The Difference Between Tomato Sauce and Tomato Paste

Tomato paste and tomato sauce, their main ingredient is tomato so they should be fairly similar right?

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Despite this being the most prominent similarity shared between both condiments, it is actually the only similarity as they are in fact different in many ways.

Your local supermarket will likely offer an array of different tomato-based canned or jarred products, each of which are commonly opted for as an addition to your recipes.

Distinguishing between the different types available can seem like a challenge. 

If you are wondering what's the difference between tomato paste vs sauce, we have provided you with the answer in our guide below. Remember, canned tomato sauce, tomato puree, and crushed tomatoes are used for totally different purposes. Depending on your recipe (like a pasta dish) you'll need a different tomato flavor. You can find a tomato paste substitute from our list below.

First, it is important to ensure that you understand exactly what each type of condiment is and how the types of dishes that they are used in.

What is Tomato Paste?

Tomato paste is essentially a super concentrated type of tomato sauce. It has a thick consistency and has been made from tomatoes that have been cooked for several hours resulting in reduced water content.

The cooked tomatoes are then strained out of their skin and seeds and are cooked until they appear to have a paste-like consistency.

There are many benefits associated with the use of tomato paste. Not only is it packed full of flavor but it also contains less water than canned and fresh tomatoes.

It's a common addition to many recipes that require an intense and rich flavor. As such, tomato paste tends to be used as a base ingredient in many dishes.

What is Tomato Sauce?

Tomato sauce is typically made from pureed ripe tomatoes. It has a thick consistency and typically comes in a jar.

Unlike tomato paste, tomato sauce isn't a name given to one specific condiment as it can refer to several varieties of sauces available that include ingredients such as onions, garlic, peppers, and herbs. 

Tomato sauce has a grainy texture which is achieved by cooking the tomatoes until they reach a liquid state ensuring that the fleshy parts of the tomato still remain. Tomato sauce can taste different depending on the seasonings and ingredients that have been used to create it.

Simply put, tomato paste has a more concentrated and richer flavor and it has been made from tomatoes that have been cooked until the moisture has been drained from them.

Tomato sauce on the other hand doesn't share the same intense flavor as paste because it isn't as concentrated. It is commonly used to flavor pasta dishes or as a base for Mexican salsas. 

Due to the density of tomato paste, you will typically find that it comes in smaller quantities. Unlike tomato sauce, where a whole jar is typically used per dish, you will only require a very small amount of tomato paste.

The Ingredients

Of course, the main ingredient used to make tomato sauce and tomato paste is tomatoes. Both varieties are readily available in the majority of stores, however, it is possible to make both from home too.

Tomato paste has a more acidic flavor as it is essentially just made with cooked down tomatoes and salt. Homemade varieties will often use olive oil too. Tomato sauce on the other hand typically uses a more varied selection of ingredients to enhance the flavor.

The cooked down tomatoes are typically seasoned with salt, sugar, herbs, garlic, onions, and olive oil. Some may also include spices and chopped peppers.

The Consistency

Perhaps one of the most noticeable differences between tomato sauce and paste can be identified by the consistency.

Tomato paste doesn't have as high a water content as tomato sauce as it contains more tomato solids. How the tomatoes are cooked influences their consistency because they are cooked for a lengthy amount of time until the water content is drained from them.

Tomato sauce is much more liquidy than paste because it has a higher water content. Out of all tomato-based condiments, tomato paste has the thickest consistency and tomato sauce has the lightest and thinnest consistency.

The Taste

As tomato paste contains fewer ingredients and a higher concentration of tomatoes, it ultimately tastes very much like dried tomatoes.

Due to the intense taste of tomato paste, it doesn't need to be added to dishes in such high volumes, it is very much the case that a little goes a long way.

Tomato sauce on the other hand tastes very much like fresh tomatoes although it is typically consumed cooked. Because tomato sauce contains more water than paste it doesn't share the same concentrated taste and it is typically seasoned to enhance the flavor.

