​ I've been making a tried-and-true lentil soup recipe for many years and I now for dietary reasons have to eliminate one ingredient, tomato paste (or any tomato at all). I've tried a few substitutions but have yet to get the depth of flavor I get from the tomato paste.

Here's how I make it. 10 cups water About 8 tsp. chicken base 1.5 cups lentils Aromatics: onion, garlic Spices/herbs: dried thyme, dried basic, bay leaf, ground pepper, salt Vegetables: carrots, celery, green cabbage, About 1/4 c tomato paste was added at the end. Parsley or other greens are usually thrown in at the end.

I've tried two substitutions, neither being adequate:

  • soy sauce: added 1/4 cup
  • mushrooms (1.5 lbs sliced crimini cooked down with resulting broth part of the 10 cups liquid)

What other substitutions for tomato paste would give good depth of flavor to this soup?

  • Looks like you're trying to replace the umami flavor of the tomatoes - which is a good idea - but tomato paste is also very sweet and sometimes a little sour. Try adding something sweet and something sour.
    – Juhasz
    Aug 26, 2021 at 22:00
  • That's an interesting recipe; in most lentil soups, the tomato paste is added near the beginning of cooking, rather than at the end.
    – FuzzyChef
    Aug 26, 2021 at 23:27
  • I always thought adding tomato paste early on would prohibit softening of the lentils. I must've read that somewhere over the years! When I say that I add it at the end, I do let the soup cook some more once added; I just wait to make sure the lentils are sufficiently tender.
    – Arlo
    Aug 27, 2021 at 18:07
  • Oh, no, not at all. And if you add it at the beginning, with the onions, it cooks a bit more and develops stronger umami flavors. This is true of pepper paste as well.
    – FuzzyChef
    Aug 27, 2021 at 20:41
  • @Arlo Acidity in general hinders the softening of legumes (lentils, peas, beans...), but depending on the legume and the quantity of tomato paste added, this effect is not significant. On a chili recipe, however, that would be a problem (hence chili recipes calling for pre-cooked beans) Aug 30, 2021 at 8:48

1 Answer 1


If this isn't prevented by your health condition, I'd recommend sweet red pepper paste. This is what Turkish folks traditionally use in lentil soup instead of tomato paste, and in my opinion it's better. If you have a good international market near you, you can buy it premade. If you don't, you can make it yourself and keep it around as a general substitute for tomato paste.

If you have a nightshade allergy and peppers also aren't available to you, I would suggest using a little tamarind paste, maybe half as much, possibly with a little (like 1/2 tsp) added sugar.

  • I agree with the comment about tomato having both sweet and sour, which explains why my mushroom substitute isn't cutting it. I will definitely try the sweet red pepper paste as well as the tamarind. Both are great ideas. Thank you.
    – Arlo
    Aug 27, 2021 at 18:11

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