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The BEST Tomato Sauce Substitute: 7 Easy Options

The BEST Tomato Sauce Substitute: 7 Easy Options

Tomato sauce is a versatile ingredient and even if you run out, you still save the day! If you’re looking for the best tomato sauce substitute, then read on for some options and ideas!

Have you ever been planning to make ratatouille but you just found out that you’ve run out of tomato sauce? 

Now that’s frustrating!

But the best part is there are ways you can replace tomato sauce—all you need is to spark your creativity with these 7 tomato sauce substitutes!

Don’t worry—these replacements are probably present in your pantry right now.

Plus, we’ve also prepared some interesting facts about this tomato sauce, including what’s different from pasta sauce and the flavor profile.

But before we share our best substitutes, let’s talk about what tomato sauce is and how you use it in your recipes. 

You see, tomato sauce is a tomato product made primarily by slow cooking fresh tomatoes then adding aromatics like basil, thyme, or any dry herbs and spices. 

It is often used to top a nice plate of pasta or simmer stew meat, fish filet, meatballs, and vegetable dishes—now I’m craving that ratatouille!

SubstituteSuggested Ratio (Substitute:Tomato Sauce)Notes
Canned Tomatoes1:1Blend to desired consistency; adjust with broth or water.
Tomato Soup/Bisque1:1 (adjustable)Thin down to sauce consistency; adjust based on thickness.
Tomato Juice1:1Add seasonings to match tomato sauce flavor profile.
Ketchup1:1Best in recipes that can handle added sweetness and tang.
Tomato Paste1 part paste: 2 parts waterDilute to achieve sauce-like consistency; adjust to taste.
Fresh Tomatoes4-5 medium tomatoes: 1 cup sauceBoil, peel, blend, and thin out with stock for sauce texture.
Salsa1:1Cook down and strain/blend for smoother texture.
A close-up photo of a jar of tomato sauce next to tomatoes and garlic on a table.

Subs and how to use them

So maybe you want a change from the traditional tomato sauce, or perhaps your grocery store has run out—what can you substitute for tomato sauce

The beauty of this versatile base is just that—it’s versatile!  

Which makes finding alternatives pretty easy.  

With just a few simple tweaks and ingredients, you’ll be cooking away with some pretty tasty substitutes!  

Read on to discover what you can create out of tomato sauce subs!

1. Canned Tomatoes

So what to substitute for tomato sauce when you’re in a pinch?  

Pretty safe to say you probably have some canned tomatoes on hand and in your pantry as we speak.  

Whether they’d be diced, whole, or crushed—they can easily be converted into a sauce.  

Simply add to a pot with some broth of your choice with some seasonings.  

Add to a blender or use a handheld one to thin it out and you’ll have yourself a fast and flavorful tomato sauce.

  • Blend canned tomatoes with a bit of broth or water to reach the desired consistency. Use a 1:1 ratio of canned tomatoes to tomato sauce in recipes.

2. Tomato Soup or Bisque

We think one of the best tomato sauce substitute is tomato sauce or bisque, and here’s why.  

It’s a great alternative to creating a flavorful sauce where most of the heavy lifting has been done for you.  

Tomato soup and bisque come packed with flavor!  

Thin them both down to create the consistency your recipe calls for and you’re good to go!

  • Thin down tomato soup or bisque to achieve a sauce-like consistency. The ratio will depend on the thickness of the soup but start with a 1:1 ratio and adjust as needed.

3. Tomato Juice

Tomato juice is a great alternative for tomato sauce in a pinch.  

Add it to a pot and once boiling reduce to simmer.  

To make it all your own, add any seasonings you enjoy for a personalized and tasty touch.

  • Use tomato juice as a direct substitute for tomato sauce. Add seasonings to match the flavor profile of tomato sauce. The ratio is 1:1.

4. Ketchup

We can see it now—you’re making a face, but hold on!  

While this substitute for tomato sauce might seem a bit strange, hear us out.  

Many dishes that call for tomato sauce can seamlessly incorporate ketchup as a backup plan.  

Chili, soups, and stews can take on the sweet and tart flavor profile of ketchup, without disturbing the overall taste of the dish—a total win-win!

  • While it may seem unconventional, ketchup can replace tomato sauce in certain recipes, especially those that can accommodate its sweeter and tangier profile. Use a 1:1 ratio but be mindful of the added sweetness and adjust other ingredients accordingly.

