10 Great Ways To Use Up a Can of Tomato Paste

We've rounded up interesting and unexpected ways to use tomato paste, the classic pantry staple.

Chances are you've got a tube or can of tomato paste tucked away in a cabinet, just waiting to be called into action. Tomato paste is a cooking staple, of course; the kind of item that you'll always add to your shopping list, even if you're not actively planning to cook a recipe with it, because you never know when it will come in handy.

"Tomato paste is like the 'little black dress' of ingredients," says chef/owner Sophina Uong of Mister Mao in New Orleans. "You need to keep it in your pantry for that extra caramelized umami depth, sweetness, and velvety richness of color. Tomato paste is one of those essential ingredients that teaches cooks the foundation to great sauce-making "

"I think tomato paste is a valuable addition to many kitchens because of how much flavor it lends to a variety of dishes," adds chef and food blogger Marta Rivera Diaz of Sense and Edibility. "Case in point: adding just a tablespoon of tomato paste to things like chilis, stews, or beans replaces the need for large amounts of tomato sauce or fresh tomatoes; both of which will water down the dish they are added to."

Tomato paste also provides plenty of advantages from a health perspective, according to dietician Amber O'Brien of the Mango Clinic. "Tomato paste has a high quantity of lycopene. That is an antioxidant, which protects your body and skin from potentially dangerous free radicals. So, apart from being a versatile ingredient, tomato paste has significant health benefits that certainly makes it a valuable addition to any kitchen pantry," O'Brien tells us.

Tomato paste often finds itself closely associated with pasta and pizza sauces, but its usefulness extends far beyond these common applications. We asked 10 chefs and restaurateurs for their favorite ways to use tomato paste, and they offered up the following very helpful suggestions for getting the most out of that little can (or tube).

tomato paste

Add it to stews for an extra level of umami.

"Tomato paste imparts tons of flavor to a dish and gives it almost an umami flavor. When you feel like your dish is missing something, add tomato paste!" says founder and recipe developer Rachel Lessenden of Health My Lifestyle. In terms of specific dishes that benefit from the flavor of tomato paste, Lessenden tells us that "I love adding it to stews. It helps to thicken and gives an incredible depth of flavor!"

portrait shot beef stew in pot
Allrecipes Magazine

Get the recipe for Beef and Vegetable Stew.

Stir a spoonful of tomato paste into store-bought marinara sauce.

Jarred marinara sauce tends to lack the richness of the homemade stuff. However, if you find yourself in a time crunch and need to use store-bought marinara, chef and dietician Cindy Chou of Healthy Feels says that "I add tomato paste to store-bought marinara sauce to amp up the flavor profile."

Use it to make homemade BBQ sauce.

"Homemade barbecue sauce is such a fun way to use tomato paste! All you need is a can of tomato sauce and tomato paste to make your base, and then you can flavor it with various spices, sweeteners, vinegars and even fruit. The process is so easy, and the end result is much better than anything you'd purchase in the store," advises recipe developer Amanda McGrory-Dixon of Burrata and Bubbles.

Tomato paste works beautifully in Korean dishes.

"I like to add some tomato paste when making Korean dishes. Korean cuisine very rarely, if at all, calls for tomato paste, so the addition of it adds a very pleasant and unexpected flavor and texture," says executive chef Andrew Lim of PERILLA in Chicago. Specifically, Lim likes to use tomato paste to make "a Korean dish called dahk-tori-tahng, which is a spicy braised chicken with roasted potatoes, carrots, onions, and any root vegetables you prefer. Traditionally, it's a spicy, savory, and sweet dish. First, I sear the chicken skin side down for texture and render out as much of the chicken fat as possible. I like to mix the tomato paste with Korean chili paste mix, like a sofrito (gochujang, soy sauce, chopped garlic, chopped ginger, Korean chili flakes, salt, and sugar) and add it during the vegetable roasting process. This adds flavor to vegetables as well as a rich and velvety texture to the broth/sauce."

Korean Spicy Chicken and Potato in a brown bowl

Get the recipe for Korean Spicy Chicken and Potato (Tak Toritang).

Use tomato paste to make your own Bloody Mary mix.

Instead of buying pre-made Bloody Mary mix, general manager Jeremy Ross of Tiki Thai in Reston, Virginia, makes his own with the help of tomato paste. "It's much better to make your own Bloody Mary mix, and it's not hard at all. I mix together tomato paste, Worcestershire, horseradish, black pepper, and freshly grated ginger. I added that to vodka and ice and garnish with a celery stick and olives," Ross explains.

Dehydrated tomato paste makes a delicious tomato powder.

While we're on the subject of Bloody Marys, Jack Yoss, the VP of Culinary for Hai Hospitality in Austin, Texas, has the following recommendation for tomato paste: "In a low-heated oven, dehydrate the paste until all the water is removed, then pulse into a powder. Use this tomato powder as a seasoning. Tomatoes seasoned with tomato powder? Delicious and bursting with flavor. Also, you can rim a glass with tomato powder, salt, and chili pepper. Fantastic for Bloody Marys."

Whisk tomato paste with vinegar, olive oil, and herbs to make a bright vinaigrette.

When we asked executive sous chef Kendall Linhart of The Galt House Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky, for an unexpected way to use tomato paste, we got this intriguing suggestion: "Put tomato paste in vinaigrettes! In the summer, I will marinate artichokes overnight in a vinaigrette of red wine vinegar, fresh herbs, garlic, tomato paste, and olive oil. The next day, I throw those puppies on a hot grill for a great healthy appetizer or side to pair with the rest of my grilled feast."

Use in place of tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes in a ragù.

To impart tomato flavor to a meat sauce without compromising its richness or texture, follow this advice from chef/founder Andrea Belfiore of Italia Like Locals and "use tomato paste in a traditional Bolognese ragù as a substitute for tomatoes or tomato sauce! It gives that tasty burst of tomato without watering down your sauce. Ragù needs to be intense, meaty, and with a thick consistency. If you want to set a 'rule', you can add some tomato paste to any dish with a tomato base. It is just going to intensify the flavor and the color, making it richer."

Ragu Bolognese

Get the recipe for Ragu Bolognese.

Create a marinade with tomato paste and spices.

According to chef Nikolaos Kapernaros of Avli in the Park in Chicago, "my personal favorite secret way to use tomato paste would be to marinate a great piece of beef in spices and tomato paste. Once marinated, add vegetables, red wine, and some herbs and slowly roast it in the oven." The tomato paste brings both sweetness and acidity to the marinade, resulting in a cut of meat that's bursting with flavor.

Tomato oil made with tomato paste is a great finishing oil and emulsifying agent.

To make tomato oil, executive chef Josue Pena of The Iberian Pig in Atlanta likes to infuse olive oil with tomato paste. "It's much easier than you may imagine," Pena tells Allrecipes. He also adds that "a really great way of using it is as an emulsifying agent to finish a pasta dish — like in a beef sauce."

Check out our complete collection of Sauce Recipes.


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