are also an easy substitute for sauce. You can run the tomatoes through the blender or cook them down to a softer consistency. Some canned tomatoes come pre-seasoned and some do not, so add herbs and spices accordingly. If you like your sauce on the chunky side, canned tomatoes can be a nice option. 

Tomato Soup

Although it is likely to change the flavor profile more than other substitutes, tomato soup can work as a tomato sauce substitute. A can of tomato soup can replace 1 cup of tomato sauce. However, because the soup has more liquid than tomato sauce, you should reduce another liquid ingredient by 1/4 cup if possible.

For example, if you are making a stew, use 1/4 cup less water than the recipe calls for. Tomato soup also has different seasonings and tends to be sweeter than sauce, so you will likely want to adjust herbs and spices. The nutritional profile will be slightly different as well when you use soup as a substitute.

Ketchup

Ketchup is probably the one tomato-based substitute that you likely already have in your kitchen. But it is also perhaps the least ideal alternative due to the taste differences.

One cup of ketchup can be used to replace one cup of tomato sauce, but be aware that the sugar and vinegar in ketchup provide a noticeably different flavor profile. Adding your own spices and herbs is a must. Plus, ketchup may have more salt or sugar than you like, so be sure to read the label before using this substitute.

Tomato-Free Substitutes

If you are avoiding tomatoes altogether—whether due to an allergy, following a diet that eliminates nightshades, or another reason—you still have a number of options you can try. These alternatives can be used to replace tomato sauce in any recipe, from pastas and pizzas to soups and shakshukas. Depending on your personal preferences you may want to blend the mixture more or less and add (or subtract) milk/cream/water/oil to reach the sauce consistency you desire. Here are three alternatives you can use when you need a tomato-free tomato sauce substitute.

Eggplant

To create a tomato sauce substitute from eggplant, first, saute or roast it, and then remove the skin. Add olive oil and your preferred spices and herbs and then blend into a puree, adding water to reach a sauce consistency. You can also use store-bought ajvar, which is a red bell pepper and eggplant spread, as a tomato sauce substitute.

While eggplant provides fiber, manganese, and potassium, it is also a nightshade. If you are avoiding tomatoes due to an allergy to nightshades or potential inflammation complications, eggplant should be eaten with caution.

Bell Peppers

Bell peppers can be made into a tomato sauce substitute following the same directions above for eggplant. Red bell peppers are high in vitamin C and have the most nutrients of all sweet peppers. However, bell peppers are also nightshades, so keep this in mind if you are avoiding such foods.

Beets and Carrots

Beets and carrots—two nutritious vegetables with a range of health benefits—can be combined to create a tasty tomato sauce alternative. Specific recipes vary but generally include sauteing and braising the vegetables with lemon juice or vinegar to provide a tang while incorporating garlic and other spices to recreate a more traditional tomato sauce. After blending to create a pureé, mix with water to reach your desired sauce consistency.

A Word From Verywell

When it comes to finding an alternative for tomato sauce, you have a number of options available to you—even if you have to avoid tomatoes for health reasons. You may need to experiment somewhat with options like eggplant or beets to get the flavor profile you are looking for, though. But, there are a number of potential substitutes for tomato sauce, so you do not have to scrap your dinner plans just because you are out of sauce or need an alternative.

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3 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Cleveland Clinic. What's the deal with nightshade vegetables.

  3. USDAS, FoodData Central. Tomato products, canned, sauce.