Tomato Sauce Vs Tomato Paste: What is the Difference?

Do you love tomato products as much as I do? From tomato purée to paste and all the sauces, it can get confusing what to use when! What is the best option for your favorite pasta dishes, pizza sauce, tomato soup, and everything else you’re cooking up?

In this post, I’ll focus on two popular tomato cooking products, tomato sauce vs tomato paste, and which one to use when cooking your favorite Italian dishes, as well as how to substitute one for the other.

Key Differences Between Tomato Sauce Vs Tomato Paste

Tomato sauce is made from tomato purée, water, and tomato paste.  Tomato sauce has a thin consistency and a fresh tomato taste. 

Tomato paste is tomato sauce cooked longer until any excess liquid is reduced, leaving a thick, concentrated paste, having an intense, bold tomato flavor. 

Tomato Sauce

Tomato sauce is less concentrated, with a thinner, runnier consistency than a paste has. Tomato sauce is made from a blend of tomato purée, also known as tomato passata, water, and tomato paste.   

Tomato sauce tastes like fresh tomatoes, as it is made by simmering fresh tomatoes and additional seasonings, herbs, and spices. Although tomato sauce is typically heated or cooked before serving, it could be enjoyed out of the jar, without additional heating or cooking.

Tomato sauce comes in various types and variations, depending on who you talk to and where they are geographically located. A few that are similar to tomato sauce you’ll find in the grocery store are marinara sauces, pasta sauce, pizza sauce, and spaghetti sauce, all of which tend to incorporate other ingredients for a ready-to-eat sauce. Pizza sauce is typically a bit thicker, so it can serve as a base for spreading onto the pizza.

Tomato sauce is cooked before it is bottled in the jar or can unless you are making your own tomato sauce, of course. Tomato sauce has a thinner consistency. Tomato sauce has a fresh tomato taste and serves as the main ingredient in various dishes such as pasta dishes and some Italian meat dishes.

Tomato Paste

Tomato paste is thick with a more concentrated, intense flavor than tomato sauce. Tomato paste has been cooked longer than tomato sauce so that the water content is reduced to a minimum. The result is a thick, concentrated tomato-flavored paste.

Tomato paste does best as a base or complimentary ingredient in cooked dishes to enhance rich flavor in dishes. In comparison, tomato sauce is typically the main ingredient in a dish.

Tomato sauce has an intense flavor. Some may find it similar to that of sun-dried tomatoes. Tomato paste has a thick consistency; it is more concentrated in flavor and is used more conservatively in cooking than tomato sauce. Tomato paste is used as a base ingredient of a dish or an added ingredient, whereas tomato sauce tends to be the key ingredient in a dish.


Tomato sauce has a similar flavor to fresh tomatoes with additional complex flavorings depending on the type of sauce. Seasonings such as onion powder, garlic powder, herbs, and other spices are added to the tomato sauce for flavoring. Homemade tomato sauce often has a richer flavor profile with the addition of fresh ingredients such as fresh herbs, spices, and olive oil.

Tomato paste has a bolder, umami flavor. Similar to that of dried tomatoes, with a meaty taste. Tomato paste is very concentrated and used in small amounts, too much tomato paste can ruin a dish, so it is best to stick with what a recipe calls for.


Tomato paste is often made with tomatoes and citric acid, adding acidity and acting as a preservative.

Tomato sauce can contain a variety of herbs and spices, depending on the type of tomato sauce (i.e., marinara sauce, abriata sauce, pizza sauces, etc.) and the brand. A few common ingredients you may find in tomato sauce include garlic, salt, herbs, olive oil, other spices, and possibly sugar- so make sure you are always checking ingredient labels to find the healthiest option for you.


Tomato sauce is a staple in various Italian dishes, such as pasta dishes. Although tomato sauce is cooked when making the sauce, it is typically heated or used as a base of a more flavorful tomato-based sauce such as a marinara or spaghetti sauce.

Tomato paste can be added to various dishes, such as tomato soup, casserole, or pizza sauce. It works well in dishes where you desire a more complex flavor profile of sweetness and umami or enjoyable savory flavor.

Nutritional Benefits

Tomato sauce and tomato sauce are full of nutritional benefits. Both contain beneficial vitamins and minerals such as lycopene, vitamin C, folate, and potassium.

Research suggests that although cooked tomatoes have less vitamin C than raw tomatoes. Cooked tomatoes have significantly greater amounts of lycopene than uncooked tomatoes.

As with any product, be sure to check the ingredient label, looking for a product with little to no sugar and high-quality real ingredients for the most nutritional benefits.

Tomato Paste Substitutes

The best substitute for tomato paste is a tomato purée followed by a tomato sauce.

Puréed tomatoes have a thicker consistency than tomato sauce. You will still have to double the amount of tomato purée or sauce you use as the flavor is much less concentrated than tomato paste.

Another option is using canned tomatoes. You’ll want first to drain out the excess liquid. Then you’ll want to use double the amount of canned tomatoes for tomato paste. For example, use two tablespoons of canned tomatoes for each tablespoon of tomato paste the recipe calls for.

Tomato Sauce Substitutes

You can substitute tomato paste for tomato sauce by diluting it with water. Start with equal parts, 1/4 cup of tomato paste, and blend with 1/4 cup of water until you reach your desired consistency and amount. Consider adding in herbs and spices such as garlic and/or onion. This version of tomato sauce will taste much more tart and less like fresh tomatoes than you are used to with regular tomato sauce.

Key Takeaways

Tomato paste is thick, while tomato sauce has a runnier consistency. Tomato sauce has more of a fresh tomato flavor, while tomato paste has an intense bold flavor similar to dried tomatoes. Tomato paste is used sparingly in cooking, while tomato sauce tends to be the main ingredient in a dish. Tomato paste can be diluted to make a tomato sauce substitute. Herbs, spices, and other ingredients may be added to various types of tomato sauces.

Sharing is caring!

Author Biography

Karla Kueber is a Certified Evidence Based EFT Practioner and Health Coach, with a double Masters Degree in Education. She works with people to overcome emotional eating, curb cravings, and overcome resistance to eating new healthy foods. You can learn more about coaching with her here.