9 Best Substitutes For Tomatoes

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Tomatoes are extremely versatile ingredients that are incredibly tasty, tender, and refreshing. They can be used fresh or cooked and will help enhance the ingredients and textures of the accompanying ingredients.

But what if you don’t like tomatoes? What if you are allergic? Or what if you simply cannot get your hands on any?

What are the best substitutes for tomatoes? You can either choose an alternative that has a similar texture and flavor to tomatoes. These include options like canned tomatoes, pumpkin, red bell pepper, sun-dried tomatoes, pasta sauce, and tomato paste.

But you can also choose alternatives that will function like tomatoes do, without adding a tomato-like flavor. These options include eggplants, zucchini, carrots, and, again, pumpkin.

Today, we will dive deep into the many alternatives for tomatoes, when you should use them, and how they are best incorporated into your recipes. And our list includes a broad number of options to make narrowing down an option easy!

Why Would You Need To Substitute Tomatoes?

Tomatoes are one of the most underrated fresh fruits. Yes, as we all know by now, tomatoes are fruits!

But think about it: how many different recipes call for tomatoes? Probably millions! Yet do you ever stop and think about their texture and flavor? How do they function in food? How do they change the flavor of the entire dish? Probably not!

It’s only when you cannot find tomatoes that you truly realize what a massive difference they make in your food.

Now, many people say, “just leave it out.” While we don’t completely disagree, it is much better to still add a substitute if you can.

If you go read up on “tomato substitute” articles, you will most likely only find alternatives that are tomato-based. For example, canned tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato puree, ketchup, and more.

These are all fantastic alternatives. But what if you don’t like the flavor of tomatoes? What if you have a tomato allergy? Yes, that’s a thing too!

Are there any good substitutes for tomatoes?

Characteristics Of Tomatoes – What It Does In Food

Before looking at substitutes, let’s discuss what tomatoes does in food and their unique characteristics.

First of all, there are many different ways you can use tomatoes.

The two broad classifications are fresh or cooked. Depending on how you use the tomatoes, their functions, flavor, and texture will differ.

Fresh Tomatoes

Fresh tomatoes add a refreshing flavor to your dish. It adds a ton of juices and, therefore, moisture. They have a sweet and slightly sour flavor that is delicious by itself.

But, when paired with other ingredients (like feta cheese and basil for example) these flavors can become even more irresistible!

Obviously, different types of tomatoes do have different flavors. For example, cherry or plum tomatoes are extremely fruity and sweet.

They have almost no sour or bitter undertones. But a beef tomato has an incredibly savory and meaty flavor to it.

Furthermore, fresh tomatoes (if they are perfectly ripe and not mealy or hard) add a firm bite to your dish. It’s soft, juicy, and tender but firm.

Cooked Tomatoes

Fresh tomatoes can also be used in dishes where they are cooked. This could be in a stew, curry, sauce, or to make a delicious juicy filling.

When tomatoes are used in cooked dishes, it is most likely to add a ton of moisture (liquids) and a meaty, savory flavor.

The sweetness in cooked tomatoes almost completely disappears, and the general flavor turns into a meatier, savory profile.

Cooking tomatoes also helps add some richness to the dish. And maybe even more important, a richer deeper color.

How To Choose The Best Substitute For Tomatoes

Now, choosing a substitute for tomatoes can seem very straightforward. And we will break it down into simple options today. However, not all of these substitutes will work for every function.

For example, if you use fresh tomatoes on a sandwich, canned tomatoes or pasta sauce may not be the best alternative. But red bell peppers or sun-dried tomatoes will be!

So, the first thing to consider is how you are using fresh tomatoes.

This will not only help you decide if you need a fresh substitute but also how that alternative will function.

The second consideration is flavor.

The reason it’s less important than our above-mentioned point is that you may not be chasing the flavor of fresh tomatoes.

So, if you like a tomato-like flavor, you can choose a similar option. But if you don’t, you need to look at our other options.

