What Is Tomato Paste? An Explainer

Tomato Paste. Nine out of ten tomato dentists recommend that you brush your tomato’s teeth with the stuff for two minutes twice a day to maintain a healthy tomato smile. Either that or it’s just really concentrated, really cooked-down tomatoes that you can use as a base for soups, sauces, and braises—and it just happens to come in a tube sometimes.

I can tell you with 100% certainty that at least one of the above facts is true. I can also tell you that tomatoes don’t have teeth (thank goodness and happy spooky season), so that kind of gives it away. 

What is tomato paste and where is it from? 

Tomato paste really is just tomato concentrate. In other words, tomatoes are stewed for a really long time, then the skins and seeds are strained out, and then the heating of the tomato goop continues until most of the water has evaporated, but not so much water that it becomes fruit leather. Tomato paste can be found in the canned tomato section of the grocery store in a tube or a teeny tiny can (nothing cuter than a can of tomato paste), or some people make it themselves. As for where it comes from beyond the can or the tube? Tomato paste originated in the Mediterranean because Spanish Conquistadors took some tomatoes from South America and they happened to grow well in the Mediterranean climate of Italy and the surrounding area. Creating tomato paste out of tomatoes was an idea that arose in Italy and was a great way to add a flavor bomb of umami-ness to food. It’s also a great way to preserve tomatoes for long periods of time.

What is tomato paste used for?

Is it only used for tomato sauces? Do people use it in soups? If I eat it straight with a spoon will that be too much concentrated tomato power for one person and make me ‘splode into billions of tomatoey bits (again, happy spooky season)? These are all valid questions. Turns out, you can truly use tomato paste for whatever you want. It is a great way to add flavor to soups, sauces (from pizza to pasta, to BBQ), baked beans (@rhett), braises, tomato juice, and homemade ketchup. Also, I am happy to report that if you eat it plain, you will not ‘splode. In fact, if you make tomato paste from scratch, I’ve heard it’s extremely good spread on toast.

So next time you see tomato paste at the store, get some! I suggest the resealable tube if you aren’t going to use it all in one go, and then experiment with it! Make a pizza or some pasta sauce or, heck, draw a face on a tomato and then brush the tomato’s fake teeth with it—you do you!

About the Author

Jessica Block

Jessica Block is a freelance contributor to Sporked, a comedian, a baker, a food writer, and a firm believer that Trader Joe's may just be the happiest place on earth. She loves spicy snacks, Oreos, baking bread, teeny tiny avocados, and trying new foods whenever she can. Also, if you give her a bag of Takis she will be your best friend.

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