There are several kinds of tomato-based products in the market today – peeled and diced, pastes, flavored sauces, and so many more.
Many will tell you that all of these can be used interchangeably.
But home cooks who are particular with their food – flavor profile, texture, consistency, and all that jazz – will have their favorite.
Let’s focus on one for today: tomato puree.
“But Is It a Fruit?” – Or The Dispute Between Botanists and Nutritionists
But first, let’s have a cursory glance at this humble crop that grows practically everywhere and at all times of the year.
Now that there are over 20,000 varieties grown all over the world – from Beefsteak, Heirloom, Roma, Plum, Cherries – it’s hard to believe that this was once thought of as poisonous.
According to historians, we have the Aztecs to thank since they were the first who cultivated these.
Their xiomatl was brought to Europe by Spanish conquistadors but it took a long while before they became the hit that it is today.
Then there’s the issue regarding how it should be categorized: a fruit or a vegetable?
Botanists will assert their findings that this is a fruit, categorized under Solanaceae or the nightshade family because of their seeds.
But nutritionists consider this a vegetable because it doesn’t have a whole lot of fructose, the sugar found in fruit.
The World’s Favorite Fruit
Then again, that hardly matters because everything that it provides is such a benefit to us all.
There is no doubt that tomatoes are super-nutritious:
- Loaded with Vitamin C and has a good amount of B and E as well.
- Has Lutein and Zeaxanthin which protects our eyes from strain and prevents degenerative problems.
- The fluid and fiber boost digestive health
- Is the #1 source of Lycopene – an antioxidant so powerful, it can do a whole lot of things to the body like reduce the risk of heart disease, helps with the management of diabetes, prevent many kinds of cancers, guards and improves the skin, and so many more!
According to scientists, the bright red color of this fruit, indicative of Lycopene, protects it from the harmful sun rays.
That’s exactly what this antioxidant can do in our body as well.
And no one can deny how downright delicious this is in a whole lot of dishes.
How Do You Puree Tomatoes?
Preparing this is quite easy, although it can be a bit time-consuming.
Plum and Roma are the best varieties for pureeing since they are grown specifically for preserving.
You can even use imperfect ones – those which are slightly overripe or bruised – since you will be placing all of it in a pot.
This is a basic recipe for a kilo of tomatoes.
- Halve the fruits and scoop out the seeds.
- Don’t waste the juices. When you scoop the seeds out, include the juices in the pot with the rest of the fruit.
- Place the halved Plums and Romas in a pot and add two cups of water (or until the fruits are slightly submerged). Cover the pot with a lid and turn the heat on.
- Once the water goes into a rolling boil for a minute or two, the peel will be removed by itself.
- Carefully take the softened Plums and Romas out and into a food processor or blender. Let it cool there for 10 minutes before blitzing it.
You can blitz it continuously until it’s smooth which is what purees technically are.
But if you prefer to chew on small pieces, just pulse it several times.
- You can use these immediately.
You could also transfer it to plastic containers to be kept in a freezer for up to a year.
You can also place these in jars but you will need to seal them properly and treat these in hot water.
If well-sealed, these can be stored for 6 months.
Commercially produced purees follow the same methodology, except that these are made in bulk and slightly faster because automation is involved.
However, when you’re out shopping, read the label of the can or foil packet of the product you’re getting.
Some products have flavors like Basil Pesto, Four Cheese, and so on. It’s still best to choose the plain pureed one.
And What If You Don’t Have This When You Need It Most?
It’s always frustrating when you’re in the middle of food prep then find that one of the most important ingredients is not in your pantry or fridge.
Imagine not having tomato puree when you’ve already boiled your pasta and sauteed your ground beef and aromatics for a basic spaghetti meat sauce for dinner?
Don’t fret because you’ve got a whole lot of options!
Tomato Sauce is Your Best Bet!
This is made in practically the same manner as the puree so it is considered by many to be the best alternative.
The only difference between this and our featured ingredient is consistency:
The former is smoother and a bit watery.
The latter is also smooth but thicker.
How to Substitute
For every cup required, use a cup and a quarter of the sauce so that you still get the richness in flavor.
If you want to achieve the thickness, you could add a bit of paste. In case this is also unavailable, simmer your sauce a bit longer so that you can get that desired consistency.
Read the labels of foil-packed or canned sauces because some are also flavored.
Remember, it’s easier to cook from scratch than tweaking your dish with other ingredients.
The Thick and Flavor-Packed Paste
This is also made in the same manner as our featured ingredient but this undergoes several more steps to thicken it into a paste.
Traditionally, the boiled and mashed Plums and Romas are placed on large wooden tables under the sun to dehydrate it for several days until it nearly solidifies.
A lot of factories don’t do this anymore but if you’re lucky, you might chance upon one which was made in that painstaking, meticulous manner.
And you will taste the difference.
How to Substitute
Use a third of the paste for every cup originally needed in the recipe, since this is practically a concentrate with a deeper flavor.
But do take note of this: Paste isn’t used to make sauces.
Paste thickens sauces and adds a deeper color and a more complex flavor to it.
Even if you water this down considerably, you’re not getting a good sauce compared to using the pureed version.
But if this is the only one you’ve got a home, it would be best to mix in a handful of chopped fresh tomatoes so you can still have a bit of freshness in your dish.
The All-Around Condiment: Tomato Ketchup
Ketchup may work to replace our featured ingredient because it’s made from the same Lycopene-rich fruit.
Also, this is so ubiquitous, chances are you’ve got this in your fridge right now.
How to Substitute
For every cup required, use half a cup of Ketchup.
The trouble with this is that it has added flavors – salt, vinegar, sugar, shallots, black pepper, allspice, nutmeg, and a whole lot more.
It’s a condiment after all.
Trying to tweak this to taste more neutral will be quite difficult. And no, watering it down won’t work.
What you could do is add half a cup of any fresh variety – Plum, Roma, or Cherry – to highlight the flavor of our featured ingredient.
Try Using Fresh Ones
The fresh variety works quite well too because the pureed version came from (no surprise here!) tomatoes!
This can be a good alternative when you’re making tomato-based pasta sauces and stews.
How to Substitute
If the original recipe calls for a cup of the pureed version, also use a cup of the fresh variety.
Dice these before mixing in the pot so that it softens faster.
Some people don’t like the skin floating in their sauces since these aren’t easy to chew on and difficult to swallow.
If you’re one of these people, go for large varieties like Beefsteak and carefully peel it with a paring knife.
Poaching and roasting aren’t that difficult to do but it would take another 15 to 20 minutes before those are done.
But if you’re patient enough, you’ll get what you want.
It is quite rare but some people use our featured ingredient, not for the flavor but for the consistency it brings to the dish.
In this case, you could use the following:
Red Peppers won’t have that distinctive tomato tang but they will have the red color and the thickness. This will work well in pasta, too.
Squash or pumpkin mashes can be used in chilis since other flavors (cumin, paprika, etc.) are what’s highlighted in the dish.
Carrots can be boiled to soften then pureed as well. It has a different orange hue but it will still work for certain dishes like vegetable soups and red meat stews.
As noted above, it’s not hard to prepare tomato puree at home.
Also, you can store this for a long time in your fridge.
Take advantage of the good, cheap supply when it’s in season, make a large batch, and then keep it in the freezer so you have a supply when you need it.
- “But Is It a Fruit?” – Or The Dispute Between Botanists and Nutritionists
- The World’s Favorite Fruit
- How Do You Puree Tomatoes?
- And What If You Don’t Have This When You Need It Most?