10 Yummy Substitutes for Canned Tomatoes

What do you do if you can’t get hold of canned tomatoes? How will you cook pasta and pizza sauces? What should you use for stews or soups? What will happen to your tomato-based Cajun, Mexican or Italian mixtures?

There are fresh or sun-dried tomatoes, tomato sauce or paste, ketchup, roasted red bell peppers, pumpkin puree, carrots, and other vegetables to substitute a can of tomatoes. But it is fresh tomato and tomato sauce that comes closest to taste and texture when used in different recipes.

Canned tomato is almost as fresh as a fresh tomato when picked at the perfect ripe time with balanced acidity to bring out its sweet and tangy taste. You can achieve the same result with the substitute vegetable by creating the right balance and texture for the needed dish. It may taste a bit different, but you still get the taste that you are looking for.

Here’s a list of substitutes that you can use for canned tomatoes and the kind of dish it can match with little taste and texture variance.

Fresh Tomatoes

Fresh Tomatoes are the best substitute for canned tomatoes if you use them in their peak season from July to September.

Canned tomatoes can handle the heat or simmer for hours and have a higher concentration of flavors. But you can use fresh tomatoes for the same purpose and achieve the same result as if you used canned tomatoes.  

Using fresh tomatoes is a preferred option for salad or salsa. But in the absence of canned tomato, peel the fresh tomatoes and add flavoring it with spices, salt, and sugar. If you keep the skin, you maintain a higher nutritional value of lycopene which is an antioxidant.    

A standard 14-ounce of canned tomato equals about 5-6 fresh tomatoes or about 1 pound. Take note of using good firm and ripe tomatoes that are not mushy or black spotted. An easy way to do your canning is by mixing the following ingredients.

  • Boil tomato in water for 30-45 to soften the skin of the tomato.
  • Add lemon juice.
  • Add fresh basil or fresh oregano. 
  • Add a pinch of salt and sugar.

Using fresh tomatoes for sauces gives a lighter taste to the palette. This sauce would pair well with dishes such as Cajun Chicken Pasta, Jambalaya, and Chicken Enchiladas, all because it resembles a salsa sauce that compliments the dishes. Other dishes are chicken, veal, or eggplant parmigiana that uses the tomato sauce as siding support to the breaded entree.

Tomato Sauce

Canned Tomatoes are unseasoned tomatoes boiled with their water and some preservatives, while tomato sauce has tomatoes slightly cooked with a sharp acidity meant to mellow out while cooking. 

Tomato Sauce can blend with the different flavors when you mix into a pot of meat for a stew or thicken it up with spices and flavorings for a marinara sauce. 

canned tomatoes

Typically you use tomato sauce for stews, braises, and pasta sauces, all because you cook it longer while flavors mix in the process. Rushing a tomato sauce to blend into a dish will not work because the acidity is very distinct, and the taste is a bit sour but flat. Whereas if you allow a minimum simmer of 15 minutes on a dish, the flavors blend in.  

Bolognese sauce and beef stew have to simmer with beef broth for a minimum of half an hour, then cooled down. The spices added to the dish will give the sauce a flavorful texture. It will taste better after a few days of storing in the freezer and will not spoil if the tomato sauce is simmered for a time.

To make a version of canned tomato using tomato sauce, you will need to mix a bit of tomato paste to get the correct thickness consistency of canned tomato. Dishes like spaghetti and meatballs or Manicotti are used with tomato sauce.

Tomato Paste

Canned tomato is a boiled tomato, while Tomato paste is a thickened tomato sauce reduced with intense flavor and a dark reddish spread. If you want to get the same quantity and taste of a 14 oz. canned tomato, you will have to adjust accordingly.

  • Mix 4 tablespoons of tomato paste to 1.5 cups of water
  • Add 1.5 tablespoons of flour
  • Add 1.5 tablespoons of sugar 

A little dab of tomato paste to a dish produces a distinct sweetness and overpower the dish. To balance it off, you can add either vinegar or lemon juice to create a tangy edge to the dish. You can choose to dilute the paste with water, broth, or wine as well.

Cooking with tomato paste must follow the rule that what you cook will taste a bit on the sweet side and a bit tangy on the side. If you use a cup of tomato sauce, you’ll have to use a quarter of that for the same dish because it is a condensed tomato sauce that comes in a thick paste.

 Mexican Rice Casserole and Marinara sauce are dishes you can use with tomato paste because the diner expects the dish to have a dominant tomato sweet taste. It gives the dish a strong kick of tomato flavor with the added spices.