And finally, moisture content. If you are using diced fresh tomatoes in a stew, it adds juices to the dish. So, if you take it away and replace it with something like eggplant, you will need to add more stock or broth. If you don’t, the stew will be drier than it should be.

9 Best Substitutes For Tomatoes

Here is our list of the best substitutes for tomatoes. Keep in mind that not all of these will be appealing to everyone.

You have to take into consideration your flavor preferences, how it will affect your dish (functionally), allergies, and of course, what’s available in your neighborhood.

For each of these options, we’ll take a look at the difference in flavor and texture, how they will function in the food, and how they will change the flavor alongside other ingredients.

This way, you can easily narrow down the options that suit your needs best. Let’s get to it!

1Canned TomatoesSavory with a sweet undertoneSoft and juicyCooked dishes: casseroles, stews, soups, and sauces
2Red Bell PeppersSweet with a citrus-like undertoneCrunchy and juicy (fresh); soft and juicy (cooked)Fresh and cooked dishes: salads, sandwiches, casseroles, and stews
3EggplantMeaty and savory (can be sweetened with honey, syrup, or sugar)Soft and spongyCooked dishes: casseroles, stews, and meat dishes
4Pasta SauceFlavored with salt, pepper, herbs, aromatics, and even cheeseSmooth and saucy with some textureCooked dishes: pasta dishes, stews, and meat dishes
5ZucchiniSlightly sweet with a slightly bitter undertoneSoft and tenderCooked dishes: casseroles, stews, and meat dishes
6Sun-dried or Ripened TomatoesRich and concentrated flavorSoft and chewySavory dishes: stews, sauces, and meat dishes
7CarrotsNeutral with slightly sweet, earthy undertonesCrunchy (raw) or soft (cooked)Cooked dishes: casseroles and stews
8PumpkinSweet with a slightly bitter undertoneSoft and tenderFresh and cooked dishes: casseroles, stews, and meat dishes
9Tomato PasteConcentrated tomato flavor with a salty undertoneThick and richCooked dishes: stews, sauces, and meat dishes

1. Canned Tomatoes

While we aren’t the biggest fans of canned tomatoes generally, they work for a reason. However, only use them as an alternative to cooked fresh tomatoes.

Trust us: they are not good fresh out of the can.

They have to be cooked for their flavor to develop and become more palatable!

And if it is at all possible, only buy canned tomatoes that are all-natural.

The main reason we don’t like this ingredient is that they often contain a ton of additives like flavorings, colorants, and chemical preservatives.

This changes the natural qualities of tomatoes.

So, if you can find a natural option or at the very least, one that’s not as heavily processed, that’s great!

Canned tomatoes definitely have a more savory flavor.

They can have a sweet undertone (depending on the type of tomato used).

That’s why many cooked or stewed recipes call for canned tomatoes, not fresh ones.

There are a couple of different options to choose from like whole, chopped, diced, and halved. This makes it easy to find an alternative that works for your recipe. If you need diced fresh tomatoes, swap them out for diced canned tomatoes.

How To Substitute

So, as we’ve said, only substitute tomatoes that would have been cooked. This is anything from casseroles, meatballs, stews, soups, and sauces.

Furthermore, you can use 1 standard can of tomatoes to replace 2 large fresh tomatoes. It is also the equivalent of 4-6 small tomatoes.

There really isn’t a set-in-stone swap because the size of tomatoes differs. But use this guide and eyeball it to some extent.

And, if you needed to use cherry tomatoes, either buy canned cherry tomatoes or use 1 can for every 1 1/2 cups of cherry tomatoes.

2. Red Bell Peppers

Next up, we have fresh red bell peppers. Any option will work really, But the red bell peppers also mimic the red tomato color.

This option can work for both fresh and cooked tomato replacements.

Now, obviously, red bell pepper is very different from tomatoes. They are much sweeter, not bitter or sour at all, and even have a slightly citrus-like undertone. And, of course, their texture is completely different!

