One of the great things about home cooking is that — even if you make breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day — you still get to learn something new. This happened to me today as I was researching the best ways to use and store tomato paste.
As regular readers of my blog know, one thing that I consistently do here is lookup and answer your top questions about cooking. One of this questions is, “Does tomato paste in tubes go bad?”
An opened can of tomato paste will go bad in 5 days when stored the fridge. A tube of tomato paste, on the other hand, will last for 7-8 weeks (as long as you’ve screwed the cap on tightly).
Tomato paste can also be frozen, in a pretty smart way, so that you can store it for as much as 6 months in the freezer — and use up just the right amount whenever you need it for a recipe.
Continue reading to find out how.
What Is Tomato Paste?
Tomato paste is basically tomatoes, with the skins and seeds removed, cooked down to a thick paste. Tomato paste packs a lot of taste as raw tomatoes are very acidic and have an umami flavor. Cooked down, that flavor concentrates and intensifies.
Tomato paste often comes in small cans that you’ll find in the canned goods or Italian cuisine section at the grocery store. As you cook with it, you’re going to find out that the taste is so concentrated, you don’t really need much of it for most recipes.
Once opened, a can of tomato paste is good for up to 5 days when kept in the fridge. So you’ll either have to throw it away or cook dishes with tomato sauce all week long. If you’re like me and you don’t really like either option, there’s an alternative.
Buy tomato paste in tubes, not cans. A can of tomato paste will only last for 5 days in the fridge once opened. A tube of tomato paste, on the other hand, is good for 7-8 weeks when kept in the fridge.
Suppose you’re someone who cooks for a large family. In such a case, canned tomato paste makes sense because it won’t take you long to use it up. In all other cases, tomato tubes are the sensible choice.
Keep in mind that tomato paste in tubes is costlier than in cans. I looked up tomato paste in Kroger and most 6-oz tomato paste cans cost between $0.60 and $1.00, whereas most 4.5-oz tomato paste tubes will set you back anywhere between $1.90 and $2.50.
When you look for tomato paste in the grocery store, you’ll see some seasoned versions with basil, oregano, and garlic. Always go for plain paste. It has the purest taste — and you can season it as you want.
Still, when you consider that you can store tomato paste tubes for significantly longer periods of time than cans once opened, I think that tubes are totally worth the money. Most of the time, you actually end up saving money by avoiding food waste.
What’s Tomato Paste Used For?
If you were making music, tomato paste would be the bass sound. It’s there to add depth and profoundness to your song.
Tomato sauce is a cheap, versatile, and flavorful pantry staple. It’s great for making all kinds of tomato sauces for pizza, spaghetti, chilli, and other dishes. Thanks to its sharp umami flavor, it can also enhance the taste of soups, stews, and braised meat.
The secret to using tomato paste, as Alex Delany from Bon Appétit points out, is caramelization.
“You can’t just stir some tomato paste into a sauce or some vegetables and expect it to taste fantastic. It won’t,” Alex says. “The secret is to sizzle it in some olive oil or other fat until it turns brick red and starts to caramelize — usually about 5 minutes or so over medium heat.”
Here’s how I took him up on the advice and took it to the next level:
Sauté tomato paste with olive oil and a couple of garlic cloves for 5 minutes in a saucepan over medium-high heat before using it to make sauce. Then, deglaze the pan with red, rose, or white wine (depending on the dish) and continue cooking.
This simple trick adds just 5 minutes to your cooking time, but enhances the taste of your dishes tremendously.
Tomato Paste, Compared
Can you substitute tomato paste with sauce, puree, or canned tomatoes? Here’s how tomato paste compares to other tomato pantry staples.
Tomato Paste vs. Tomato Sauce
Tomato sauce contains cooked tomatoes, seasoned or unseasoned, with the liquids inside. Tomato paste is tomatoes that have been cooked down to a very thick substance with a highly concentrated flavor.
You can use tomato paste to enhance the flavor of most store-bought tomato sauces. Sauté the tomato paste with 2 cloves of garlic and extra-virgin olive oil for 5 minutes in a saucepan at medium-high heat. Add the tomato sauce season with sea salt and black pepper to taste, bring down the heat to medium, and let simmer for 5 minutes.
Keep in mind that seasoned tomato sauces already contain salt. If you’re using this technique to enhance the flavor of seasoned tomato sauce, taste it before adding any additional salt to it.
Tomato Paste vs. Tomato Puree
The difference between tomato paste and tomato puree is in the consistency. Both tomato paste and puree are made from cooked tomatoes. However, tomato paste has been cooked down for a longer period of time than tomato puree, making its texture thicker and taste sharper.
As a rule of thumb, use tomato puree to make sauces for pasta and pizza. You can’t use tomato paste as a substitute for tomato puree — but you can add a little of the paste to the puree to enhance the taste of your sauce.
Sauté 2 teaspoons of tomato paste on medium high heat for 5 minutes before adding the tomato puree to your pan.
Tomato Paste vs. Canned Tomatoes
Canned tomatoes are whole peeled tomatoes cooked in tomato sauce. Tomato paste are tomatoes that have been cooked, peeled, deseeded, and reduced down to a thick and creamy texture with a savory and acidic taste.
Canned tomatoes are great for making chunky tomato sauce. You can’t substitute tomato paste for canned tomatoes, but you can add a couple of teaspoons of tomato paste to canned tomatoes to your sauce.
Can Tomato Paste Be Frozen?
Yes, you can freeze tomato paste and store it in the freezer to preserve it for a longer period of time than in the fridge. This is actually a great way to prevent food waste if you bought a can of tomato paste and you have leftovers that you don’t plan to use up in the next 5 days.
To freeze canned tomato paste, scoop the paste out from the can and place the scoops in an airtight container (with enough space apart). Store the scoops in the fridge and they’ll turn solid. Whenever you need to use tomato paste, take out one scoop and thaw it on low heat in the saucepan before you get cooking.
To freeze tomato paste that came in a tube, pour it on an ice cube tray and put the tray in the freezer. Every time you need tomato paste for a recipe, use one tomato paste cube. Tomato paste cubes will last for as long as 6 months in the freezer.