9 Best Substitute For Tomato Sauce

Tomato Sauce Substitute

Tomato sauce forms the backbone of countless dishes across various cuisines, providing a burst of tangy sweetness that’s both versatile and delicious. From the classic spaghetti Bolognese to the rich curry, tomato sauce is a household staple, essential for crafting flavorful meals. But, what happens when you’re midway through your culinary creation and realize your pantry is devoid of this critical ingredient? Or what if dietary restrictions or allergies make tomatoes a no-go in your kitchen?

That’s where the beauty of culinary substitution comes in. By experimenting with substitutes, you can open a whole new world of flavors while still maintaining the essence of the original recipe. This article explores some of the best substitutes for tomato sauce, like ketchup, salsa, canned pumpkin puree, red pepper puree, and even vegan pesto, among others. Each one brings its unique flavor profiles and nutritional benefits to the table, proving that while tomato sauce may be a common staple, it’s not the only option for crafting delicious dishes.

What is Tomato Sauce?

Tomato sauce, in its simplest form, is tomatoes simmered down until they collapse into a dense, richly flavored concentrate. It often involves a cooking process with herbs, spices, and sometimes other vegetables like onions and garlic. Depending on the cuisine or dish, the texture and thickness of the tomato sauce can vary, but in all instances, it serves as a robust base or accentuating ingredient, providing color, body, and flavor to food.

Substitute Spectrum: Tomato Sauce Alternatives At A Glance

  • Ketchup
  • Salsa
  • Canned Pumpkin or Squash Puree
  • Red Pepper Puree
  • Beetroot Puree
  • Soy Sauce and a Little Sugar
  • Coconut Cream and Spices
  • Vegan Pesto
  • Olive Tapenade

Best Substitutes For Tomato Sauce

Navigating through the kitchen landscape with a missing ingredient can be quite the challenge. But, as they say, necessity is the mother of invention. So, let’s dive into these inventive, surprising, and delicious substitutes for tomato sauce.


Ketchup, a classic condiment found in most households, can be a quick and easy substitute for tomato sauce. While ketchup and tomato sauce share the primary ingredient, tomatoes, their culinary uses often differ. However, in a pinch, ketchup can bridge the gap.

Ketchup’s base ingredients are ripe tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, salt, and spices, which give it a sweet, tangy flavor with a hint of spiciness. This flavor profile is somewhat similar to that of tomato sauce, making it a suitable replacement. When using ketchup as a substitute, it’s worth noting that it’s sweeter and thinner than traditional tomato sauce. Therefore, reducing the amount of sugar and increasing the cooking time can help balance these differences, making your dish as close to the original as possible.

Moreover, ketchup can be an advantageous replacement in recipes that require a tangy, mildly sweet tomato base. Dishes like barbecue chicken or baked beans can benefit from the ketchup’s unique flavors, giving a delightful twist to the final result. However, for more traditional and authentic recipes like pasta or pizza, it might not be the best choice due to its pronounced sweetness.

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Lastly, when choosing ketchup, opt for a high-quality one with no added sugars or preservatives. This choice ensures that you get the most authentic tomato flavor and maintain a healthy, clean diet.


Salsa, the zesty star of Mexican cuisine, can be another surprising yet effective replacement for tomato sauce. Unlike the sweeter ketchup, salsa offers a tangy, spicy alternative, making it more suitable for recipes requiring a bold tomato flavor.

The typical ingredients of salsa are tomatoes, onions, peppers, cilantro, and lime juice. These ingredients contribute to its robust, zesty flavor, which can enhance the overall taste of your dish. Salsa, particularly chunky versions, can add texture to your dishes, which might be a welcome addition, especially in recipes like pasta or casseroles.

One significant advantage of using salsa as a substitute is its versatility. You can choose from a range of salsas, from mild to spicy, based on your preference and the requirements of your dish. Additionally, salsa can be an excellent way to add some heat to your dishes, especially if you enjoy spicy food.

However, as with any substitution, it’s crucial to consider the flavor profile of your dish. Salsa, with its distinctive taste, might not work well in all recipes that require tomato sauce. For dishes that need a smooth, mild tomato base, salsa might overpower the other flavors.

Canned Pumpkin or Squash Puree

If you’re looking for a substitute for tomato sauce that moves away from the tomato’s tangy profile, consider canned pumpkin or squash puree. It may seem like an unusual choice, but these purees can provide a rich, velvety base for your dishes.

Pumpkin and squash purees have a naturally sweet and earthy flavor, which can complement many dishes. These purees can work well in dishes that don’t necessarily need the acidic tang of tomatoes but benefit from a rich, smooth base.

One key advantage of using these purees as a substitute is their health benefits. Pumpkin and squash are rich in vitamins, particularly vitamin A, and also provide a good amount of dietary fiber. So, in addition to acting as a substitute for tomato sauce, they also enhance the nutritional profile of your dishes.

However, keep in mind that these purees have a distinct flavor profile that differs significantly from tomato sauce. They might not work well in all recipes, especially those requiring the specific tangy flavor of tomatoes. Nonetheless, they can be a great addition to your culinary repertoire, adding a unique flavor and healthy twist to your meals.

Red Pepper Puree

A well-roasted red pepper puree can be a delightful alternative to tomato sauce. Sweet, smoky, and vibrant, this substitute can bring a unique depth of flavor to your dishes.

Red pepper puree is made by roasting and blending red bell peppers into a smooth sauce. The roasting process enhances the natural sweetness of the peppers and adds a hint of smokiness, which can contribute to a rich, layered flavor profile in your dishes.

