Stewing tomatoes is the process of peeling and chopping any kind of fresh tomato into chunks and simply heating them in a pan.
They give the dish that wonderful tomato flavor, but without the chunky texture that we associate with fresh tomato, which many people find preferable.
Perhaps you don’t have stewed tomatoes to hand, or simply don’t have the time required to stew them from fresh ingredients.
Not to worry! Today we are sharing with you the best stewed tomato substitutes, so no matter the situation you’ll never be left without that signature tomato flavor.
The best substitutes for stewed tomatoes
Oftentimes when stewed tomatoes are called, what we are really looking for is to add some of that tomato flavor and vinegary acidity to the meal. So the form that they come in is less important than the taste they will impart onto the food.
This is great for us cooks as tomatoes can come in many forms, and over the centuries we’ve developed a plethora of ways to both prepare and store them. Which gives us a whole bunch of cool and creative ways to impart that flavor into our meals.
Many of the alternatives listed can be pre-prepared at home or be bought from the store too, so you’ll never be left short on options.
1. Fresh Tomatoes
This might seem like an obvious choice, but in fact, in just 25-30 minutes you can take some fresh tomatoes and turn them into deliciously stewed tomatoes. A very viable option, providing you have the time to make it.
Simply take a large pan and boil some water in it. Then, using some fresh tomatoes you can peel and boil them for 25-30 minutes to create your own stewed tomatoes.
Where things get interesting is what you pair them with, as mentioned above some simple seasonings such as salt, pepper, and even sugar help a lot. But you can also use extras such as 1/4 cup of chopped onion or 1/4 cup of chopped bell pepper to really enhance the flavor.
We guarantee you this will produce a better end result than any store-bought can of stewed tomatoes.
2. Diced Tomatoes
When we refer to diced tomatoes we don’t simply mean chopping up some fresh ones. Diced tomatoes refer to smaller, firmer chunks that are then canned in tomato juice or puree.
The tomato flavor is there, but generally speaking the chunks in diced tomatoes are too firm to make a good stewed tomato substitute straight from the can.
To solve this we can simply cook the whole mixture for a while to help soften them up (but we’re not simmering like stewed tomatoes). This is also a good opportunity to add some additional seasonings to bring them more in line with the stewed tomato flavor.
A good approach here is to put them on 5-10 minutes before you cook the vegetables for the meal, then by the time everything is finished they should have softened up nicely.
If the chunks are still a bit tough after cooking you can also crush them further with the back of a fork so everything is a bit softer.
Also, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can also buy diced tomatoes that have been fire-roasted before they are canned. Which imparts that wonderful grilled quality into the flavor.
Diced tomatoes work great in dishes such as stews, soups, and pasta.
3. Crushed tomatoes
Providing you can find the right kind (or make them yourself), crushed tomatoes can have just enough body to them to feel surprisingly similar to some soft stewed tomatoes.
Crushed tomatoes are essentially whole tomatoes that have been (you guessed it) crushed. Then they are usually paired with a tomato puree to give them a little bit more of a smooth consistency.
Of course, this makes them ideal for both dipping and spreading on something like pizza, but depending on which ones you source they might be a little ‘too’ smooth to use as a stewed tomato alternative.
For that reason, we recommend finding a brand that offers quite chunky crushed tomatoes, so it feels like you are eating very soft stewed tomatoes as opposed to a smooth puree.
Texture difference aside, their flavor will be very similar to that of stewed tomatoes, particularly if you add in some additional seasonings. These are perfect for any kind of pasta or spaghetti sauce, as well as some thicker and more hearty soups.
4. Tomato Paste
Not to be confused with tomato puree, which is a far smoother and more liquidy concoction.
What makes tomato paste such a great stewed tomato alternative is that it has a much higher solid content which allows it to add a lot more body and substance to whichever meal you pair it with.
Not only that, because of the processes that are used to create tomato paste, it also retains much of its nutrition that would otherwise be lost during the refining process. Making it a good healthy option in lieu of anything fresher.
It has a strong tomato flavor, and can easily be mixed in with other ingredients such as seasonings or vegetables such as bell pepper, onion, and garlic.
This makes it great for meat-based dishes since between its thicker texture and the body of the meat, you’ll barely be able to tell you aren’t eating real stewed tomatoes!
5. Tomato Sauce
At first glance, this might appear to look like tomato paste, but in fact, they are quite different.
Tomato sauce is much closer to a finished and ready-to-serve product, as opposed to being more of a raw ingredient.
It’s a much thicker sauce, that is often pre-seasoned during preparation with things like parmesan cheese, basil, and sugar. Then, of course, there’s nothing stopping you from cooking with extra ingredients such as the tried and true onion and bell pepper combination.
Although it’s quite thick and definitely doesn’t feel too liquidy, it also doesn’t have the chunks that you would find in diced tomatoes.
A good rule of thumb here is to use a 3/4 cup of tomato sauce to substitute 1 cup of stewed tomatoes.
