Tomato sauce in saucepan

Ok, we have to admit it: We love a good tomato sauce, whether it’s from a jar or one that we make from scratch. Chances are if you’re into the delicious sweetness and acidity of tomatoes (and making killer dishes with them) you’re a fan, too.

This sauce base is the key ingredient in some of the most classic Italian meals around, such as spaghetti. It was first introduced to this dish during the 17th century and has been a favorite addition among many since. But tomato sauce isn’t only used with pasta. This handy pantry staple is super versatile and can be used to make chilis and soups, as a topper for eggs, and even spruce up a pot of steamed mussels. It can come in a variety of vessels for convenience or when you’re not feeling like making your own, but you can always master a homemade tomato sauce when you’re in the mood to jazz things up in the kitchen.

But what happens when you don’t have any on hand? While it may seem almost impossible to make your dish without it, we’re here to tell you that it isn’t. There are other options you can use when needed, such as these best substitutes for tomato sauce.

Canned tomatoes

Cans of Hunts diced tomatoes

Not having tomato sauce in your pantry can be a real bummer. This is especially true when you’re craving a saucy pasta dish all day only to find you’re out of luck when you get home and don’t have what you need. However, you might have another ingredient on hand that will work just as well. When you don’t have tomato sauce available, you can make your own using canned tomatoes. Preparing it doesn’t have to be difficult, either. Simply add a few cans to a stockpot with some garlic and spices, and you’ll have a tasty homemade sauce in no time.

The reason canned tomatoes work when making a sauce from scratch is that they tolerate heat well. They are tightly packed in the vessel and, therefore, also come with a whole lot of flavor. Another big bonus is you can really use almost any type of canned tomato, including diced, whole, stewed, or crushed. Any of these options should do the trick and create a nice red sauce perfect for spreading over your pasta.

Tomato paste

Bowl of tomato paste

While canned tomatoes are a great alternative to tomato sauce, they certainly are not the only thing you can use. Another pantry staple most people usually have on hand in their kitchen is tomato paste, which is another good substitute. You may already be familiar with this ingredient if you make anything like homemade sauces or want to amp up the flavor in your stews. But if you haven’t used tomato paste before, here’s why you’ll want to add it in place of the sauce version.

It’s an actual paste, which means that there isn’t much liquid. This results in a thicker sauce rather than one that is too runny and doesn’t soak into the noodles. After all, no one wants a watery sauce over their spaghetti. Tomato paste also works well because it’s made from tomato pulp concentrate, making it super flavorful. And, you get a great, smooth taste without any of the needed work of removing or pureeing tomato seeds or skins. This small can of savory goodness is always great to have for converting any simple sauce into something spectacular.

Marinara sauce

Marinara sauce in pan

When you order pasta at your favorite Italian joint, you may opt to order the item with traditional marinara sauce. After all, it is a popular option and also incredibly tasty. It looks a lot like tomato sauce, too, and for good reason. Both are made with tomatoes, so they not only are similar in flavor, but this characteristic makes them work well as substitutes for one another. They are both perfect accompaniments to just about any pasta and have that red sauce color you’re looking for when whipping up an Italian meal at home.

Of course, there are some differences: Marinara typically has fewer ingredients other than tomatoes, such as garlic and oregano, while tomato sauce can have anything from meat to a roux base. Also, because of its additional ingredients, tomato sauce can take much longer to cook than marinara. But remember: While this distinction can make the two bases have different flavors, that doesn’t mean marinara won’t work when looking for a solid substitute for tomato sauce.

Pasta sauce

Pasta in a red sauce

Pasta sauce is also similar in color, texture, and taste to the standard tomato base. Comparable to the marinara sauce noted above, it is also quite popular when it comes to being used to make some traditional Italian dishes. So, there’s no doubt it is one of the best substitutes for tomato sauce as well. While there are many different types of pasta sauces to choose from — including truffle cream, alfredo, and carbonara — most tend to associate it with something red, saucy, and made from tomatoes.

A tasty, classic pasta sauce can give your dish the perfect flavor you’re looking for when preparing those warm and cozy pasta dinners. And with so many brands and varieties sold for a relatively cheap price, there’s a very good chance you already have a jar or three sitting in your cabinet, just waiting to be used as a substitute.

Tomato soup

Tomato soup with fresh herbs

When most of us think of tomato soup, we don’t necessarily consider pouring it over a plate of pasta. Instead, we like it served alongside gooey grilled cheese on a rainy day. But when you’re in a bind and need a tomato-based sauce for dinner, you may want to turn to that can of red soup in your cabinet. Since it’s packed with tomatoes, you’ll have the right flavor. It also tends to have garlic and onions, which adds a similar taste profile to other sauces you use in your Italian cuisine.

The soup is also on the creamy side, which helps make for a good base all around. It won’t be too watery when poured over pasta, and it still has that red look, so you’ll feel like you’re enjoying your typical tomato sauce without actually eating the real thing. While using the soup variety as an Italian sauce may seem strange at first, you’ll likely be surprised at how well this can work when needed — and might even use it more often.

Eggplant puree

Pureed eggplant in a bowl

We get that eggplant might not be everyone’s go-to choice for a tomato sauce alternative. The purple produce may stand out when it comes to an eggplant parmesan dish — and it makes a hearty ratatouille come together nicely — but a red sauce? Not so much. However, we may have been thinking all wrong about the eggplant; if you puree it, it can turn into a nice, thick sauce perfect for pairing with your pasta dishes.