Related Article: Is It OK to Cook Canned Food in a Can?

Certain Ketchup Brands

Believe it or not, the trusty Ketchup bottle can be a substitute for canned tomato.  Some people have issues with toning down the taste of ketchup because of its extra rich taste.

Whereas a tomato can has less than 2% spices with its citric juices, ketchup is thickened and cooked with vinegar.   But if you have no time to run out and get a canned tomato, you’ll make do with what you have in your refrigerator or pantry. 

Ketchup is not only made from tomatoes, but it is also flavored as a dipping sauce and used alone.  Its rich taste from tomato paste added with vinegar, corn syrup, and spices make it taste different.  You will need to tone down the rich flavoring of ketchup to achieve a lighter and delicate flavor of canned tomato.

A cup of ketchup is the same as a cup of tomato paste.  Look for the brands that do not use sugar like Heinz to keep it as close to the taste of canned tomato as possible.  You can water it down with chicken broth, onions, garlic, mushrooms, and red wine if you like.   

Nomato Sauce

Nomato is simply a not tomato present in this sauce. It is a combination of carrots, beets, pumpkin or squash, garlic, onion, celery, bay leaf, and water. You’ll want to make this recipe for the family for its anti-inflammatory and nutrition-packed ingredients. If your diet falls under vegan, paleo, nut-free, gluten-free, nightshade-free, and Whole30 then the Nomato sauce is a good staple sauce to have.

You should use the Nomato sauce within a week if stored in the refrigerator, or a month in the freezer to preserve its nutritional value. Beetroot is rich in vitamins B9, C, Iron, Potassium, and Manganese. Carrots have Vitamin A and beta-carotene. Garlic is an antiviral and antibacterial vegetable. 

Start by peeling and chopping the vegetables and boiling until soft. Using an immersion blender or regular blender, puree the vegetables and simmer with the spices. You can adjust the thickness by adding vegetable broth of the sauce according to your use as pasta sauce, as a dip, or as a spread. 

  • Beets can be purple beets which are sweeter in flavor than golden beets.
  • Carrots should be chopped and boiled to soften.
  • Pumpkin is boiled then pureed.
  • Add garlic, onion, celery, and bay leaf.

Pumpkin Puree & Beets

Pumpkin Puree and Beets are acceptable substitutes for canned tomatoes. The pumpkin vegetable is a lighter color than tomato sauce, but when you add the purple beets, you get the deeper red-orange color of a canned tomato. You can use canned pumpkin and canned beets for an easy-to-do mock-up tomato sauce. 

  • Sautee a clove of garlic and onion in extra virgin olive oil. 
  • Add one can of pumpkin puree with one can of beets with ⅓ cup of fresh basil. 
  • Add ½ cup of chicken or vegetable broth to boil.
  • Season with black pepper and salt. 
  • Add three tablespoons of fresh lemon juice and one tablespoon of Balsamic vinegar. 

Pumpkin puree will remind you of baby food that you have fed to your kids, but make no mistake in its value for nutrition and benefits to the body. Mixing the two vegetables will give the heavy texture, but the taste is far from imitating the tomato. You will have to have a heavy hand for the spices and a bit more on the lemon to give it a tangy taste.

The Pumpkin puree and beets mixture will give you a nice marinara sauce and a good base for stews and soups. It will take the flavor of the meat used, and the substitute will go unnoticed. Take note the thickness depends on how much broth you add to your mixture.

Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Sun-dried tomatoes are dried in the sun, in the oven, or use a dehydrator to store tomatoes. The tomatoes lose 82-90% of the original weight through the drying process. When the tomatoes lose their water, they retain their sugar, sweetness, and nutrients.  

Sun-dried tomatoes have an intense and concentrated tomato flavor. You will need ¼ cup of sun-dried tomatoes for ¾ cups of canned tomatoes. The dried tomato flesh is chewy and pliable, unlike the canned tomato that is soft and full of liquid. But you can soften it by pouring boiling water into the dried tomato and soaking it for 30 minutes. 

Once your sun-dried tomatoes have been soaked and pat dry, you can now use them for your soup or stew. Keep the water, wine, or olive oil that you used to soak the tomato because you can use it for the recipe. The other options you can use for soaking the sun-dried tomato before cooking, and all will give it a better flavor to your recipe.