5. Tomato Paste

Tomato paste has a very similar flavor to tomato sauce.  

The only difference is in the texture, as it is a more concentrated medium.  

All you need to do is thin it out with some water and voila!  

You’ll have yourself some tomato sauce in no time.

  • Dilute tomato paste with water to get a sauce-like consistency. Start with a ratio of 1 part tomato paste to 2 parts water, and adjust to taste.

6. Fresh Tomatoes

Hop on over to your local farmer’s market for some fresh, ripe tomatoes.  

With a little bit of time and effort, you’ll create a delicious sauce, all your own!  

This is a great way to create a super fresh substitute for tomato sauce!  

Simply soak your tomatoes in some boiling water to loosen the skins, peel them, and place them in a pot.  

Add stock of your choosing to impart flavor to the tomatoes while also thinning them out.  

Depending on the chunk factor of preference, you may need to blend—but there you have it!  

A delicious and homemade sauce!

  • Boil, peel, and blend fresh tomatoes, then thin out with stock to create a sauce. The amount will vary based on the water content of the tomatoes, but typically start with 4-5 medium-sized tomatoes to replace one cup of tomato sauce.

7. Salsa

Using store made salsa is a fabulous way to impart a myriad of flavors to any dish, when tomato sauce isn’t at the ready.  

We advise cooking your salsa so that the flavors have a chance to come together—add any additional seasonings you see fit.  

For less chunky sauce, strain or even blend to create a smooth texture.  

Your recipes will thank you.

  • Cook down store-bought salsa to reduce its chunkiness and concentrate the flavors. Strain or blend for a smoother texture. The ratio is 1:1, but adjust according to the chunkiness and intensity of the salsa.

The flavor of tomato sauce 

Tomato sauce generally has 3 flavor profiles:  sweetness, acidity, and umami.  

It’s up to you, the chef, to decide what flavor profile your sauce will have and what flavor journey you intend to embark on in order to get there.  

Umami or savoriness is one of the five basic tastes. 

It has been described as savory and is characteristic of broths, cooked meats, and is also found in sauce profiles like tomato sauce.   

You can make so many dishes out of tomato sauce!  

Tomato sauce on its own tends to taste like fresh tomatoes.  

It does not have a seasoned flavor profile, such as pasta sauce (we will get into that in just a moment!)  

What it boils down to (no pun intended!) is finding the right kind of tomato sauce for your dish.  

If you’re making a soup-based dish, such as chili, you may want to focus on a tomato sauce that imparts sweetness. 

However, when making enchiladas, the flavor profile of the dish may be on the acidic side.  

Identifying the flavors you are looking to achieve will dictate the type of sauce you ultimately choose to create and what additions will be needed to bring that flavor profile to life.

Learn how to thicken tomato sauce here!

Is pasta sauce the same as tomato sauce?

The question many have been asking for years- are the two the same?  

And the answer is no.  

Tomato sauce is your base.  

Pasta sauce is what the base becomes–let’s take a look at how this transformation to flavor town takes place.  

Tomato sauce is your happy, regular old tomato either crushed, pureed, or blended.  

No additional herbs or seasonings have been added and it tastes very much like fresh, ripe, tomatoes.  

Pasta sauce is the RESULT of adding aromatics such as herbs, seasonings, onions, celery, etc.  

The pasta sauce then needs to cook, so that all those delicious flavors have a chance to marry and work together to create the complex flavor we have come to know and love as a pasta sauce.

How tomato sauce is often used

The beauty of tomato sauce is its chameleon-like abilities.  

Since tomato sauce is the basis for many other sauces and dishes.  

Starting with a simple tomato sauce is the foundation for everything else.  

From a Bloody Mary to Grandma’s pasta and meatballs, tomato sauce is a versatile staple in so many dishes and can be used in a plethora of ways. 

Aside from the traditional uses for tomato sauce that we have all grown to love, read on to see some of our best tomato sauce substitutes!

A close-up photo of a bowl of tomato sauce next to a plate of tomatoes.

Pair with Risotto or Polenta

Talk about comfort food!  

Get yourself a nice, deep bowl and get ready to ladle some tasty tomato goodness over risotto or polenta.  

Stir things up by upping the flavor ante with a mushroom risotto.  