When used in something like a spaghetti/pasta sauce or even a stew, it will be hard to tell the difference.
You can also buy this unseasoned which makes it ideal to keep around the kitchen as a raw ingredient as it can easily be adapted into any meal you wish using your own seasonings.
While ketchup is not necessarily applicable in every scenario, primarily due to its texture simply being too smooth, it does have some redeeming qualities to it that can make a great substitute when necessary.
First of all, ketchup delivers on the flavor front, it can have a spicy vinegar taste if you buy the right one, or it can have a sweet, sugary taste. Pick whichever one you feel is most appropriate for the dish you are making.
The second is that it’s just so widely accessible and cheap. If you don’t already have it in your house it’s only a quick trip to the grocery store away so you’ll never be left trying to source it.
Of course, it doesn’t have that thick and soft texture that stewed tomatoes have, which means it’s perhaps not as appropriate for things such as pasta sauces or soups where you’re really going to notice it.
But it does work great on things such as pizzas as a spread, or dishes that are served with meat and vegetables where you will still have plenty of other ingredients to chew on, so you’ll notice the lack of texture far less in those kinds of meals.
7. Plum tomato
Plum tomatoes otherwise referred to as a ‘processing tomato’ or a ‘paste tomato’, is a type of tomato that was bred specifically to be made into pastes/sauces.
They have fewer seeds in them and there is a much higher amount of solid content which makes them really good at delivering that thickness that we are looking for in a stewed tomato substitute.
They are also generally favored by chefs and cooks as they tend to keep well during the tomato off-season. They can also withstand transportation/handling a lot better than our traditional tomato types.
These can be purchased canned and pre-packed with tomato juice, and what’s even better is they are normally pre-peeled (although you will still need to remove the seeds).
To use them in things like pasta sauces or soups you can simply cook them a little and smash them down a bit to make them even softer.
Keep in mind you will need to add your own additional seasonings, just transfer everything that you would normally use with stewed tomatoes to these and they will work great.
8. Canned Tomato
These are very similar to crushed tomatoes, but you can simply buy them in cans pre-diced and pre-pressed which makes them smaller and easier to manage.
You can simply heat these up which will help soften them a little more, then they can be used straight away as a 1:1 replacement for stewed tomatoes.
We do recommend finding a good brand as sometimes canned tomatoes can come very cheap, and taste equally as cheap. Don’t be afraid to add some of your own seasonings to it either.
9. Whole Peeled tomatoes
These are pre-pressed and canned in tomato juice with their skins removed.
It gives them a nice and soft texture when cooked which emulates a bit of that softer quality you get when you steam tomatoes. Because of this, it can work as a good substitute.
10. DIY/homemade stewed tomato
Since the total time required to prepare stewed tomatoes is under an hour, it’s actually a viable option to simply just grab a few tomatoes you have lying around and make some yourself!
All you need to do is heat them to near boiling and then stew them for an extra 10 minutes until they are nice and soft.
11. Tomato Soup
Perhaps a bit of a niche choice because of its funny nature. This makes it harder to apply to every kind of cooking scenario as it has the risk of making your dish become a bit runny.
But if that texture and more runny quality are appropriate for the dish you are making, it can make an adequate substitute if nothing else is available.
How to choose the best Stewed Tomato substitute
One running theme amongst all of the suggested alternatives is that they come from tomatoes. So they are all, in some way or another going to do a good job at imparting that tomato flavor into your dish.
What you need to decide as a cook is which one is going to provide the most appropriate texture delivery for the kind of food you are making. While taking into consideration other factors such as cost and how easy they are to the source.
After all, if it takes an age to prepare then it’s probably not an ideal substitute. Here’s our roundup of the best ones to assist in informing you of what might be the most ideal choice for a given meal type.
Our top choice when it comes to imparting that nice, vinegary tomato flavor is going to be tomato paste.
Not only does it retain a really nice thickness to it, beefing up whatever you serve it with. It’s a generally more concentrated source of tomato flavor meaning you’re not going to be left disappointed if you use some of it in your meal.
A large part of the appeal of stewed tomatoes is that soft and delicate texture.
If this is what you are looking for our top suggestion is diced tomatoes. This is because, providing you have cooked them a little, they will be remarkably soft just like stewed tomatoes.
While perhaps not the best choice on the texture front, ketchup is the cheapest alternative.
Available from pretty much any grocery store for a super cheap price, you’ll never be left regretting how much you paid for it.
While we could say ketchup here, we are actually going with fresh tomatoes.
This is because they are also available from a huge number of stores all year round, but they have an added versatility that ketchup doesn’t have. You can dice them, peel them, and cook them to any degree of softness you want.
Our top pick
We recommend plum tomatoes, they are bred specifically to be broken down and used in cooking.
Once you have removed the seeds and cooked it a little, it makes an exquisite substitution for stewed tomatoes.