Many different recipes cast tomatoes as their star and can be found as the highlight of enumerable dishes. Indeed, this humble fruit has a special taste that can be challenging to replace but not impossible. These 18 substitutes will infuse diverse flavors into your classic or modern tomato-based cuisine.
Choosing the Appropriate Tomato Substitution
It can be challenging to find an appropriate tomato substitution as they play such a dominant role in most recipes in which they take part. They are used whole, in pastes, in sauces, and in condiments. As a result, your replacement will need to mimic the particular role that the tomato was intended to take.
Therefore, it is crucial to identify exactly what the tomato’s function is in the recipe before deciding what replacement will work best alongside the other ingredients in your recipe.
Tomatoes usually take on one of three roles in a recipe. They can act as a thickening, souring, or sweetening agent.
Additionally, how many tomatoes you need to replace will determine some of the options available to you. For example, if you only have to replace a small number of tomatoes (1-2 tomatoes or 1/4 cup of tomato paste), you will have more options.
I’ve divided this article into sections based on the form the tomato takes as well as the type of dish it is used in. We will cover substitutions that are:
- As a Paste or Puree
- In Chili
- In Indian Cooking
Let’s get to it!
Whole “Crisp” Tomato Substitutes
If your recipe requires your tomato to remain whole, you can replace it with something crisp like the following:
While zucchini won’t have the robust tartness of tomatoes, the texture is not entirely dissimilar when cooked. As an added bonus, people who suffer from heartburn will thank you for keeping the tomatoes out and putting something really healthy in their place.
A small number of grapes added to a dish will replace the slightly sweet and tart flavor of tomatoes very well. You’ll be pleasantly surprised if your dish also includes cheese. You just have to try it to understand how good this savory-sweet combination can be.
Pro Tip: Combine zucchini and a few grapes in a dish for a great mix of sweet and crisp.
Try cooking carrots until they are not quite soft, and mix with a splash of vinegar. You can also cook them down and make a tasty tomato paste replacement. We’ll cover tomato paste substitutes in a bit.
4. Underipened Mangoes
This surprising substitute has a tart flavor with a similar texture to tomatoes. Chop them up and put them in a salad or on a sandwich. They also work well in tomato-based pastes and salsas. Also, try it in Tuscan Chicken. You can thank me later.
5. Bell Peppers
Red bell peppers are one of the most popular substitutes for tomatoes. Their versatility in dishes makes them a great starting point if you don’t want to be too adventurous in your choice. You can use them fresh, roasted, or reduced into a sauce or paste. I highly recommend that you try them as a substitute in sloppy joes.
Once again, make sure you add an acid to the mix to bring out the flavor and make them a solid substitute.
If you are looking for something to replace sun-dried tomatoes, olives are a solid option—the darker the olive, the better. I recommend blanching them in boiling water for one minute before substituting them into the recipe. Add in a bit of vinegar or citrus, and you are good to go.
Tomato Paste Substitutes
If your tomatoes are going to be ground into a paste, you have many different options available.
This one might be a bit surprising for some. But, if you cook them down (a pressure cooker works great), peel them, and puree them, and you will find that it has a very similar texture to tomato paste or sauce. Add in a bit of vinegar and citrus, and you are good to go.
8. Umeboshi Paste
Umeboshi paste has been used for hundreds, if not thousands, of years and is known for its remarkable taste and medicinal properties. The great thing is that it provides texture and taste similar to tomatoes in sauces or curries. This is one of the closest matches to tomatoes you can find on the planet. It is slightly sweet, and a bit salty, with a hint of tanginess as well.
Umeboshi can be found in most health food stores.
This is one of the more costly options on the list. Even so, the price is worth it. Tamarind has a unique sweet and sour flavor that, when done right, makes it an excellent substitute for tomatoes. It is especially useful in Mexican, Asian, or Indian dishes.
If you like spicy foods, you’ll love how Tamarind will complement the dish.