Eggplant puree can be scooped and piled atop noodles with ease. And since it’s so thick, you can also twirl it with your linguine around a fork without any issues. It makes a great substitute, even though it’s not tomato-based; it still provides a robust flavor that complements any Italian dish, so it simply makes sense. You may even have a deeper appreciation for eggplant once you’ve tried it like this.

Tomato passata

Tomato passata in a bowl

When you hear the term "tomato passata," you may not know exactly what it is. This fancy-sounding Italian item is all about the tomatoes because it is, in fact, made of just that (and a tiny bit of salt). Tomato passata is a tomato puree, minus the skin and seeds, and comes in a bright red color that looks just like the sauce. It also doesn’t require too much cooking time and gives off a fresh flavor.

Because of all that, it’s a no-brainer to use when you don’t have tomato sauce on hand. It’s definitely thick and creamy enough to top all your pasta dishes and provide the look and feel of any other sought-after, Italian-style sauce. If you don’t already have a few jars of tomato passata in your pantry, it’s best to start stocking up. You won’t be disappointed by having these on hand when you’re in a pinch for a sauce or need some extra tomato flavoring for your dish.

Tomato powder

Spoonful of tomato powder

Tomato powder may seem more like a spice to use to enhance your cuisine’s taste. You can sprinkle it over pizza or meat to add a little bit of tomato flavor if you don’t necessarily want any added liquid to your dish. While using the powder as a spice is great, it can also be used as a sauce. That’s right; this also has the ability to become a delicious tomato sauce almost instantly. All you need to do is add liquid to the powder, and it will reach the same consistency as the real deal.

This type of powder is made from grinding dehydrated tomatoes. This helps create a rich and authentic flavor that is ideal for anyone looking to make some Italian cuisine and may not have any canned tomatoes or sauces available. We also love how much less space a small jar of the powder takes up compared to the other stuff.

Tomato puree

Tomato puree in a bowl

A jar of tomato puree might not be the first tomato-based item you reach for in the grocery store. After all, tomato sauces are the most popular, while canned tomatoes get picked up a lot too. However, we think the puree should also be added to your grocery cart because it is one of the absolute best substitutes on this list — and here’s why: The ingredients are pure and simple as it’s only made with tomatoes and salt. And, since it’s pureed, it comes out smooth but thick, making for a great sauce. It’s a bright, bold red so the color is perfect while the flavor remains a tad sweet.

Celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis is all about using tomato puree in her dishes, especially when making her parmesan pomodoro. It’s pretty versatile as it’s often used in soups and sauces to enhance flavor and texture, but you can definitely use this on its own for your Italian meals, too.

Pureed bell peppers

Pureed bell peppers

Bell peppers are great when you’re looking to make classic recipes, such as baked stuffed peppers in the oven or sausage and veggies in the crockpot. While some Italian pasta dishes can call for these vegetables in the sauce, it’s not typical to see pasta topped with a sauce made from only bell peppers. But, maybe it’s time to change things up — or at least do so if you don’t have your tomato sauce on hand.

Pureed bell peppers work well as an alternative to tomato sauce because it has a similar consistency and looks like a red sauce. Yes, it may be a little more on the orange side, but it’s still close enough in appearance to come out like something you actually want to top your noodles with. The taste is fresh and sweet like any other tomato sauce, except without the actual tomato flavor.

Fresh tomatoes

Fresh ripe tomatoes

There is nothing like a perfectly ripe tomato freshly picked from the garden. It’s both juicy and full of flavor. Interestingly enough, tomatoes didn’t start gaining popularity with the general population until the 18th and 19th centuries, when more and more people began devouring them more regularly. It’s strange to think these bright red fruits were not well-known at one point since so many love them today; not only are they delicious but healthy for you, too.

While many recipes already call for tomatoes, you might want to consider using them for dishes that require a good ol’ fashioned sauce. These fresh fruits are hands down one of the best substitutes for the sauce version. Instead of getting flavor from the can or jar, you get it straight from the vine. Using ripe tomatoes for your sauce will only help enhance the overall taste that you really can’t get any other way.

Pureed beets and carrots

Pureed beets in a bowl

Making a sauce out of pureed beets and carrots might sound strange, especially when you’re trying to whip up an alternative to the tomato variety, but hear us out first. These pureed root vegetables will have a gorgeous ruby color that might not look just like a tomato’s, but it’s pretty close. Plus, the puree is super healthy, so you are still getting all the right nutrients when using this as an alternative.

Pureed beets and carrots will also have a similar texture to a tomato sauce as it’s creamy rather than watery, making it ideal to add to your pasta. As for flavor, you’ll notice this version will have an earthy but sweet taste that works well with just about any plate of pasta you make (via Wide Open Eats). Mixing these two root vegetables together to make a sauce is a great way to make a healthy, hearty meal that won’t disappoint (even if you were in the mood for tomato).

Ajvar

Ajvar in a glass jar

If you don’t know what ajvar is, now is the time to learn. It is big in the Balkans region of Europe but not exclusive to the area. Many people enjoy eating this item because you can use it for many things. Made mostly of roasted bell peppers, you can enjoy ajvar as a dip or a spread, but you can also use it as a sauce. It’s also healthy as it’s packed with veggies, making this item a win-win. All these aspects help make ajvar one of our top picks for a tomato sauce substitution.

What also makes it so great is how many different types you can find; while the most common is made from bell peppers, there are also other options made with zucchini or eggplant. When shopping for ajvar, you’ll also notice that there are different heat levels you can try, depending on your preference. If you don’t want a sauce that is over-the-top in spice, you can always opt for something milder.