I was looking for a recipe for an Italian tomato sauce when I came across an old cookbook from an American Creole Chef I like, but I'm really confused about the terminology he uses for some of the ingredients and wondered if someone could clarify exactly what he's referring to.

In the recipe he asks for -

  • 2 cans (6 ounces) of tomato paste
  • 2 cans (10 3/4 ounces) of tomato sauce
  • 2 cans (10 3/4 ounces) of tomato puree

I've always assumed that tomato paste and tomato puree were the same thing, but clearly not. Can anyone clarify the difference between these two?

Tomato sauce in the UK comes out of a ketchup bottle, is he referring to passata, sieved tomatoes? If not, what is he referring to?

  • 1
    This recipe reads overly fussy, and chooses some of the more expensive tomato products based on amount of actual tomato (the sauce). You could easily substitute with close results, 12 oz of tomato paste (for intense tomato flavor), and 2 each 28 oz cans of whole tomatoes that you puree yourself, or crushed tomatoes. It will require a little cooking, but will give you nearly identical results.
    – SAJ14SAJ
    Dec 14, 2012 at 22:51
  • @SAJ14SAJ Thanks for your quick answer. So, paste is what we would call puree, sauce is what we would call passata and puree is essentially crushed tomatoes in tomato sauce? Is that right? Dec 14, 2012 at 22:54
  • I wish I could answer you @spiceyokooko yes or no, but my British is limited to gratuitous use of the letter "u" in words like "colour". I don't know what they are called in the UK, so I can only refer you to the descriptions of the products below.
    – SAJ14SAJ
    Dec 14, 2012 at 22:55
  • @SAJ14SAJ From your answer, I think I understand what he's now asking for. Many thanks. This is only part of the recipe, there are other ingredients and I'm interested in it because he caramelises the paste with the onions to give sweetness. Dec 14, 2012 at 22:58
  • That makes sense--good luck with your dish.
    – SAJ14SAJ
    Dec 14, 2012 at 22:59

3 Answers 3


In the US at least, common canned tomato products include:

  • Paste, cooked down tomatoes, to the point where they are scoopable with a spoon but will not flow. Very thick, like peanut butter. Often sold in six or twelve ounce cans.
  • Pureee - cooked tomatoes that have been--well--pureeed, but are mostly at their natural density; also called crushed tomatoes.
  • Sauce - cooked down, strained tomatoes, a little thicker than tomato soup. May include herbs, spices, or some flavoring in addition to pure tomato product.
  • Diced - solid chopped tomatoes, usually in tomato juice.
  • Whole - whole cooked (usually peeled) tomatoes, usually packed in tomato juice. These will still have the seeds.
  • 3
    Most of the tomato products I mention here are interchangeable given enough reduction or cooking, or adding of liquid depending. Ketchup--which I understand the our British friends call tomato sauce--has vinegar, sugar, and spices added, and is not really equivalent to any of these products.
    – SAJ14SAJ
    Dec 14, 2012 at 22:49

Passata is not the same as sauce or puree, and is an additional item to SAJ14SAJ's list.

Here is a an excerpt from Wikipedia:

Tomato purée is never referred to by its Italian name, passata di pomodoro, when it has been "passed" through a sieve to remove seeds and lumps. Passata is an entirely different product, its main point of difference being the fact that it is not cooked. In this form, it is generally sold in bottles or aseptic packaging, and is most common in Europe. In the United Kingdom, in this form the product passata is always uncooked, otherwise it would be tomato puree (see above).

  • Note that wikipedia no longer includes that text, which wasn't quite right anyway. There may be no long cooking, or reduction, but it must have been heated to cooking temperatures as part of the bottling/canning/aseptic process
    – Chris H
    Feb 16, 2022 at 12:44

In the US, ketchup is prepared with tomatoes, sugar, vinegar/acetic acid and spices. It is used as a dressing or table condiment. Ketchup is cold and is never heated as a rule. Tomato sauce, on the other hand, is made from tomatoes, oil, meat or vegetable stock and spices. Vinegar is not usually used. Sauces are generally served hot. Most manufacturers insist that ketchup is made with spices while sauce is generally made without spices.

  • 1
    One use for heated ketchup I can think of is in some sweet and sour recipes.
    – JBentley
    Nov 11, 2015 at 2:16
  • The classic cheap BBQ sauce is equal parts Coke and ketchup; there are also meatloaf recipes with ketchup on top. However, ketchup as a condiment is served cold or at room temperature.
    – arp
    Aug 2, 2020 at 17:09

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