Difference Between Tomato Sauce And Tomato Paste And When Do You Use Them

Tomato sauce is used differently than tomato paste in recipes but these two ingredients can be used interchangeably. Sometimes, the two ingredients are used in the same recipe to create a more complex flavor.

If you're wondering there are two kinds of tomato products that do the same thing but are used differently, you're not alone. These two tomato products are the result of cooking needs. Whether you want a tomato-based dish with enough sauce to scoop over a mound of rice or a thickened stew that has an intense flavor that coats each delectable meat chunk, the tomato product you use can mean the difference between a perfectly delicious tomato dish and one that's lacking in flavor.   

Here's how to tell the difference between tomato sauce and tomato paste, and how to use one for the other. 

A marinara sauce is a classic tomato pasta sauce you can easily make at home.
Photo by Riell Santos

What is tomato sauce?

Tomato sauce at its most basic is essentially ripe tomatoes that have been pureed. This is different from tomato juice where only the most liquid part of the tomatoes is used and the solids are strained out. Tomato sauce is made by liquefying the entire tomato into an almost liquid state that still contains the fleshy part as well as the juice. That's why tomato sauce has an almost grainy, sauce-like texture whereas tomato juice is smoother, more liquid texture.

You can easily make your own tomato sauce at home by using a blender or food processor and then simmering the resulting tomato sauce until thickened slightly. This way, you can control the seasonings, including the salt. You can even use the fresh tomato sauce in your recipe and just simmer your dish a little longer to remove that fresh tomato taste and make your dish less watery.

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To make commercial tomato sauce, fresh tomato puree is commonly heated and simmered until it's more shelf-stable for packaging. It's also common to find other ingredients in your tomato sauce package which might include salt, sugar, powdered spices, and even tomato paste and water. While tomato sauces can taste different depending on the kind and ripeness of the tomatoes used, these seasonings also explain why some tomato sauces taste different than other tomato sauces.

Tomato paste is just tomato sauce that's been heated, simmered, and then reduced until it's thickened into a paste.
Photo by Dairy Darilag

What is tomato paste?

Tomato paste on the other hand is really just tomato puree heated, simmered, and reduced until the mixture becomes a thick paste. Sometimes, tomato sauce is the base of the tomato paste so it, too, may contain seasonings already to make it taste more than just tomatoes.

Tomato paste in this reduced state is even more shelf-stable and more potent in taste than tomato sauce. It has a stronger tomato tang and a more concentrated umami flavor. This is perfect to use for stews where you don't want a lot of liquid in your dish.

To use it, it's common to find the tomato paste being added with the sautéing of the aromatics (garlic, onions, leeks, and carrots) so it can cook off some of the raw tomato and brown slightly. This browning is courtesy of the Maillard reaction which develops a new flavor in ingredients through heat and browning.


You can actually use both tomato sauce and tomato paste in the same recipe. A great example is in kaldereta recipe where tomato paste is used at the beginning of the recipe and then tomato sauce is added later to create the sauce. Bolognese meat sauce recipes also use both tomato products, too, to create that super flavorful sauce.

This pasta is made more flavorful with the use of a spicy canned tomato sauce.


The way to know when to use which tomato product is this: use tomato paste to thicken, color, and enrich the flavor of tomato-based dishes without adding more liquid such as stews. Use tomato sauce when you want a tomato-based sauce or soup-like dish. Use both if you want a more intense and potent tomato flavor in your dish.

There's another tomato product in the market that you can use in place of tomato sauce in a pinch: tomato ketchup. This is a more sour and more highly seasoned ingredient but not more tomato tasting sauce that you can use in instances where tomato sauce is not available. You can use ketchup where a sweet and sour flavor is desired.



Thinking about what to cook next? Join our Facebook group, Yummy Pinoy Cooking Club, to get more recipe ideas, share your own dishes, and find out what the rest of the community are making and eating! 


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