  • Red Wine
  • Vegetable Broth or Chicken Broth
  • Olive Oil

You can use sun-dried tomatoes for pasta sauces, dips, soups, and risotto. The taste is a bit sweeter than the regular canned tomato, but you can adjust by adding a little bit of white wine vinegar or lemon. Minestrone and Ratatouille soups would taste flavorful instead of the tart tomato soup base regularly used in the recipes.

Roasted Red Pepper Relish

Zergut Mild Ajvar is a popular Yugoslavian vegetable dish. The roasted red pepper relish can be used as a sauce, dip, and spread. The roasted red pepper is blended with eggplant, garlic, and natural pepper flavoring, spices, chili peppers, sunflower oil, and acetic acid. It has a close flavor for tomatoes, with the sauce similar in texture and taste. 

The homemade Ajvar is traditionally sweet, but it can be commonly piquant or a spicy sensation in the mouth. 

The peppers are placed on an open fire and cooled to peel off the skin and remove the seeds.  The tomato meat is stewed for several hours, then add sunflower oil to condense and reduce water.  Add salt or vinegar, then seal in sterilized bottles for preservation.  

The Roasted Red Pepper Spread is described as a dump-and-stir sauce mixed into pasta, meat dishes, and other meals.

In a heated pan, you put a few spoonfuls of the rich textured spread. Mix an amount of water depending on how thick or thin you want your mixture to come out. It’s an instant sauce for your lasagna, pizza topping, sauce for the veal parmesan, or you, stuffed peppers. 

Red Bell Pepper

Red Bell Peppers are expensive if it is off-season, and best to stock up when they are on sale during the summer months. You can process immediately and freeze, or you can stuff them in the freezer to use at a later date. It will not matter if the meat is not plump after defrosting because you will roast or mince them into a sauce.

Red Bell Peppers are an acceptable substitute for canned tomatoes. Choose a ripened red bell pepper and cut out the vegetable into eights, taking out the seeds and the stem. Bake it in the oven for 20 minutes at 425°F. 

  • Either peel off the charred skin or leave it with the mixture to give it a smoky taste. 
  • Place the newly baked peppers in a paper bag and close for five minutes. 
  • Blend the softened and moist bell pepper
  • Puree the bell pepper with two teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil, ¼ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon sugar, one teaspoon dried oregano, one teaspoon dried basil. 

You can use the red bell pepper sauce for lasagna, baked macaroni, or Roman-Style Chicken. The difference in taste will go unnoticed on baked pasta or cooked meats, or chicken. This is because the sauce is a support to the main ingredient where the flavors come out.

Carrots and Beets

The two nutrition-packed ingredients used to substitute a canned tomato, namely carrots and beets are root vegetables. Carrots are a good source of beta carotene, Vitamin K1, potassium, fiber, and antioxidants. Beets come from beetroots, a source of Vitamin C and Vitamin B9, manganese, potassium, iron, and fiber. 

Put these two ingredients together, and you have a good dose of vitamin-packed natural sauce that benefits your physical well-being. It is light and non-acidic that you can use for many dishes without worrying about gastrointestinal problems later on. The best thing about this recipe is how easy it is to make and prepare. 

  • Saute onions, garlic, and chopped carrots. 
  • Simmer the chopped carrots and beets until soft.
  • Use a blender to puree the carrots and beets.
  • Add a little vinegar.
  • Add vegetable broth or chicken broth
  • Add the bay leaf, oregano, and basil.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste.

The Carrot and Beet Sauce is a perfect substitute for dishes like Tuscan Bean Soup or Chicken Tortilla Soup as the light texture will not overpower the beans and herbs. This will likewise work as a base for your Chicken Tikka Masala or the Shakshuka. It will go well as a Pomodoro sauce for the Lobster allowing the crustacean meat to take the front seat in this dish.


There are many substitutes to canned tomato, but of the top listed choices, the first five are listed as by-products of tomato and a good substitute for canned tomato.  Fresh Tomatoes, Tomato Sauce, Tomato Paste, Ketchup, and Sun-dried Tomatoes can all be used for tomato recipes.  You have to work on the texture and consistency to substitute a canned tomato. 

The remaining five items are listed as acceptable substitutes in terms of texture, but not necessarily in taste.  Roasted Red Bell Peppers, Red Bell Peppers, Nomato Sauce, Pumpkin Puree and Beets, and Carrots and Beets are healthy choices.  But you will have to work on the taste by adding vinegar, sugar, and many spices to get close to the tomato taste.

Depending on how you will use a canned tomato, the substitutes are options that you can use for a sauce, a dip, a spread, or a siding. 

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