10. Peanut Butter
If you are using tomatoes as a thickener, then you can sometimes put in some peanut butter as a replacement. This works really well in certain recipes (meatloaf) but not so much in others. So be careful with this one!
A good rule of thumb is that if peanuts would be good with the dish, then it’s probably okay to use peanut butter.
This is more of a compliment for other tomato alternatives rather than a stand-alone substitute. Therefore, only use a small amount because of its distinct, prominent taste and combine it with another tomato alternative to bring out the sweetness of the dish (if warranted).
Substitute for Tomatoes in Chili
Did you know that you can make a warm chili even if you have no tomatoes? While most chili recipes use tomatoes as their base, you can find no-tomato chili recipes online. When replacing tomatoes in your chili, you need to account for color and taste.
12. Carrots & Peppers
Carrots, corn, and bell peppers add colors and flavor to your alternative chili recipe, though it is essential to add spices to give your chili some heat.
13. Pumpkin Puree
Another great substitute in your chili recipe is pumpkin. Instead of tomatoes or tomato sauce, you can use pumpkin puree. Pumpkin will give your chili a unique fall-inspired taste.
Replacing the tomatoes with pumpkin puree gives your chili a rich, thick texture. It pairs well with fall spices, chicken, and pork. Pumpkin chili makes a good option if you do not consume much beef.
By the way, pumpkin puree makes a great substitute for tomato paste in just about any recipe. Give it a try!
14. Sweet Potatoes & Carrots
Choose sweet potatoes and carrots to make your chili base if you suffer from a nightshade allergy. Be sure to chop them up into small, uniform pieces so that they cook quickly and evenly. It should take about 2o minutes to boil the veggies until they are soft and can be easily squished.
To give your nightshade-free chili a more conventional feel, you can add some Worcestershire sauce, cumin, garlic, and vinegar. The Worcestershire sauce will need to be homemade because most store-bought sauces use nightshade ingredients.
You could add other ingredients to your no-nightshade chili, including mushrooms, cheese, onions, and vegetable broth.
Substitute for Tomatoes in Indian Cooking
Tomatoes add color to your Indian dish. In Indian cooking, tomatoes provide a tang to the dish. Many suitable substitutes exist for this garden vegetable; however, each replacement will add a different flavor to the meal.
15. Lemon Juice, Curds, and Dried Mango Powder
This combination can be applied to a recipe instead of tomatoes. These souring agents will add some punch to your dish. What substitutes you use will depend on the other ingredients used in your recipe. Try to select a souring agent that works well with the other food items that go into your dish.
Depending on your location, certain substitutes will be used more often.
16. Butternut Squash Puree
This works as a tomato paste substitute in just about any recipe. But it really shines when used in Indian cooking. Whether roasted or not, the texture and taste is remarkably yummy when mixed with typical Indian spices. Your family might not even think they are actually eating tomatoes!
Bilimbi is a juicy and very sour green or yellow fruit that has a crunchy skin. It is an ingredient that people on the west coast often use in fish dishes instead of tomatoes.
18. Elephant Apple
In contrast, those living in eastern India select Elephant Apple as their souring agent of choice. If you are making a dish where this is the raison d’etre of tomatoes in your dish, this is an excellent option for you to try.
If you want to experiment and come up with your own substitutions, the sky is the limit. Just remember that tomatoes are a nice blend of savory acid with a hint of sweetness. So make a list of great savory foods and a list of acidic foods. Then mix and match and see what happens!
Also, if you are looking for a product that mimics tomatoes but has 0 tomatoes in it, you may want to try “Nomato Sauce” (Click to see Amazon listing). It’s a surprisingly tasty substitute for tomato sauce. Try it on your favorite pasta. You can pick up a jar at whole foods or have it delivered from Amazon.
Be sure to let me know how your tomato substitution quest goes in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!
Thanks for stoppin’ by.
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