Yellow, orange, and green bell pepper have a less sweet and citrus flavor. So, they will also work as alternatives.

Fresh red bell pepper has a very crunchy, crisp, and juicy texture. However, when they are cooked, they soften up quite a bit. Just like tomatoes, cooked red bell peppers maintain some of their texture and release a ton of juices.

This is a great alternative for a non-tomato flavor while keeping the textures and characteristics of tomatoes.

How To Substitute

If you use red bell peppers fresh, don’t use thick slices. If you are using it in a salad, you can dice or slice them. If you are using it instead of tomato slices on a sandwich, use sliced red bell pepper instead. 

In cooked recipes, we recommend using diced bell pepper. If you use slices, they will change the texture of your dish. This may not be a bad thing, but it may not be what you want.

3. Eggplant

Eggplant is another alternative that doesn’t have any similar flavors to tomatoes. And you should not use it as a fresh substitute – it’s edible but not appetizing.

These fruits are best used as alternatives for cooked tomatoes.

Once they are heated, they develop a similar meaty, savory flavor. If you need a sweeter flavor profile, just add some honey, syrup, or sugar.

Their texture is also pretty much the same. Cooked eggplant has a less juicy texture, so you may need to add more liquid. But they are equally soft and almost spongy (not in a bad way).

Eggplant will work in virtually any cooked stew or casserole.

Don’t use it as a substitute for a tomato sauce or topping. But, if you use it alongside other aromatic and flavorful savory ingredients, you won’t even notice the “lack of” tomato.

How To Substitute

You can use 1 small to medium eggplant for every medium to large tomato. Remember, eggplant isn’t nearly as juicy as tomatoes. So you may need to add some stock, broth, or water to the dish.

As with the bell pepper, we only recommend using diced eggplants. Slices (discs) will also work. But long ribbons may change the texture and consistency of the dish too much.

4. Pasta Sauce

This one is similar to canned tomatoes. But the texture is completely different. Pasta sauce is usually a sauce. Some options have a bit of texture in them and they can even be chunky.

Another big difference is that pasta sauces are processed. They are often flavored with salt, pepper, herbs, aromatics, and even cheese.

This will greatly determine how you should use the option that you have.

Pasta sauce really only works in cooked dishes or if they are heated.

If you buy a pasta sauce with cheese, use it as a substitute for a cheese and tomato dish, like spaghetti and meatballs. But, if you buy an Italian Herb pasta sauce, it can work in a delicious meat stew.

This option will add a ton of juiciness to your dish. And you can reduce the liquids to create a thicker texture.

How To Substitute

You can use 1/2-3/4 cups of pasta sauce for every medium to large tomato. Naturally, this alternative only works for diced fresh tomatoes. 

You can turn it into a sauce for sandwiches. But you cannot use it as an alternative is salads, for example.

5. Zucchini

Zucchini is similar to eggplant in many ways. The reason it get’s its own section is that it’s arguably more readily available in more areas of the world than eggplant.

While we personally love the meaty flavor and tender texture cooked eggplants have, we cannot ignore that zucchini (baby marrow) are usually cheaper and easier to find.

Another benefit of using zucchini is that they have a VERY similar flavor to tomatoes.

They are slightly sweet (less than tomatoes) and have a slightly bitter undertone. Once cooked, the sweetness intensifies and the bitter flavors subdues.

How To Substitute

Many people love eating raw zucchini and using it in salads. So, it can work this way. But it’s not the best way to utilize this non-tomato tomato substitute.

Dice or slice this vegetable and incorporate it into your cooked dishes. It will add a lot of moisture (you still may need to add more liquid), and it will have a similar cooked, tender texture.

6. Sun-dried Or Ripened Tomatoes

This alternative is an incredible one that many people overlook. But, it only works for very savory dishes.

That doesn’t mean it won’t work as a fresh substitute.

For example, it won’t go great with a fresh garden salad.

But it will go great with stews, sauces, and on savory, meaty burgers or sandwiches.