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This puree can be an excellent substitute in recipes that call for a sweet, rather than acidic, tomato base. In addition, its bright color can mimic the look of tomato sauce, making your dishes visually appealing.

However, it’s essential to remember that red pepper puree will add a distinctive flavor to your dishes, different from the classic tomato sauce. While this can be a bonus for adventurous foodies, it might not be the best choice for traditional recipes or for those who prefer the familiar taste of tomatoes.

Beetroot Puree

For those seeking a tomato sauce substitute that maintains a similar color profile while offering a unique flavor, beetroot puree could be the answer. The earthy sweetness of beetroot provides a distinctive taste that can elevate various dishes.

Beetroot puree is simply cooked beetroot that has been blended into a smooth sauce. Its earthy sweetness and vibrant color make it a suitable substitute for tomato sauce, especially in recipes that don’t require the acidity of tomatoes.

Beetroot puree can be particularly effective in dishes that can accommodate its sweetness, such as certain pasta sauces, stews, or even pizzas. However, as with all substitutes, it’s important to remember that the flavor profile of beetroot differs significantly from that of tomato sauce. It will add a unique touch to your dishes, which can be exciting for those looking to experiment with flavors.

Soy Sauce and a Little Sugar

A combination of soy sauce and a small amount of sugar can be used as a substitute for tomato sauce in some recipes, particularly in Asian cuisine. The umami-rich soy sauce, combined with the sweetness of sugar, can create a complex, savory base that can mimic some of the flavor profiles of tomato sauce.

Soy sauce brings depth and umami to the dishes, while sugar balances the saltiness and adds a touch of sweetness that can mimic the natural sweetness of tomatoes. This combination can be particularly effective in stir-fry dishes, marinades, and other recipes that require a robust, savory base.

However, keep in mind that this substitute will bring a distinctly Asian flavor profile to your dishes, which might not be suitable for all recipes. Also, due to the high sodium content of soy sauce, it’s important to adjust the seasoning of your dish accordingly to avoid over-salting.

Coconut Cream and Spices

If you’re cooking a curry or other dish that calls for a creamy, spicy tomato base, a combination of coconut cream and spices can be an excellent substitute for tomato sauce. The rich, creamy coconut cream combined with spices like turmeric, coriander, and cumin can create a flavorful base that brings warmth and depth to your dishes.

This substitute is particularly effective in South Asian and Southeast Asian recipes, which often call for coconut milk or cream. The sweet, rich coconut cream balances the heat of the spices, creating a harmonious blend of flavors that can take your dish to new culinary heights.

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However, the distinct flavor and creaminess of coconut might not suit all recipes, especially those requiring a tangy, acidic base. But for dishes that can accommodate its unique profile, coconut cream and spices can be a delicious, dairy-free alternative to tomato sauce.

Vegan Pesto

Vegan pesto, typically made from basil, garlic, nuts, and an oil like olive oil, can be a green, herby alternative to tomato sauce. While it has a very different flavor profile, its rich, savory qualities can serve as a refreshing substitute in certain recipes.

Vegan pesto brings a burst of fresh, herby flavor to dishes. It’s particularly good in pasta dishes, where it can stand in for tomato sauce to create a completely different, but equally delicious, dish.

Remember, the flavor profile of pesto is very different from tomato sauce, and it won’t suit every recipe. But, in dishes where you think its herby, nutty flavors will shine, it can be a fantastic substitute.

Olive Tapenade

Olive tapenade, a paste made from finely chopped or pureed olives, capers, and olive oil, can serve as a flavorful, Mediterranean substitute for tomato sauce. Its robust, briny flavor can bring a unique twist to your dishes.

Olive tapenade can work particularly well in pasta dishes, as a pizza topping, or even in a sandwich in lieu of tomato sauce. Its bold, savory flavor can stand up well to other strong flavors, making it a versatile ingredient in your kitchen.

As with any substitute, it’s essential to keep in mind the flavor profile of your dish. Olive tapenade has a very distinct, bold flavor that might not suit all recipes. However, for those that can accommodate its briny goodness, it can be an excellent tomato sauce alternative.

Substitutes for Tomato Sauce: Nutritional Profile

Here’s a brief comparison of the nutritional profiles of the substitutes mentioned above (per ¼ cup serving):

SubstituteCaloriesFat (g)Carbs (g)Fiber (g)Protein (g)
Pumpkin Puree200531
Red Pepper Puree300721
Beetroot Puree350821
Soy Sauce & Sugar150302
Coconut Cream10010211
Vegan Pesto808212
Olive Tapenade707310

This table shows that these substitutes can vary widely in their nutritional profiles, providing different amounts of calories, fats, carbs, fiber, and protein. Therefore, you can choose a substitute that aligns with your dietary preferences and needs.


Substituting ingredients in cooking can be a challenging yet exciting venture. It encourages creativity and allows you to explore new flavor profiles. While tomato sauce is a staple in many kitchens, there are numerous substitutes you can use when the need arises, each with their unique flavor profiles and nutritional benefits.

Remember that choosing the best substitute depends on your specific dish, personal preference, and dietary requirements. While some alternatives might provide a closer match to the taste of tomato sauce, others offer completely different flavors that might be equally delicious.

So, whether you’re out of tomato sauce, are allergic, or are just eager to experiment with new flavors, don’t be afraid to try these substitutes. You might discover a new favorite ingredient or take your dish to new culinary heights!

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