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Can you substitute tomato sauce for tomato paste when making sloppy joes?

Quick Answer

You can substitute tomato sauce for tomato paste when making sloppy joes, but you’ll need to adjust a few other ingredients in the recipe. Tomato sauce is much thinner and more watery than tomato paste. To compensate:

– Use about 3 times as much tomato sauce as you would tomato paste. So if the recipe calls for 3 tablespoons of tomato paste, use 1 cup of tomato sauce.

– Reduce the amount of water or other liquids in the recipe by about 1/3 to help thicken the sauce back up.

– Increase the amount of thickening agents like cornstarch or flour to absorb extra moisture. Add an extra teaspoon or two.

– Cook the sauce down more to reduce and thicken it. Simmer for 10-15 minutes longer.

– Add a spoonful or two of creamy peanut butter to add body back to the sauce.

The tomato flavor will be a bit more diluted, so you may also want to increase spices like garlic powder, onion powder, brown sugar, and Worcestershire sauce. Start with an extra 1/4 teaspoon of each and adjust to taste.

The Details

Tomato paste and tomato sauce are both made from cooked, strained tomatoes, but they have very different concentrations and uses.

Tomato Paste

Tomato paste consists of tomatoes cooked down to a thick, concentrated puree. The tomatoes used are usually of the plum variety, which have fewer seeds and less water content. The tomatoes are cooked for a long time to evaporate water and strain out seeds and skins. What’s left is a thick, rich concentrate.

Some key attributes of tomato paste:

  • Thick, smooth texture
  • Bright red color
  • Intense tomato flavor
  • Highly concentrated
  • Very little moisture
  • Adds body and thickness to dishes
  • Sold canned or in tubes
  • Adds rich, deep tomato flavor even in small amounts

Tomato paste is used when you want to add a thick, concentrated tomato flavor without watering anything down. It’s popular in sauces, stews, chili, soups, and gravies. Just a tablespoon or two of tomato paste is enough to add big tomato taste.

Tomato Sauce

Tomato sauce is made from cooked tomatoes that are lightly processed but not cooked down as long. The tomatoes may be crushed or pureed to make a sauce consistency. Tomato sauce has more tomato solids than juice, but is thinner than paste.

Attributes of tomato sauce:

  • Smooth, pourable sauce texture
  • Mild to moderate tomato flavor
  • More moisture than tomato paste
  • Adds tomato flavor without significant thickness
  • Sold canned or in jars
  • Works well in dishes like pasta, pizza, and sandwiches

Tomato sauce provides tomato flavor and moisture without making a dish overly thick. It’s great in recipes where you want the tomato to coat ingredients in sauce rather than turn into a dense mixture. Tomato sauce is what you’ll typically find in cans of sliced tomatoes.

Tomato Paste vs. Sauce in Sloppy Joes

In sloppy joes, tomato paste is often used because it gives the meat filling a nice thick, saucy texture and concentrated tomato flavor. Tomato sauce could work instead, but the filling would end up much thinner and runnier.

To compensate, you’ll need 3 times the amount of tomato sauce to equal the same thickness from paste. You’ll also need to simmer it longer to reduce moisture and add thickeners to absorb the extra liquid. Spices may need boosting since the tomato flavor won’t be as robust.

It’s easier to simply use tomato paste, but in a pinch tomato sauce can work. The filling just may be a bit messier and have a lighter tomato taste.

Substitution Amounts

This table summarizes how much tomato sauce to use in place of tomato paste:

Tomato Paste Amount Tomato Sauce Amount
1 tablespoon 3 tablespoons
2 tablespoons 1/2 cup
3 tablespoons 1 cup
1/4 cup 3/4 cup
1/2 cup 1 1/2 cups

As a general rule of thumb, use 3 times as much tomato sauce as whatever amount of tomato paste the recipe calls for.

Make Adjustments

When substituting tomato sauce for tomato paste in sloppy joes or any recipe, you’ll get the best results if you also:

  • Reduce liquids by about 1/3: The sauce will thin the filling, so use less broth, wine, water, etc.
  • Thicken with cornstarch or flour: Whisk in an extra teaspoon or two with the sauce to absorb moisture.
  • Simmer longer: Let the filling cook down more to evaporate excess liquid.
  • Add peanut butter: A couple spoonfuls will add body back to the sauce.
  • Boost spices: Compensate for diluted tomato flavor with extra garlic, onion, brown sugar, Worcestershire, etc.

With a few minor tweaks, tomato sauce makes a fine substitute in sloppy joes when tomato paste isn’t on hand. The filling may be a little thinner, but the tomato flavor will still come through.

More Tomato Paste Substitutes

In addition to tomato sauce, some other ingredients can stand in for tomato paste if necessary:

Tomato Puree

Tomato puree is crushed tomatoes cooked briefly until thickened. It’s not as dense as tomato paste but has more body than sauce. Use about 1 1/2 times the amount of tomato puree.

Diced Tomatoes

Diced tomatoes have more texture but can work. Drain off some of the juice and use 2 to 3 times as much as you would tomato paste.

Tomato Juice or V8

In a pinch, tomato juice or V8 will provide tomato flavor. Reduce other liquids and use 4 times as much for the thickness.

Sundried Tomatoes

Reconstituted sundried tomatoes make a concentrated tomato base. Use an equal amount once soaked and pureed.

Tomato Soup

Condense canned tomato soup by cooking it down more. Use 2 to 3 times the amount needed of tomato paste.

Other Tips for Making Sloppy Joes

To make the very best sloppy joes, keep these tips in mind:

  • Use a mix of ground beef and ground pork for flavor.
  • Cook the meat in batches if needed to get nice browning.
  • Onion, green bell pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and mustard add flavor.
  • Simmer the filling at least 20 minutes so the flavors meld.
  • Stir in creamy peanut butter or mascarpone for a touch of creaminess.
  • Serve on soft burger buns or slider rolls.
  • Top with pickles, sautéed onions or peppers, or melted cheese.

A great sloppy joe is all about the sauce – and while tomato paste is ideal, tomato sauce can be used. With a few tweaks, you can make delicious sloppy joes. Just be prepared for a saucier, messier sandwich!