I've been trying, on-and-off when I have time, to make tomato sauce from a 5 1/2 oz can of tomato paste, but haven't figured out the right proportions of ingredients.

I've been combining a can of tomato paste with about 16 oz of water and some sugar to cut the acidity, and reducing it a little, but all I end up with is watery tomato paste.

It's more likely that I am missing a key ingredient (like a can of diced tomatoes) than a critical preparation step, but I'm curious about other people's experience.


By "tomato sauce", I mean something functionally equivalent to a store-bought jar of pasta sauce.

Why would anyone want to do this? I honestly have no good reason. It is mere curiosity on my part. Is it possible to get edible results? Or is it guaranteed to be a complete waste of time, not worth even experimenting with?

  • 2
    Are you looking for something like plain canned tomato sauce, or do you mean a sauce like marinara?
    – Bob
    Feb 22, 2011 at 21:37
  • 2
    I was wondering the same thing myself - it's not clear whether you're trying to basically reconstitute tomato puree from tomato paste, or if you're trying to use the tomato paste as the base for a finished tomato sauce (e.g. a marinara sauce).
    – timmyp
    Feb 22, 2011 at 23:12
  • To clarify, are you looking for something using tomato paste as opposed to crushed or diced tomatoes? Or are you just looking for tips about making tomato sauce?
    – tim
    Feb 23, 2011 at 6:01
  • I'm really looking for tips on making sauce using tomato paste. The recipes look great, but I've already determined I get much better results using diced tomatoes than tomato paste. Feb 24, 2011 at 0:20
  • 1
    a store-bought jar of pasta sauce will likely contain additives (emulsifiers, starch, ...), so comparing for structure is a bit like comparing apples and oranges.
    – user34961
    May 18, 2015 at 14:59

17 Answers 17


I can give you the Italian answer - first of all, normally we don't use tomato paste to make sauce, but rather to add a tomato "kick" to recipes. Tomato paste is simply tomato puree that has been cooked down to a high degree of concentration.

A basic tomato sauce is made by

  1. making a soffritto with onion, carrot and celery (plus other flavors)
  2. adding tomato puree, or "pelati", more rarely fresh tomato
  3. cooking the sauce down until the taste and thickness is what you want

If you want to use paste instead of puree, the third step has to be omitted or greatly reduced in duration. Keep in mind that tomato paste has its own taste, and that taste will remain in the final sauce.


Is there a reason you need to be using 5.5 oz of tomato paste? Canned diced or crushed tomatoes work so much better, and you're just asking for blandness if you add water.

I cook garlic in a little olive oil until it's yellowish and then add two 16oz or one 32oz can of diced or crushed tomatoes. If you have them, add some basil and a couple of bay leaves. Heat until bubbling and then lower and simmer covered. You can cook it anywhere from half an hour to an hour or longer, depending on when you need it by and how much time you have, but longer usually means better sauce. It makes more than enough for one pound of pasta or enough for two pounds if you don't like a lot of sauce.

  • 3
    You don't use any onion? Blasphemy!
    – derobert
    Feb 23, 2011 at 7:35
  • No good reason. Just trying to stick to my stubborn and excruciatingly cheap roots! Feb 24, 2011 at 0:20

I am not sure why most of the comments are negative about tomato paste. It is just condensed tomato sauce. I got my recipe from my mother, who is Italian. She used tomato paste, tomato sauce and water. The sauce was delicious. She did saute the tomato paste in olive oil and added a little sugar to cut the acidity and bitterness. Tomato paste, if used correctly, can result in a rich tasting sauce. I have experimented with my mother's recipe through the years. I sometimes add red wine. If you read online opinions about spaghetti sauce, on the internet, you will get many varied opinions about what is good. I think it depends on what you are used to. I like a variety of sauces. You may have to experiment and find what you like.

  • Nice one, Debbie. Do you also have some suggestion for proportion of ingredients for the OP?
    – razumny
    Feb 22, 2014 at 12:46
  • Sauté in oil does seem to make the sauce less "pasty", thanks! Jan 11, 2015 at 22:48

I use a 16 oz. can of italian style plum tomatoes (contadina or rienzi), a small chopped onion, some basil and salt and pepper and it comes out great. no water, just the juices from the canned tomatoes.

