6 Substitutes for Tomato Sauce If You Run Out of the Pantry Staple

Sneak tomato-y sweetness into your cooking, no matter the state of your pantry.

Not everyone has time to channel their inner Italian nonnas and stir a pot of homemade tomato sauce for hours on end, so it’s a good thing that high quality pre-made tomato sauce is so widely available. Pre-made tomato sauce is one of our favorite time-saving hacks, and can be used in anything from lasagna and pizza, to a shakshuka-inspired skillet. If you’re out of tomato sauce, or can’t track down your favorite brand, don’t worry; there are plenty of ways to create the same sweet-and-savory, velvety effect with different products. Here, we’ve rounded up half a dozen substitutes for tomato sauce in case you’re in a pinch.


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Canned Tomatoes

With a can of tomatoes, you can pull together a quick tomato sauce in about 20 minutes. Start by sautéing some finely chopped onion in a pot with olive oil, then add a bit of minced garlic when the onion has softened. Add the tomatoes, and season to taste with salt, pepper, and chili flakes. If the tomatoes are whole, or too chunky for your liking, crush them with your hands, or with a fork or potato masher. Let simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until the sauce is to your liking. If you want an extra smooth sauce, blitz it in a blender or food processor. There, you’ve made your own speedy tomato sauce! Use this as a 1:1 substitute for pre-made tomato sauce. 

We call for canned tomatoes in many favorite recipes, including this Skillet Polenta in Creamy Tomato Sauce and this Fresh Cavatelli with Garlic Tomato Sauce.

Fresh Tomatoes

Not only can you make a 1:1 substitute for tomato sauce with fresh tomatoes, but it’s also a great back-pocket recipe to preserve a glut of summer tomatoes.

When making a sauce with fresh tomatoes, it’s best to avoid their skins, which will maintain a different texture even when blitzed with the pulp. The easiest way to do this is to slice the tomatoes in half, grate them on the cut side, and discard the skins at the end. Afterwards, follow the same steps as written above for canned tomatoes; the only difference is that you don’t have to cook fresh tomatoes for as long, especially if they’re ripe and sweet.

Tomato Paste

Tomato paste is a thick, concentrated paste made by cooking tomatoes down for a long time, straining them, then cooking them again. This process results in an umami-rich paste that can transform into a makeshift tomato sauce when mixed with water. 

Sauté some tomato paste (remembering that it’s strong) in olive oil with minced garlic, salt, pepper, and chili flakes. Add water, following a rough ratio of 1:1, tomato paste to water. Mix well to combine, and let simmer for about 10-15 minutes to meld the flavors. Tomato paste is not a 1:1 substitute for tomato sauce, but tomato paste-based sauce is. Try out a version of this technique by making our Braised Fish with Spicy Tomato Sauce.

Tomato Soup

Tomato soup tends to be sweeter and more liquidy than tomato sauce, so it’s not a perfect 1:1 substitute. We’d avoid using tomato soup for something like pasta sauce, but it can definitely add a nice tomato-y flavor to recipes like this One Pot Italian Sausage Gnocchi Soup, or these Cheesy Baked Beans and Tomatoes. Start by adding less tomato soup than you would tomato sauce, and adjust to taste.


With a sweet-and-sour flavor profile and an almost gel-like consistency, ketchup is decidedly not tomato sauce. Please do not use ketchup as a sauce for pasta! However, like tomato soup, ketchup can add the sweetness of tomatoes to a recipe. This Sweet-and-Sour Tofu has a ketchup-based sauce, and you better believe our go-to secret sauce for burgers includes ketchup.

Tomato Purée

Tomato purée is thicker than tomato sauce, but thinner than tomato paste. It can be turned into tomato sauce using the same method as tomato paste, but since it needs less dilution, don’t mix it with as much water. Tomato purée is not a 1:1 substitute for tomato sauce, but tomato puree-based sauce is.

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