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What Can I Substitute for Tomato Paste in Sloppy Joes?

My kids love Sloppy Joes. I remember a few times that they begged me to make them for dinner, but I was lacking tomato paste, a key ingredient. So, is there a viable substitute, or do you have to just head to the store?

Good tomato paste substitutes include fresh or canned tomato products such as crushed or stewed tomatoes, tomato sauce, or even ketchup, as long as you compensate for their differing moisture content. Each tomato product can be added at a different ratio and then further reduced to cook out the excess moisture.

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The rest of the article will cover a few viable substitutes and also explain how to make your own tomato paste.

Homemade sloppy joe in a cast iron skillet

What Can Be Substituted for Tomato Paste in Sloppy Joes?

If you are making Sloppy Joes and don’t have any tomato paste, there are quite a few substitutions to help you complete your meal without sacrificing flavor. The good news is that you can swap out pretty much any tomato product for tomato paste.

Just keep in mind that tomato paste is a reduction of tomatoes, so if you are going to substitute, you will need to compensate for the difference in moisture. Most substitutions can just be reduced to achieve the desired effect.

Sloppy Joe Substitutes

  • Fresh Tomatoes can be added to your dish at a ratio of 5 teaspoons of fresh tomato to 1 teaspoon of paste. Peel the skin and remove the seeds before adding. It may be best to crush them before cooking. Some people blend their tomatoes before adding, but make sure you blend on pulse mode. Otherwise, your tomatoes will aerate and become too frothy.
  • Ketchup makes an adequate substitution at a ratio of 2 teaspoons of ketchup to every 1 teaspoon of paste. Ketchup has additives like high fructose corn syrup, sodium, and preservatives that make it the least desirable substitute for tomato paste and will alter the flavor of your sloppy joes but in a pinch, it suffices.
  • Crushed or Stewed Tomatoes are a suitable substitution at a ratio of 4 teaspoons of stewed tomatoes to 1 teaspoon of tomato paste. Stewed tomatoes are similar in texture and juiciness as fresh tomatoes. They easily cook down. Reduce in a pan for 30 to 45 minutes on medium-low heat before adding to your Sloppy Joe mix. Alternatively, you can add to the rest of the ingredients and reduce them together. This could overcook the meat, so reduce on low heat.
  • Red peppers can be a suitable substitution for those that may be sensitive to or out of stock of tomatoes. Consider pureeing them before reducing them down in a saucepan. If you are in a hurry, you can substitute fresh red peppers diced at a ratio of 5 to 1. If you make a reduction, you can substitute 1 teaspoon of red pepper paste for 1 teaspoon of tomato paste. Roast your red peppers before reducing them for a smoky, savory splash of flavor.

Related The 7 Most Suitable Substitutes for Mexican Stewed Tomatoes.

Can I Just Make Tomato Paste?

If you have the time and an adequate amount of fresh tomatoes or canned tomato products, you can make your own tomato past relatively quickly. After all, tomato paste is just tomatoes that have been reduced down with heat removing excess moisture. The end result is a tomato concentrate of sorts. After all, that’s all tomato paste is; a concentration of tomato sauce.

You tackle this by slowly simmering fresh or canned tomatoes for 5 to 6 hours or until they are the consistency of paste. There are many ways to accomplish the task, but most recipes call for you to puree your tomatoes, skin them, and remove their seeds before reducing them down. Also, in addition to stove-stop methods, you can alternatively bake tomato sauce at low heat to turn it into a paste.

How to Make Tomato Paste

On a stovetop, you can simmer fresh tomatoes or canned crushed tomatoes for several hours until the moisture has been cooked out. Make sure that you first skin and remove the seeds from the tomatoes before starting your reduction.

You’re going to need five times the weight of tomatoes as your intending to make into a paste. Many recipes call for 10 pounds of tomatoes to produce 2 jars of paste!

Simmer on medium-low heat for 5 hours. When most of the moisture has been cooked out, but the consistency is still slightly thicker than paste, allow the mixture to cool before putting it into a food processor, blender, or through a food mill. You can now jar or can your paste. It will thicken up further when it cools.

Other recipes call for you to puree your tomatoes, reduce them to the consistency of the sauce with the addition of olive oil, seasonings, and salt, and then bake in the oven at 200 degrees on wax paper sheets for 30 to 45 minutes. Allow the paste to cool before jarring or canning.

A woman holding a bowl of homemade tomato paste with fresh tomatoes nearby

What Exactly Is the Difference Between Tomato Sauce and Tomato Paste?

Tomato sauce and tomato paste are very similar ingredients except for a marked difference in their moisture content. Tomato paste is a reduction of tomato sauce. It is essentially a tomato concentrate.

Tomato sauce has been cooked for a shorter duration of time and thus is higher in acidity. Tomatoes become less acidic as you cook them further Tomato sauce can be suitable for things like pasta dishes or a base for pizza sauce. Tomato paste is great when you want to add tomato flavor without adding all the liquid and chunky texture, like when you are making chili.

Final Thoughts

So, there ya have it. You may even find that you or your kids prefer the taste of homemade sauce versus the store-bought stuff. Hopefully, you don’t spoil them too badly, or else you may have to work harder than ever to make what is supposed to be a simple dish. Totally not an issue with my picky kids.

Thanks for the visit!

Jelly Grandma

For more, check out 18 Versatile Substitutes for Tomatoes in a Recipe.