The 5 Best Substitutes For Crushed Tomatoes

Is there anything more versatile than that little red fruit, the tomato? A staple ingredient in cuisines all around the globe, it has earned its place in our kitchens.

Of all its forms, nothing quite compares to a tin of quality crushed tomatoes for the perfect mixture of flavor and efficiency. But what can you do when you don’t have any of your favorite tasty mainstay to hand?

Well, hopefully, you’ll have one of these five awesome alternatives to crushed tomatoes, hidden away somewhere in the depths of your dry store or refrigerator. We’ll cover the obvious solutions, and some you may not have thought of.

Whether you’re avoiding crushed tomatoes because you’re trying to cut down on expenses or you simply forgot to pick some up last time you went shopping for groceries, we’ve got you covered. Let’s get tangy!

What Are Crushed Tomatoes?

We’ll begin by clarifying exactly what it is we’re trying to replace. You’d be forgiven for thinking that crushed tomatoes are just, well…crushed tomatoes, but they’re a little more nuanced than that, so what’s really going in that tin?

Crushed tomatoes are normally (not always) made up of Roma plum tomatoes. These are the quintessential tangy Italian tomato perfect for pasta dishes, pizza sauces, soups, salsas…you name it.

Rather than simply taking a hammer to them in a messy but satisfying act of fruity aggression, they’re neatly peeled and seeded.

The juicy remains are then quartered and crushed into a mix with tomato purée. This is what gives crushed tomatoes their signature texture and punchy flavor. Without the purée, they’d be quite watery, similar in consistency to canned chopped tomatoes.

They’re then canned and sterilized, but during this sterilization process, they’re also cooked once over. This accounts for the exquisite intermingling of the purée and the tomato.

What are Crushed Tomatoes Used For?

We could spend all day listing the ways you can use crushed tomatoes and still not be a quarter of the way finished. The truth is, unless you’re looking for a fresh tomato for a salad or sandwich, they can go in any tomato- based meal.

As they’re premixed with purée, they can thicken sauces nicely, eliminating the need to reduce a sauce over a long period of time or dilute the flavor with some cornflour paste. 

With so much zest in that little tin, there’s also less of a need to add seasoning. This can be a great help to novice cooks who don’t yet have an understanding of how much seasoning to use and what kind. It can also be useful in time-sensitive situations where you don’t have time to faff with particulars.

Here are some examples of how crushed tomatoes can be utilized in world cuisine.

Italian

Almost everything! Unless it’s a cream and white wine based dish, crushed tomatoes are a shoo-in.

  • Meatballs
  • Spaghetti Bolognese (although it’s not technically an Italian invention)
  • Ragu
  • Pizza
  • Ravioli
  • Soup
  • Arrabiata
  • Lasagna
  • Pomodoro
  • Puttanesca
  • Chicken Parmigiana

Mexican

  • Chili
  • Salsa (Originally developed by the Aztec, Mayan, and Inca people)
  • Picadillo

Chinese

  • Tomato Beef
  • Tomato Egg Drop Soup

Indian

  • Tamatar Chaman
  • Tamatar Ki Launji
  • Tamatar Kadhi

Thai

  • Vegetable Hotpot
  • Thai Tomato Curry.

You get the picture. They’re super versatile!

5 Substitutes for Crushed Tomatoes

While it’s not wrong to say that there really isn’t a substitute for some high-quality crushed tomatoes, you can get really close by letting your adventurous side loose in the kitchen.

Let’s kick things off with an awesome go-to option.

Fresh or Chopped Tomatoes

If you reach for your trusty tin of crushed tomatoes only to grab thin air, don’t sweat it. Hit the fridge and check your salad drawer. If you’ve got a decent amount of fresh tomatoes in there, you can whip up something akin to crushed tomatoes in no time at all.

You can take the time to peel and seed the tomatoes if you want, but we’re assuming that you’ll want to prepare them as quickly as possible.

Should you not have the time for any of that fiddly stuff, simply wash them, quarter them, and throw them in a food processor. Make sure not to blitz them too much otherwise they’ll come out as a watery juice rather than a pulpy delight.

If you really want to match that tangy goodness you get from a tin of crushed tomatoes, you can stir in some tomato paste too.

A couple of tablespoons should be enough. You may also want to mix things up a bit with some seasoning. A pinch of salt and pepper wouldn’t go amiss, perhaps some oregano and garlic powder, but you can add this stuff as you cook.

If you don’t have fresh tomatoes, but you do have a tin or two of chopped tomatoes, even better, mix in some purée, and you’re good to go! 

Store-Bought Tomato Cooking Sauce

Why not treat yourself to that premade pasta or pizza sauce blend that’s been sitting in your cupboard for a while. It’s not cheating. No more so than crushed tomatoes anyway.

While store bought sauces aren’t exactly always the best quality, you can boost the flavors as you go along with some expert seasoning and flavor pairings.

Do bear in mind, though, that these sauces will come ready-flavored, so have a quick look at the ingredients to ensure whatever’s in there will compliment the dish you plan on rustling up.