  • I assume diced tomatoes ... I don't think I've ever seen whole peeled or crushed in 16 oz cans ... but I'd agree, you can make a pretty good quick sauce with just a can ... you can even find ones with garlic, oregano and basil.
    – Joe
    Feb 22, 2011 at 2:21
  • yeah, diced. and of course add garlic or any other herbs and spices that you like.
    – benstraw
    Feb 22, 2011 at 3:14
  • @Joe: Here in the UK, 14oz cans of peeled plum or chopped tomatoes are the standard format tinned tomatoes come in.
    – Orbling
    Feb 23, 2011 at 0:32
  • @Orbling : whole tomatoes in a 14oz can? They must be tiny for them to get any sort of efficient packing to occur. Or it's just one tomato taking up the whole can.
    – Joe
    Feb 23, 2011 at 1:14
  • @Joe: I'll have to count next time I open a can, they are quite small, like plums. Somewhere between 5-8 minimum I think, but it is hard to recall.
    – Orbling
    Feb 23, 2011 at 1:29

It is possible to do, many "instant pasta meals" do so, e.g. http://www.germandeli.com/krmispmitto1.html. The one in the link is also quite edible. From the the ingredients list is seems they use 100ml of water for 50g of paste.

You probably need more herbs and spices than you currently use to get a good taste. As a minimum I would add onion, garlic, and salt. Basil and Oregano also don't hurt.

  • Yes, definitely more spices. I'm really looking for a base I can modify depending on my mood. Feb 23, 2011 at 0:41

I feel for your dilemma. I never use tomato paste alone to make a sauce. Pastene canned tomatoes works much better. But I have been stuck with just one small can of tomato paste and left with the DAUNTING talk of trying to turn into an edible sauce, on it's own.

I've never been able to do it. I'm also Italian and I know that we don't use tomato paste for this purpose either, it's too dense. Has a strange taste and it's not kept on hand to make sauce.

So, your answer, dear friend, is "beats the heck out of me." Some say it can be done with great results, but I have doubts.

Better off to take the pasta and make a soup of it using chicken broth instead of water to boil the pasta. Don't drain it afterward, but add a good handful of parmesan cheese and a good shake of black pepper. It's incredible easy, uses all pantry ingredients, and it's really good. You could add a tablespoon of tomato paste with some garlic and basil to it just to give it a bit of a that taste, but it's what I do if I don't have crushed tomatoes. People like it because it's very difficult to dislike in it's so straightforward! :)

The recipe is called (sp?) "Pastina."

  • Kirk-like redefinition of the problem to provide a workable alternative. +1 Feb 9, 2014 at 17:44
  • This is technically not a straight answer and got flagged, but as the OP agreed that it was helpful for their case, I will leave it as it is.
    – rumtscho
    Feb 10, 2014 at 11:45

This is a really old post, so you might nit even see my answer, but to go off what eatstatic said, Ive seen recipes online that say 1 cup water : 3/4 cup tomato paste. Eatstatic just did it the other way around, 1 cup tomato paste : 1 1/3 cup water. These recipes almost always start with sautéing onions and garlic in olive oil, and adding an optional cup of red wine along with basil, oregano and a little Romano/Parmesan. A lot of red sauces made by Italians will actually have the meatballs or sausage cooking in the sauce simultaneously, so substituting some or all the water for meat (your choice, but I prefer beef) stock for more authentic flavor is desirable to some. Red sauce is about what you like, experiment to find what tastes the way you want it. When I'm in a lazy mood and want sauce and have most of the ingredients, just not my normal contadina tomato puree and crushed tomatoes, I usually do it this way. I never serve this to anyone other than family though, it's too hard to get the acidity flavor out if you make a batch bigger than 3 - 4 servings.


This post is super old, you may not see my answer, but here ya go anyways:

Sixteen ounces of water is far too much. You should do equal parts of water and paste. I usually put just a little bit more than the full can of water and after seasoning, its perfect! May as well have come out of a prego jar!

  • 1
    I see. It sounds a little intense, but I may try it sometime. Thanks. Jan 31, 2013 at 0:33
  • @JamesMcLeod The trouble is, like most bottled sauces, Prego is just plain awful because it's sickly sweet. The third ingredient is sugar, which is nuts. If sugar is in a tomato sauce at all, it should be one of the least ingredients. Jan 31, 2013 at 3:04
  • Agreed - maybe a little aguave nectar or caramelized onions to cut the acidity of the tomato paste. Jan 31, 2013 at 4:00

Yes. You can make a 'purely tomato paste' sauce. I do the blasphemous alla vodka sauce with only using tomato paste (no canned/crushed tomatoes). I render diced bacon, then diced shallot and minced garlic. Cook until fragrant and add your tomato paste, a good amount, because that will be the base of your sauce. Then I add the vodka, a couple ounces and thin out the sauce with pasta water. Let it come to the consistency you want, then add your favourite cooked pasta to the pan and toss. Add a bit of pasta water to adjust the consistency again if too thick. Turn off the heat, add some grated cheese like Pecorino and serve immediately.

The benefit of making a sauce with only paste is that you get a very rich tomato flavour which definitely works in some cases.