You can also use flavored products. Just be mindful of the salt content in many of them.

Some manufacturers use salt to help speed up the sun-drying process.

The salt extracts more moisture and ultimately starts the drying-out process quicker.

How To Substitute

You should use less sun-dried tomatoes than you would fresh tomatoes. They won’t be as juicy, and you will need to add more liquid to your dishes.

However, they have a much richer and more concentrated flavor. So, don’t overdo it. You can play around with the exact quantities to find what you like.

7. Carrots

Most stews and casseroles that contain tomatoes have carrots in them as well. So, why not double down?

This alternative is by no means similar to tomatoes. Carrots, raw and cooked, have a completely different texture. And they have a pretty neutral flavor with slightly sweet, earthy undertones.

But that’s exactly why they work. They are an easy alternative that will help you bulk up the recipe while adding soft-cooked textures and a savory flavor.

How To Substitute

If you use carrots as a raw alternative, they won’t be as juicy. Use thin slices or discs. They will however add a delicious crunch to your dish.

You can replace every medium to large tomato with 1 medium to a large carrot. There isn’t an exact ratio because tomatoes are juicier and usually bulk up dishes more in that way.

8. Pumpkin

Bet you didn’t think pumpkin would make a good alternative to tomatoes. But believe it or not, it has similar characteristics.

As with other options on our list, pumpkin has to be used cooked.

You will need to measure exactly how much pumpkin you use instead of tomatoes.

wTheir sizes are too different to give an exact replacement ratio.

When the pumpkin is diced and cooked, it also releases a ton of juices. And overall, it has a sweet and slightly bitter flavor profile, much like tomatoes do.

How To Substitute

You can use pumpkin as a substitute in fresh or cooked dishes. But you need to cook it first. 

It will add juiciness, a soft, tender texture, and a similar flavor in both cases. It just isn’t fruity or refreshing.

9. Tomato Paste

Our final option today is another tomato-based one. If you don’t mind the flavor of tomatoes, you can add a teaspoon or two of tomato paste without having to add a ton of bulky ingredients.

Tomato paste has a concentrated tomato flavor, which is why you don’t need to use nearly as much as you would whole fresh tomatoes.

This alternative only works in cooked dishes. And it has to be cooked for the flavor to develop. It is extremely rich flavorful, and savory. And it will add a salty undertone as well.

You can than bulk up the dish with any type of vegetable or meat. But you also don’t have to.

How To Substitute

Use between 1 -4 teaspoons of tomato paste depending on the size of your recipe. If you’d like to you can add broth or stock to make the dish saucier. But you don’t have to.

Related Questions

What are good tomato substitutes for raw dishes like salads?

Go with fresh ingredients you love to eat. Some that work especially well as substitutes for tomatoes in fresh dishes would be things like red or yellow bell peppers, or zucchini.

What substitute should you use for tomatoes in a tomato sauce?

The best thing to use here would be something like canned tomatoes or a pasta sauce. Any other substitute will likely dramatically change the flavor of your tomato sauce.


  1. Really stupid article, clearly written by someone who is clueless!

    First of all, if I have a tomato allergy (deadly nightshade group), why would I want tomatoes in any form in my food, and also since Eggplants, and Bell peppers are from that same group (which includes white potatoes), why should I risk my health with those listed options?

    Do your research thoroughly,


  2. I am not allowed to consume nightshade fruits/vegetables either. Chris Maynard covers nicely most of how I felt about this article.

    For reference, anyone with autoimmune pain issues such as arthritis should never come near nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, eggplant). The increase in pain level for me is from a 3 to a 10 if I slip up. Thanks for the carrots, pumpkin, and zucchini suggestions, but none of those have a taste even close to a tomatoe.

    I think, however, that most ridiculous part of the article is that anyone would think that a substitute for a tomato is a tomato when there are health issues involved. Do you not understand what “substitute” means?

    Thanks, but this was totally not helpful in any way.

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