These sauces will have a similar texture to crushed tomatoes as they tend to be quite thick, but you can throw in a squirt of tomato purée to take it to the next level. The best part about this substitution is that it’s equally efficient as cracking a tin of crushed toms.

Ketchup and Tomato Purée

Now let’s start spicing things up a bit. We know you’ve been eyeing up that ketchup bottle in the refrigerator and wondering if that would work as a substitute for crushed tomatoes. Well,  we’re here to tell you that it absolutely can, but not straight out the bottle.

The problem with ketchup is that it’s not a cooking sauce but a dipping and sandwich sauce. It’s packed full of salt, sugar, and artificial flavorings. Using it to fill out a whole tomato-based meal will be terrible for your health and far too sweet to taste, overriding any other flavor.

Don’t worry though, this is an easy fix. First, you’ll need to dilute it with some water, then thicken it back out slightly with tomato purée. This will save you from using so much, ruining your meal, and quadrupling your daily salt and sugar intake.

Condensed Tomato Soup

We know, this sounds nuts, but it works! A good friend of ours was once in your exact situation. The meal was already cooking.

There was no going back, but they couldn’t find a single tin of crushed or chopped tomatoes in the usual cupboards. They started to panic, checking the lesser used cupboards, praying for some kind of tangy solution.

The last cupboard they checked brought them eye to eye with a tin of condensed tomato soup. It only had a couple of days left before it went off, so they thought, ‘what the hay’, and gave it a try. According to them, it was the greatest bolognese they’ve ever eaten.

Simply stir in that can of soup as if it were crushed tomatoes and add water until it’s the correct consistency for whatever meal you’re trying to make, and voilà!

Roast Fruit and Vegetable Blend

If you thought that last one was cuckoo, you may want to look away. It’s a pretty out-there idea, but if you don’t have a single tomato in the house and the store is shut, it might be your only option.

You’re going to need some mango, zucchini, eggplant, red peppers, mild paprika, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, and a pinch of brown sugar.

Chop up all your fruit and veggies, place them on a baking tray, drizzle on a small amount of olive oil, and roast them on a medium heat until they start to soften.

Now you can put them in a food processor with a teaspoon of olive oil, a splash of balsamic vinegar and a sprinkle of salt, pepper, paprika (for coloring), and brown sugar. If it’s too stodgy, stir in some water and get cooking!

The theory is that mango has a vaguely similar sweet tang to tomato, making it a great place to start when trying to synthesize a tomato substitute. Eggplant is very closely related to the tomato.

They’re both part of the nightshade family, and while eggplants don’t taste like tomatoes, they bring a similar texture to the table when cooked.

Zucchinis have a very wholesome flavor that mixes well with the cooked mango, and red peppers, apart from their perfect coloring, have a lovely freshness about them. The seasonings and oil lift the flavor while the balsamic vinegar helps to give it that characteristic, slightly acidic kick.

This isn’t going to be a dead ringer for crushed tomatoes, but it’s vaguely similar in flavor and texture, pretty healthy, and tastes delicious. Who knows, you might even like it better.

Frequently Asked Questions

Now that you’ve heard our top 5 suggestions of the best substitutes for crushed tomatoes, let’s wrap things up by addressing any questions you may still need answering.

How Long Do You Blanch Tomatoes to Get the Skin Off?

Not long at all, but only if the water in your pot is boiling hot. Before you lower your tomatoes in, you’ll need to score them with an X. Once this is done, pop them in the water and blanch them for 20 seconds to a minute.

Watch for the skin peeling away from the flesh. This is your cue to remove them and chill them in some ice water.

How Do You Peel Tomatoes Without Blanching Them?

To peel your tomatoes without blanching them first, you’ll need a really sharp knife. Quarter the tomato, then take each quarter and run the blade between the skin and the flesh, peeling the tomato away from the skin rather than the other way around.

Can I Freeze Crushed Tomatoes?

Yes, you can definitely freeze your crushed tomatoes. Doing so will mean you’ll never have to settle for one of the substitutes on our list.

Simply pour the excess into a ziplock freezer bag, label them with the date, and place them in your freezer. They should last up to six months.

Can I Use Tomato Sauce Instead of Crushed Tomatoes in Chili?

Yes, you can, but you’ll need to dilute it. There is far too much sugar and salt in tomato sauce to use it in the same way as crushed tomatoes.

Our suggestion is to water it down, then thicken it back up with a bit of tomato purée.

Can Diced Tomatoes Be Used Instead of Crushed Tomatoes?

Yep! You’ll need to cook them for slightly longer to break the chunks down and thicken your sauce out, but they’re a great substitute for crushed tomatoes.

Final Thoughts

That’s all from us, folks. We hope at least one of our suggestions helps you get by until you can stock your dry store back up with a few tins of the good stuff.

They may not result in exactly the same textures and flavors as your favorite brand of crushed tomatoes, but they sure do make a delicious meal. Bon appétit! 

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Cassie Marshall
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