Have you ever looked at recipe that calls for both tomato puree and tomato paste, and wondered what on earth is the difference between tomato puree vs paste?
You then head to the supermarket, and while you see cans labelled “tomato puree” and “tomato paste”, you also cans of “peeled plum tomato”, “chopped tomato”.
There are also rows upon rows of tomato-based pasta sauces. What’s the difference between “Traditional Italian” and “Marinara Italian”? When it says “Bolognese with red wine”, is there really red wine in there?
If you haven’t had these thoughts, you should, because it can open up a whole new world of possibilities for you. Tomatoes are in my top 10 list of essential pantry items because they are so versatile.
So read on, for the ultimate guide on the differences between tomato puree vs paste, and (almost) all the other tomato-based products out there.
Tomato puree vs paste
Tomato puree is basically cooked tomato that has been blended into into a smooth consistency. Canned tomato puree should contain only tomatoes and salt.
If you have hypertension or heart disease, compare the nutrition information panels on the cans and choose one that’s lower in sodium.
When dealing with kids who do not like chunky tomato pieces, tomato puree is a good way to sneak tomatoes into pasta sauce or tomato soup.
Do you want to get your kids more interested in food? Check out this post!
Tomato paste on the other hand, is tomato that has been cooked down and blended up, yielding a thick, homogenous texture.
Tomato paste is commonly used as a spread for pizza bases.
As it is basically a more concentrated version of tomato puree, you can add water to get tomato puree for sauces and soups.
If you’re short on storage space in your pantry, tomato paste is thus a better option to tomato puree as they take up less space.
I’ve used it to thicken up and complement a batch of home-made tomato sauce once, when I did not have enough tomatoes. It worked perfectly and added more flavour and richness to my sauce.
These are usually labelled as “chopped tomatoes”, “peeled plum tomatoes”, “whole peeled tomatoes”, or “crushed tomatoes”, and come in cans.
They contain actual tomatoes in different forms (whole, chopped, diced, or crushed), tomato juice, and occasionally salt.
As they do not contain any oil or sugar, they have less than half the calories of ready-to-eat pasta sauces (read more about them below).
This makes them more suitable for people with medical conditions or diets that require salt, sugar, or fat restriction.
You can easily flavour canned tomatoes by adding pepper, herbs and spices (which are calorie-free) to get a lower-calorie sauce.
Personally, I like to use these because they are budget-friendly, being cheaper than ready-to-eat sauces.
I can also flavour them to my taste preferences with other ingredients. Furthermore, they are time-saving as they do not need to be chopped, cooked, and reduced, the way fresh tomatoes do.
These canned versions have a robust tomato flavour. They are picked at their freshest and pre-cooked until reduced to a nice syrupy consistency.
Now, if you’re surprised that I’m recommending canned food, check out my post about how canned food can be good for you.
Tomato-based pasta sauce
Tomato-based pasta sauces are pretty much made of a combination of tomato paste, tomato puree, diced tomato, oil, and salt.
Depending on what it’s marketed for, other vegetables, herbs and spices may also be added.
For example, “chunky pasta sauce” may contain carrot and onion. “Bolognese with mushroom” will have mushrooms, and “Bolognese with red wine” actually does have some red wine in there.
Unfortunately, when these jars are labelled “Bolognese”, they do not contain minced meat like traditional Bolognese. What it probably means is that they are flavoured to accommodate a Bolognese sauce. You would have to add your own minced meat in the cooking process if you wanted a true Bolognese.
Certain brands may add thickeners or sugar, which makes the sauce a more appealing consistency and reduces tartness, respectively.
Essentially, because these sauces have been flavoured, they are ready to be poured immediately onto pasta, which makes for a quick meal.
However, make sure you do these two things when you choose to use these sauces:
1. Make sure you balance your meal
When you have pasta alone with plain sauce, you increase your chances of over-eating carbohydrates at each meal.
Simply add a serve of vegetables and protein to complete your dish. You may realise that with a balanced meal, you do not need as much pasta as usual.
Vegetables that go well with tomato sauce include carrots, onion, celery, zucchini, eggplant…or even more tomatoes.
In terms of protein, you can never go wrong with minced beef; other options include tuna or minced pork (if you don’t eat beef).
2. Compare nutrition information panels
Because these sauces are marketed as ready-to-eat, they have to taste delicious, which is why oil, salt, and sugar have been added.
However, oil and sugar increase the caloric content of these sauces, while salt in excess increases blood pressure.
As with all other factory-produced, ready-to-eat foods, you have no control over the amount of each ingredient used in the product.
If you’re choosing these products for convenience, make sure you compare their nutrition information panels. Look for an option that is lower in calories or salt, depending on your dietary needs.
If time is not an issue and you prefer healthier alternatives, canned tomatoes, tomato puree, or tomato paste would be right for you.
Lastly, we have our all-time favourite—tomato ketchup.
Its ingredient list may have tomatoes listed at the very top, at 80%. But remember, it has been cooked down and drastically reduced, with added sugar and salt.
Two tablespoons of tomato ketchup has 30 calories. That’s as many calories as seven tablespoons of canned tomatoes!
So, remember how energy-dense tomato ketchup is the next time you douse it over your fries.
That brings us the end of the differences between tomato puree vs paste, and all the different kinds of tomato-based products out there.
They may be similar in its main ingredient, but can have very different caloric contents. This depends on the amount of oil and sugar added, and how concentrated the product is.
I hope this clarifies any confusion or misconceptions you’ve had about tomato-based products.
They are a quick and convenient option to have in your pantry, and makes for a quick meal. If you’re all for quick-cooking meals, check out my posts on 5 ways to spend less time cooking in your kitchen or kitchen equipment that make meal prep faster.
If you found this useful, do share it with friends and family who would put this knowledge to good use!