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7 Surprising Substitutes for Tomato in Any Recipe

substitute for tomato
Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / bohdanchreptak

Instead of using flavorless tomatoes when they're out of season, check out this guide for seven tomato substitutes you can use year-round to brighten your recipes.

While nothing can compare to a freshly grown tomato picked straight from the vine in the dead of summer, the majority of the year, tomatoes in conventional grocery stores are watery and flavorless. Plus, purchasing tomatoes when out of season means that they will have likely been grown elsewhere and will have been imported. If grown closer to home, it is likely they come from heated greenhouses which use a lot of energy and are not so eco-friendly. Instead of continuing to buy these, use seasonal ingredients or alternatives that can be used throughout the year. 

This article provides some options for fresh tomato substitutes to liven up your recipes. 

Tomato Substitute for Umami Flavor: Miso Paste

Miso paste is a Japanese fermented paste that's rich in umami.
Miso paste is a Japanese fermented paste that's rich in umami.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / leeyoping0)

What is miso paste? Miso paste is a Japanese cuisine staple made of fermented soybeans with koji (a type of fungi), salt, and sometimes seaweed. Miso paste is salty, pungent, and has a characteristic umami flavor. Instead of using tomatoes when they’re out of season in sauces, marinades, and salad dressings, use a spoonful of miso paste. 

If you’re new to using miso paste, start with a white paste — one of the most subtle of the miso varieties.

Red Bell Pepper to Add Color

Red bell peppers can be used in place of fresh tomatoes to provide texture, flavor, and a beautiful red color.
Red bell peppers can be used in place of fresh tomatoes to provide texture, flavor, and a beautiful red color.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / Brett_Hondow)

We also eat with our eyes, and food with a variety of colors is not just more appealing, it is also more rich in vitamins and nutrients. Fresh or roasted red bell pepper makes a suitable substitute for tomatoes because they offer an earthy, slightly sweet flavor with a bright red color. Depending on the size of the pepper, a ono-to-one swap would be ideal.

Tamarind Paste to Add Sourness in Place of Fresh Tomatoes

Tamarind paste is made from the fruit of the tamarind tree and brings out a unique, fruity, and earthy flavor.
Tamarind paste is made from the fruit of the tamarind tree and brings out a unique, fruity, and earthy flavor.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / PublicDomainPictures)

Many recipes add fresh tomatoes to add a sourness to the dish. When they are out of season, tamarind can make an excellent substitute for tomatoes.

Tamarind paste — made from the fruit of the tropical tamarind tree — is a sour and sweet paste with slightly savory flavors. It’s sometimes used in Indian, Thai, and Mexican dishes for its tangy and unique taste. Use tamarind in recipes such as chutneys, Mexican recipes with chilies, and Southeast Asian dishes like curries and soups. Using tamarind will add a complex, tangy-iness that will bring your recipes to the next level. 

You can find tamarind paste in most grocery stores in the “exotic foods” section. Store the paste at room temperature in a cool and dark place, and once opened, refrigerate. Usually, only a small amount of tamarind paste is necessary because it is fairly strong. You can always add more if necessary. 

Tomato Paste

Tomato paste is an excellent substitute for tomato, and is a useful tool to have in every kitchen.
Tomato paste is an excellent substitute for tomato, and is a useful tool to have in every kitchen.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / team-dmm)

When tomatoes are out of season and you need tomato characteristics, tomato paste is a convenient and helpful substitute. It’s essentially a concentrated tomato puree so you don’t usually need to use that much. Adding some liquid to balance out the paste such as vinegar, oil, and even some water helps to create a saucier result with a strong tomato flavor. 

Tomato Substitute for Flavor & Color: Spices

When you're lacking in fresh ingredients, say on a holiday or too lazy to go to the store, dried spices are your best friend.
When you're lacking in fresh ingredients, say on a holiday or too lazy to go to the store, dried spices are your best friend.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / sarangib)

Alternatively, you can use dried spices to bring out a brighter red color. Use a combination of spices such as various dried red chili; from mild paprika, to chipotle, crushed red pepper flakes, cayenne, and more. While you can usually use paprika without making the dish spicier, the other dried pepper spices will bring out more heat in your dish, if that’s what you’re looking for. Paprika is probably the best spice option to use in place of fresh tomatoes because it has a slightly fruity and robust flavor, similar to tomatoes. 

Red Wine to Add Depth and Color

Using a dash of red wine in your recipes as a substitute for tomatoes is also a great excuse to have a glass of wine with dinner.
Using a dash of red wine in your recipes as a substitute for tomatoes is also a great excuse to have a glass of wine with dinner.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / markusspiske)

Red wine can be used in many recipes such as pasta sauces, soups, marinades and more to bring out an earthy and sweet complex flavor. It will also aid in creating a slightly redder outcome. 

Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Sun-dried tomatoes can be slightly sweet, gummy, and add a bit of umami flavor.
Sun-dried tomatoes can be slightly sweet, gummy, and add a bit of umami flavor.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / Brett_Hondow)

Sun-dried tomatoes can be found year-round both in dried versions and preserved in oil, and canned. The dried option can be easily rehydrated by soaking them in warm water for about 30 minutes until soft. Then drain the liquid, which can be saved for stocks and sauces —  another good substitute for fresh tomatoes. Pat dry the sun-dried tomatoes and use them in recipes for pasta, pizza, salads, and more.

The sun-dried tomatoes preserved in oil can be used without any preparation. Eat them with bread or incorporate them into your main entree. 

Combination of the Above to Substitute Fresh Tomatoes

While the compilation of tomato substitutes offers great options, a true chef will know the right combination of multiple ingredients to use in place of tomatoes.
While the compilation of tomato substitutes offers great options, a true chef will know the right combination of multiple ingredients to use in place of tomatoes.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / RitaE)

Alternatively, you can use a combination of the substitution recommendations listed to gain a complex flavor profile for your unique dish. Try a curry made of red bell pepper, dried chili, tamarind, and maybe even miso to get a robust and bright flavored curry. A pasta sauce on the other hand can be easily made with tomato paste, red bell pepper, a splash of red wine, spices, and herbs. 

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