How are they used?

Tomato sauce is essentially any dish that could benefit from intense flavor. Typically it is used as a base ingredient to thicken, add color and enrich the flavor of other liquid recipes such as sauces, soups, and stews.

Although it may seem tempting to add the paste straight into your recipe, there is actually a correct way of preparing it which will allow you to enjoy the maximum amount of flavor.

Frying the paste will activate it and encourage it to change color. Allow it to sizzle in a pan on a medium heat with some olive oil or another type of fat, you will soon notice that it begins to caramelize and the color becomes darker and less vibrant.

Preparing the paste beforehand will lock in the flavor and this is very much likely to be an appreciated addition to your dishes.

Tomato sauce typically refers to several tomato-based sauces where the main ingredient is tomatoes. You will typically find that tomato sauce is added to pasta dishes and meatballs etc, but it can also be added to a recipe to create other types of sauces too.

You will even find that some recipes call for the use of both to create a dish that is enriched with flavor. In this case, tomato paste tends to be used first and tomato sauce tends to be added later.

Understanding when each should be used can seem a little tricky. For tomato-based dishes that require thickening, more color, and a more concentrated flavor you will need to use tomato paste.

To create soups or for dishes that require a tomato-based sauce, you will need to of course use tomato sauce. In recipes where you want a combination and an intense flavor, it is possible to use both.

The Packaging

There are also noticeable differences in how both are packaged. Tomato paste is typically packaged in one of three types of containers; a tube being the most common, although it is also available in a glass jar or a can.

Although the packaging may be different, the product inside remains the same. Tomato sauce on the other hand typically tends to be sold in jars. 

Of course, the packaging isn't going to change how the paste or sauce tastes, but it is worth having an awareness of this factor so you know what to look for the next time you are browsing your supermarket shelves.

Which one is healthier?

Tomato paste has a higher nutritional value than tomato sauce. Not only is it denser and more concentrated but it also contains higher levels of lycopene.

This is an antioxidant that is known to deliver many health benefits such as improved skin health and heart health and protection against some forms of cancer. While this particular antioxidant is present in all tomatoes, there are higher levels of it present in processed varieties such as tomato paste.

A single serving of tomato paste also tends to have more calories and carbohydrates. Ultimately, in terms of nutritional value, tomato paste provides a healthier option than tomato sauce despite being used in smaller quantities.

Using Tomato Sauce as a Substitute for Tomato Paste

It is possible to use tomato sauce as a substitute for tomato paste. However, it has a thinner consistency and higher water content than paste.

 It also doesn't share the same intense flavor. Because of this, you will likely find that you need to use almost double the amount of sauce that you would paste to create the same amount of flavor.

As you have used a higher volume of sauce to arrive at a similar taste and consistency to the paste, you will likely find that you have much more available than what you have intended use for.

To resolve such issues, you can simply allow the sauce to cook on a low heat, and eventually, it will begin to reduce.

If you want to substitute sauce for tomato paste, you will need to dilute it with water beforehand. This is because a paste has a lower liquid content and is much more diluted than tomato sauce.

It tastes slightly different too so you will benefit from adding a small amount of salt as this will balance out the acidness and making it a more enjoyable addition to dishes that primarily call for the use of tomato sauce.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you substitute tomato paste for tomato sauce? 

If you are all out of tomato sauce, but you look into your pantry, and you find a gold mine… tomato paste, then you are in luck. Tomato paste is the best substitute for tomato sauce if you are lacking any of the ready-made stuff. All you need to turn tomato paste into a tomato sauce is the paste and some water. 

You may even find that you can create your own beautiful and uniquely flavored tomato sauce by doing it this way. Who knows, you may never go back to buying the ready-made stuff, you may choose to DIY it from here on out after trying it this way. 

While it is always easier to just buy the ready-made sauce it can be very beneficial to make your own sauce as you can control what goes into it, and you can give it your own personal touch. 

