Decoding the Distinctions: Tomato Paste vs. Tomato Sauce

Tomato Paste vs. Sauce: Understanding the differences

Tomato paste and tomato sauce are two common ingredients found in countless recipes around the world. While they both share tomatoes as a key ingredient, they differ in flavor, consistency, and use. In this article, we will explore the differences between tomato paste and tomato sauce, highlighting their differences in consistency, flavor, ingredients, usage, and even nutritional value.

Consistency: Thick vs. Watery

One of the main differences between tomato paste and tomato sauce is their consistency. Tomato sauce is relatively watery and tends to spread easily when poured onto a plate. Tomato paste, on the other hand, is much thicker and requires some form of liquid or heat to break up.
The consistency of these products is determined by the amount of tomato solids they contain. Tomato sauce typically contains up to 24% tomato solids, resulting in a looser and lighter texture. In contrast, tomato paste contains more than 24% tomato solids. The thickness of tomato paste is a result of the cooking process, where the tomatoes are cooked extensively to reduce the water content, leaving a concentrated paste.

Taste: Acidity vs. Freshness

The flavor of tomato paste differs from that of tomato sauce. Tomato paste has a distinct acidity and is often compared to dried tomatoes. This acidity is not present in tomato sauce, which tastes more like fresh tomatoes.
Due to its concentrated nature, tomato paste has a meaty flavor and is often used to enhance the overall flavor of a dish or to bring out the umami flavors of other ingredients. It is known for its remarkable flavor potential, where as little as a teaspoon can significantly affect the flavor of a recipe. In contrast, tomato sauce typically contains added seasonings such as garlic, onion powder and various herbs. This adds to the fresh tomato flavor.

Ingredients: Simplicity vs. Flavor

Both tomato paste and tomato sauce are readily available in stores, and their homemade versions are relatively easy to make. Tomato paste derives its flavor primarily from the tomatoes themselves, with minimal additional ingredients. The secret to its tart flavor is the use of citric acid, which also acts as a natural preservative. Olive oil is another key ingredient in making tomato paste at home.
Tomato sauce, on the other hand, has a slightly longer list of ingredients to enhance its flavor. It usually includes garlic (or garlic powder), onion (or onion powder), salt, sugar, herbs, and olive oil. Homemade tomato sauce often contains fresh garlic, onion, and high-quality olive oil to enhance the flavor.

Use: Base Ingredient vs. Versatile Sauce

Tomato paste is typically used in small quantities because of its intense flavor. It serves as a base ingredient for sauces and stews, adding depth and richness to the dish. Tomato paste also adds vibrant color to soups. To unlock its full flavor potential, tomato paste should be “activated” by frying it in olive oil until it changes color. This caramelization process intensifies the flavor, resulting in a more robust and flavorful sauce.
On the other hand, tomato sauce is more versatile and is often used to make a variety of sauces, such as pasta or pizza sauce. Canned tomato sauce has undergone a brief cooking process during the canning process, which imparts a degree of cooked flavor. When using canned tomato sauce, it is best to simmer over low heat for a few minutes to allow the flavor to develop. Adding garlic, onion, and herbs can enhance the flavor profile of store-bought tomato sauce.

Nutrition: The Antioxidant Benefits of Tomato Paste

Tomato paste and tomato sauce have different nutritional profiles. Although tomato paste is used in smaller quantities, it contains a higher concentration of nutrients than tomato sauce. One of the most notable components in tomatoes is lycopene, an antioxidant with numerous health benefits. Research suggests that lycopene in tomato paste is better absorbed by the body, making it an effective source of this important antioxidant.
The higher concentration of lycopene in tomato paste is due to the cooking process used to make it. Processed tomatoes, such as those used to make tomato paste, release more lycopene than raw tomatoes or lightly cooked tomato sauce. Therefore, tomato paste outperforms fresh tomatoes and lightly cooked tomato sauce in terms of antioxidant content.

Replacing tomato paste with tomato sauce

In certain situations, tomato paste can be used as a substitute for tomato sauce, although the results may not be identical. Due to its concentrated nature, tomato paste lacks liquid content and must be diluted with water. In addition, tomato paste has a slightly acidic taste. To balance this acidity, a pinch of sugar or a small amount of vinegar can be added when using tomato paste as a substitute for tomato sauce.

Making tomato sauce from tomato paste

Conversely, if you have tomato paste but need tomato sauce, you can turn the paste into a sauce-like consistency. Simply dilute the tomato paste with water or broth, add seasonings such as garlic, onion, and herbs, and simmer to achieve the desired thickness and flavor. This homemade tomato sauce can be used as a substitute in recipes that call for tomato sauce.


In summary, tomato paste and tomato sauce differ significantly in consistency, flavor, ingredients, use, and nutritional value. Tomato paste is thick, concentrated, and adds richness to dishes, while tomato sauce is watery, has a fresh tomato flavor, and is more versatile. Understanding these differences allows you to use each ingredient effectively in your cooking, enhancing the overall flavor and texture of your dishes. Whether you’re making a hearty stew or a classic pasta sauce, knowing when to use tomato paste or tomato sauce can make a world of difference in your culinary endeavors.


What is the main difference between tomato paste and tomato sauce?

The main difference is in their consistency and use. Tomato paste is thicker and more concentrated, while tomato sauce is more watery and versatile.

Can tomato paste be used as a substitute for tomato sauce?

Yes, tomato paste can be used as a substitute for tomato sauce by diluting it with water or stock. However, adjustments in flavor and consistency may be necessary.

Does tomato paste taste different from tomato sauce?

Yes, tomato paste has a more intense and meaty flavor, while tomato sauce tastes more like fresh tomatoes. The concentrated nature of tomato paste adds depth and richness to dishes.

Can I make tomato sauce with tomato paste?

Yes, you can turn tomato paste into tomato sauce by diluting it with water or broth and adding seasonings such as garlic, onion, and herbs. Simmer the mixture until the desired thickness and flavor is achieved.

Which is more nutritious, tomato paste or tomato sauce?

Tomato paste contains a higher concentration of nutrients, including the antioxidant lycopene. The cooking process used to make tomato paste increases the release and absorption of lycopene, making it a potent source of this beneficial compound.

Can I improve the taste of store-bought tomato sauce?

Yes, you can enhance the flavor of store-bought tomato sauce by simmering it over low heat and adding additional ingredients such as garlic, onion, herbs, and high-quality olive oil. These additions can enhance the flavor profile of the sauce.