Couldn't agree more that I'm not sure why you would use tomato paste unless it is one of those challenges that you can't give up on. I think the equal amount of fresh with tinned tomato with the usual of onion, garlic, butter, sugar with vinegar to create a gastrics to mask acidity, seasoning is just as easy and the perfect consistency you require for most cooking uses.


I have experimented much and have found that using a 12 ounce can of tomato paste results in an acidic quality to the sauce, which is undesirable(at least when cooking in standard size pot). The following combination results in a good sauce: two 14.5 ounce cans of crushed tomatoes, one 6-ounce can of tomato paste, 1 heaping teaspoon of sugar, 1 tablespoon each of dried basil, oregano, parsley, 1/3 cup red wine, 1/3 cup white wine. First, fry 1/2 a chopped onion in olive oil until translucent, then add 2 cloves garlic (chopped, do not burn garlic), then add all the ingredients listed above and cook for 1.5 hours. Option: You can add sliced green peppers with the onion if desired, and diced eggplant as well. Chicken parts or pork may be added to the sauce as well.

2 cans of crushed tomatoes
onions (chopped finely)
olive oil

Heat up olive oil, add garlic and onions, let them cook for about 45 seconds. Don't let them brown - just cook them enough until they smell really good, you will know.

Add tomatoes. Add sugar to taste. Stir. Reduce fire and simmer covered for 45 minutes, stirring from time to time.

That's the basic recipe. Play around with the cooking times and amount of garlic and onions. You can add basil, mint leaves, and other spices if you like.

  • Just remember sugar is optional. I usually just add some sweet chilli sauce.
    – Barfieldmv
    Feb 23, 2011 at 9:47

From your description, the "thing missing" that jumped out at me was salt.
Also, spices and herbs help give a better, more familiar taste.

I've made basic sauce from tomato paste, since it's easy to keep and store - and once I have the can open, I would rather use it than wait for it to go bad while I open a separate tomato sauce. Salt for me is usually the catalytic that makes it go from watery paste to sauce-flavored, for me - and it takes a bit before the result stops tasting watery.

Usually, I'm making just a little bit at a time, maybe a half a cup or so (for tortilla pizzas or the like). I usually mix about equal parts paste and water, add a half teaspoon or so of salt, and some dried herbs, whatever I have on hand (italian mix, garlic or onion powder, basil, whatever). I mix well, let it sit for a while to hydrate the herbs, then taste to get a rough idea - usually I end up adding a bit more salt, sometimes more herbs (depending on how flavorful I want it), adjust the thickness with paste or water. I'm pretty handwavy about exact proportions, but that should hopefully get you within taste-and-adjust distance of your desired sauce.

I don't usually cook the sauce by itself, because for my use it will cook in the dish - but if you're making it by itself, in larger quantities (say for pasta), you should probably cook for a bit on stove-top to let the herbs and spices cook into the sauce and let the flavors meld.

If you wanted, you could add other ingredients to your sauce to get the flavors you're looking for - garlic, onion, carrot, and celery, sugar, olive oil, fresh herbs, anything you want. But if you're looking for a basic sauce of tomato paste, water, and sugar... just add salt and keep adding till it starts tasting like sauce.


I've done it many times. I like a thinner sauce, so I use at least 2 cans of water to one can of tomato paste and maybe thrown in a can of petite diced tomatoes, plus seasonings to your liking. (garlic cloves, oregano, parsley, basil...what you prefer. A dash of wine won't hurt either. There is no recipe, no right or wrong way. Whatever you like is correct.


My mother makes the best Sunday meat gravy, consisting of meat balls, ( hamburg and ground pork) sausages, and country style ribs, seared on both sides, all meats slightly under cooked, when the ribs fall off the bone, sauce is done. She uses ONL red.pack tomatoe paste 8 small cans, water for each can. 1 28 ounce tomatoe sauce. Ive had sauce every where, its my little perk to try others meat ball and sauce (gravy). If it doesnt cook all day,.to me its a quickie, or Mariner. Lots of garlic, easy on the spices, red pepper, little basil, no Oregano period.... Huge meat balls cooked on the outside to a crunch,almost raw on the inside,cookin finishes in thr sauce. If not Red pack dont bother!


According to About.com Frugal Living, a substitute for a small can of tomato sauce in a recipe is to use equal parts of tomato paste and water. I think I would personally tend to use a wee bit more tomato paste than water because I love the taste of tomato paste! That's my interpretation of the question you asked...you didn't have canned tomato sauce and wanted to know a suitable substitution.

  • That was my original question, but the general consensus seems to be that this is not an acceptable substitute! Jul 28, 2014 at 18:13

1.333x water as tomato paste = unseasoned tomato sauce

  • 2
    Have you a source for this information? Or did you derive it empirically (which is also okay)? Aug 1, 2014 at 21:01

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