The earthy goodness of the mushrooms play so nicely with the acidity of the tomato sauce.  

We love this super flavorful and easy risotto recipe and this compilation of risotto sides!

Such a great way to create a tasty dish out of tomato sauce.

1. With eggs

Simmer eggs in the sauce until they set, for a breakfast that’s both satisfying and healthful.  

This is reminiscent of a dish called Shakshuka—it’s a deliciously simple dish made by gently poaching eggs in a flavorful chunky tomato and bell pepper sauce. 

Said to have originated in Tunisia, while this is a breakfast recipe popular in areas within North Africa and the Middle East, it can also serve as a tasty and satisfying lunch or dinner.

2. Chutney

It is a condiment with a complex identity. 

The chutneys you might find in today’s modern supermarkets are similar to a relish and have more jam-like properties. 

Yet these preserved chutneys are not typical of the chutneys served in India.  

Many of the chutneys of original descent are tomato based and serve to be a delicious accompaniment to fish, poultry, beef or pork.  

A versatile and tasty way to add additional flavor to the everyday foods you already eat.

3. Whitefish

Fish with mild flavor profiles can benefit from a tasty tomato sauce to infuse flavor.  

Try poaching a mild white fish in a tomato sauce base.  

This adds a more complex flavor to the fish while keeping the fish moist as it cooks.  

Lap up the yummy sauce with some bread- delish!

4. Mussels And Clams

Add a new spin to your mussel and clam meals sans the white wine treatment.  

Try steaming your shellfish in tomato sauce until they pop open.  

The flavor from the mussels and clams will impart itself into your tomato sauce while keeping the dish from drying out.  

Grab some crusty bread and you’re good to go– a great way to pack a total flavor punch to your dinner!

5. White Beans

Beans are a great medium to cook with as they take on the flavor of whatever they may be paired with.  

Marry some tasty tomato sauce with your bean of choice by simmering cooked white beans to a flavorful simple yet satisfying side dish.  

Ensure the beans are cooked prior to adding them to the tomato broth as tomatoes prevent them from becoming tender.

6. Curry

Tomato sauce is not just the traditional Italian sauce we have all grown to know and love.  

Try turning it into a tasty Indian-inspired sauce.  

By adding just a few relatively simple ingredients such as Sautéd ginger, jalapeño, extra garlic, and curry powder.  

Then go ahead and add tomato sauce as well as some coconut milk. Simmer until the flavors marry together.  

Bring out more of those Indian-inspired flavors by finishing off the curry with cilantro to add a fresh element.  

So good!

7. Vegetable Noodles

Sometimes you just may not be feeling those pasta feels, and that’s okay!  

If you want to indulge in a fresh meal, try tossing some vegetable noodles, like summer or winter squash—even zucchini noodles—with tomato sauce, and serve like pasta.  

This is a great way to use those vegetables many of us already have on hand!

8. Grilled Cheese

While the traditional tomato soup and grilled cheese are a match made in culinary heaven—next time you decide to serve this timeless treat, spread a thin layer of sauce inside the sandwich before cooking. Yum!

A close-up photo of a bowl of tomato sauce with a spoon in it.

The bottom line

Now that you have become a tomato sauce connoisseur, with a little bit of creativity, you can take any tomato base and turn it into something your entire family will love.  

Some of the best tomato sauce substitutes can be created with items already living in your pantry.  

Whether looking to make a simple soup or ace that dinner party that’s coming up, knowing the basics, the subs, and the how to’s will have you cooking up some mouth watering, tomato sauce goodness!

The BEST Tomato Sauce Substitute

The BEST Tomato Sauce Substitute

Yield: Makes 2 cups of tomato sauce

What to substitute for tomato sauce when you’re in a pinch? Easy! Use a can of tomatoes!


  • 1 16 oz can whole or diced tomatoes, with juice
  • ¼ c water or broth
  • ½ t salt
  • ½ t sugar


  1. Add all ingredients to a blender.
  2. Cover and blend on high until it becomes a very loose puree.
  3. Since canned tomatoes are cooked, you can use in your favorite recipes that call for tomato sauce as is… OR:
  4. To cook the puree down to thicken, place in a medium saucepan on medium heat, stirring occasionally for 15 minutes. Cool, and then use as directed for your recipe.

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