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I have seen a number of recipes that call for a tin of chopped tomatoes and some quantity (usually a tablespoon or two) of tomato puree (USA: tomato paste). What is the reasoning behind using tomato puree as well? Does it give a different texture or flavour?

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Do you mean "puree" or "paste"? They're quite different products, and a tablespoon or two of paste is pretty common, while a tablespoon or two of puree is not. Also, I note that you're using a British English spelling of flavor/flavour. Perhaps that's the distinction? In the US, "paste" comes in either a small can or a tube, like toothpaste. "Puree" usually comes in a larger can. –  Harlan Nov 27 '10 at 16:52
    
I am in the UK and the puree I am using comes in a tube like toothpaste. It is probably the same as what you are calling paste. –  Bluebelle Nov 27 '10 at 17:30
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@Harlan In the UK tomato puree is the US tomato paste. What I believe you are calling puree we tend to use the Italian word for passata (di pomodoro). –  Orbling Nov 28 '10 at 2:08

2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Tomato puree is concentrated tomato. So where it is called for in conjunction with other tomato products, be they fresh or tinned, it is an attempt to increase the tomato flavour/presence in the dish without increasing the bulk or water inherent in less concentrated products.

Additionally the flavour of puree, having gone through a reduction process is somewhat different, more intense and rich than straight tomatoes.

Indeed, canned tomatoes tend to be surrounded with juice that is more reduced than would occur naturally. Which is part of why they are used against fresh tomatoes.

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Yes, and also, tomato paste adds a bright red color that can be hard to get with whole tomatoes, and you can saute it, which caramelizes the sugars in a way you couldn't do with whole tomatoes. –  Harlan Nov 27 '10 at 18:35
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@Harlan Unless you reduced the whole tomatoes first, which is time consuming and equivalent to using puree in the first place. –  Orbling Nov 27 '10 at 18:39

Now knowing that you're referring to what is known in America as tomato paste and not actually crushed/puréed tomatoes, the reason is very simple: It's a thickener.

Tomato paste (or purée or concentrate in the UK) has been reduced to remove almost all of the water. When you introduce it into a sauce, it will soak up all of the excess water and make the end result far less watery.

It's not a "thickener" in the same sense as starch; there's no chemical reaction taking place. But when added to a sauce it will give you a creamier texture at the end.

Many homemade tomato sauces I've tried that other people have made are extremely watery and some people seem to prefer this (I know a few Italians who insist that it is more "authentic") and other people claim that using tomato paste is "cheating" somehow. I've never understood that; good cooking uses whatever ingredients are available to produce the highest-quality food. If you're not using crushed tomatoes as a base, then it's often wise to add some tomato paste so that you don't have a big pool of water collecting at the bottom of your pasta as you eat it.

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I don't think that's correct. My understanding is that tomato paste is used for color and to add umami (glutamate) flavors, without all of the bulk of whole tomatoes (as you note). It might mean you don't have to use a watery product, but I don't think it "soaks up" water... If you have a citation to the contrary, please provide it, though! –  Harlan Nov 27 '10 at 18:34
    
Well I've marked it up, because it certainly does result in a thicker consistency than using straight tomatoes. Whether or not this is why people use it is a matter of debate, but the fact is true. –  Orbling Nov 27 '10 at 18:41
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@Harlan: It can be used for that too (I've used it in stock), but that use is irrelevant in the context of this question; any recipe that also calls for chopped tomatoes is clearly not trying to avoid the bulk. –  Aaronut Nov 27 '10 at 20:44

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