Which is better tomato sauce or paste? 

Generally it really depends on personal tastes as to which is better. But most people would say that tomato paste is better than tomato sauce. This is due to it having a more concentrated flavor, it is also much thicker in its texture as well, which is often what people seek in a tomato sauce. No one wants a thick and clumpy tomato sauce! 

Tomato paste is often used in dishes to enhance other flavors of the dish and the sauce. Unlike tomato sauce the paste does not act as a tomato ingredient in the dishes it is a part of, but instead it acts as a base ingredient that provides rich flavors and enhances the overall flavors of the meal at hand. 

How much tomato paste equals a can of tomato sauce? 

The average can of tomato sauce is around 14 ounces or 400 grams. If you want to make your own tomato sauce using a paste then you will want to make an amount equal to this.

So to do this you will need to mix around 4 tablespoons of tomato paste with one and a half cups of water You should also add one and a half tablespoons of flour and one and a half teaspoons of sugar. This will be a fairly watery substance however when you add it to a dish such as bolognese it will thicken as it cooks. 

This mixture will only take about three minutes to thicken into a standard sauce-type consistency. This will add up to being an equal amount to a standard can of tomato sauce. If you pre-make a load of this mixture then it can be a fantastic way to prepare for meals in the future, jar and store your own tomato sauce for the future.  

How do you make tomato paste into sauce? 

To make your tomato paste into a tomato sauce then you need the paste, water, and seasoning, the mixture can also benefit from flour and sugar too, for thickening and sweetening.

You should mix together one part tomato paste and one part water until it is well blended and then season the sauce to taste. It is typically seasoned with herbs, garlic, and onions. You can also find that your sauce will benefit from a drizzle of olive oil, or for sweetening a pinch of sugar.

A good way to measure the amounts is to have 4 tablespoons of tomato paste and one and a half cups of water and mix, adding ingredients and additional amounts until the sauce is to your satisfaction. Do keep in mind that your sauce will thicken as it cooks though. 

Final Thoughts

As you can see, while tomato sauce and tomato paste are made using the same core ingredient they actually differ in many ways.

While tomato paste is used as a base ingredient in many dishes because of its intense, concentrated flavor, tomato sauce tends to be used in the process of creating other sauces or it is often added to pasta and meatball dishes, etc.

It is possible to combine the use of both in many dishes too depending on the flavor that you want to create. If you are creating a meal with a rich flavor, this provides a viable option as you can use both condiments during different stages of the cooking process.

It is also possible to substitute tomato sauce for tomato paste and vise versa. However, should you attempt to do so, it is important to account for the differences in consistency and flavor to ensure that it makes a worthy substitute to your dish rather than one that alters the taste negatively.

As mentioned, a paste is thicker and will therefore need to be diluted to arrive at a similar consistency as a sauce. Likewise, a sauce needs to be made thicker to arrive at the same consistency as a paste so you will need to double the volume of ingredients.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you make tomato sauce from tomato paste?

You can use tomato paste to make tomato sauce and the process is actually much easier than you may think. Ratio-wise, for each cup of paste you will need to balance it out with one cup of water. Of course, you will need to do this according to your recipe requirements.

Adding too much water and paste may otherwise affect the taste of the final dish. You will then need to season it and this can be done using some onions or garlic adding the amount that you feel compliments the rest of the sauce.

Which is better: tomato sauce or paste?

Determining which is better is of course going to depend on your recipe. As mentioned, tomato paste has a richer, more concentrated flavor than tomato sauce. It's thicker too.

Unlike tomato sauce, a paste isn't simply used to add a tomatoey flavor to a dish but rather it acts as a base ingredient that enhances the flavors of the recipe.

Using tomato sauce in a recipe that requires tomato paste is likely to alter the taste, especially if it hasn't been prepared into a more paste-like product beforehand. 

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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
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