Tomatoes are one of the most known and most important vegetables in the world. They’re cultivated worldwide and consumed in a variety of different ways and in many different recipes.
Whether you have an allergy or a mild intolerance, whether you couldn’t find tomatoes at the supermarket or you simply don’t enjoy their flavor, here’s what you need to know to find the perfect tomato alternative.
The best substitutes for tomatoes
Tomato is an edible berry that comes from the commonly known tomato plant, originated in South and Central America and then imported first in Europe and then worldwide. It’s one of the most known and most used vegetables, consumed in multiple ways and in multiple cuisines.
Tomatoes are fleshy, juicy, and with a different shape and color according to the variety. Usually, they are red, although there are also tomatoes of different colors, like yellow or green. The size ranges from very small (3cm) to 16cm, depending once again on the variety.
Tomatoes need a warm climate to grow, but thanks to the use of greenhouses they’re cultivated all year round in many different countries, making them always available. At the moment, the main producing countries are China, the United States, and Turkey.
Tomatoes are considered a healthy food and an excellent source of the antioxidant lycopene, vitamin C, potassium, and vitamin K. They’re also a good source of fibers and are low in carbs.
They are one of the vegetables with more diversity of uses: they can be eaten raw, cooked, fried, used to make sauces, or pickled. Choosing the right tomato replacement depends mainly on the use you have for it, the recipe you’re following, your personal taste, and the result you hope to achieve in the kitchen.
It might seem obvious, but the best way to substitute tomatoes is to use… tomatoes. It depends on the recipe you’re following and the dish you want to make, but your first choice should be to use another variety of tomato, or just tomatoes in another form.
If your recipe calls for a specific kind of fresh tomato, you should be fine simply using another variety. It might change a little bit the flavor or the consistency of the dish, but this is the closest substitute for tomatoes you can find. Simply replacing the original ingredient with another kind of tomato is the best idea if you’re looking for a substitute for tomatoes in diets.
If you’re making a sauce and the recipe calls for fresh tomatoes, you can always use canned tomatoes, tomato paste, or tomato puree. The same goes for stew and soups. Using fresh vegetables it’s always better, but the result will be really close to the original.
If you’re looking for an alternative to tomatoes in dishes like salads or bruschetta, you can also opt for something like sun-dried tomatoes.
2. Tamarind paste
Tamarind paste is made from the fruit of the tamarind tree, and it’s an ingredient used both in sweet and savory plates. It has a sour taste and it’s usually combined with some kind of sweetener.
The combination of sour and sweet comes really close to replicate the sweet-tanginess of tomatoes. If you decide to use tamarind paste as a tomato substitute, remember to taste the food you’re cooking and to adjust the quantity of tamarind paste and sweetener so that you can reach the desired taste.
You can buy tamarind paste at the supermarket (a little bit goes a long way, and it has a long shelf-life) or you can make your own tamarind paste. Just be sure to store it in a dry and cool place.
Tamarind paste is a perfect tomato substitute in curry since this is an ingredient well known and already used in many curry recipes.
Mango is one of the most known and widely cultivated fruits of the tropical world, native to southern Asia but now used worldwide. Mangoes are usually sweet and juicy, although the flavor and the texture can change depending on different varieties and the ripeness of the fruit.
Unripe mangoes, which are sharper and not as sweet as ripe mangoes, can be a good substitution for tomatoes. Much like tamarind paste, they’re already used in a lot of different curry recipes, so mango can definitely be another good tomato substitute in curry.
If you feel like it, since the result depends mainly on your personal taste, you could even try mango as a tomato substitute in a salad!
Amla are small berries with a though but thin skin, round and green, that are usually consumed raw or cooked into various dishes. When eaten raw, amla berries have a bitter taste and are usually soaked in water and salt to help get rid of it. They’re used for both sweet and savory dishes.
Amla berries have a high content of antioxidants and vitamin C, and they’re juiced and dried for their nutrient content. Amla berries look similar to green tomatoes, and have somehow a similar taste: they make for another good substitute for tomatoes in recipes like curries or chutneys.
Pumpkins are a kind of winter squash that is round and with a color that goes from deep yellow to orange. They originated in Mexico and the United States, but they’re now well-known and widely used in the rest of the world.
Their color derives from orange carotenoid pigments that are then converted to vitamin A in the body: pumpkins are an amazing source of provitamin A and vitamin A.
Pumpkin puree can substitute tomatoes in those recipes that call for tomato paste or tomato sauce and if you want to achieve some of the acidity of tomatoes, you can add a little bit of vinegar according to your taste.
There are a great number of peppers varieties, from mild and sweet to hot and spicy, nonetheless, they are all extremely nutritious, with a high content of vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin B6.
Red bell peppers (the relatively large variety, with high water content and a slightly bitter taste when still young) work as a nice substitute for fresh tomatoes. They have a similar color and the same sweetness that tomatoes have.
Peppers can be an amazing substitute in dishes like salads, or as a topping for bruschetta: you have to keep in mind that the taste will be similar to tomatoes, but absolutely not the same. If you want to reach a more similar flavor, you can always add some vinegar or some lemon juice, to reach that slightly acidic flavor that tomatoes have.
Peppers can also make a nice tomato substitute in soup, stew, and sauce since they have a really similar consistency.
Yogurt is a widely known and used food, made from the bacterial (known as yogurt cultures) fermentation of milk. The flavor is acidic, and it’s often blended with fruits or sweetened in some way. If you’re looking for a tomato substitute, stick to a plain unsweetened one.
There are a lot of different varieties of yogurt, made from different kinds of milk: the most common is cow’s milk, but goat’s milk, water buffalo’s milk, camel’s milk, yak’s milk, and plant’s milk are also used to produce it. Each different kind of milk produces different results.
Yogurt works well as a tomato substitute in curry because it gives body to the dish and adds the right amount of tartness, just like tomatoes would. It doesn’t really work as a substitute in those recipes where tomatoes are the main ingredient, or when the added flavor of the lactic component isn’t appreciated.
If you’re looking for a tomato substitute in chili, or in other recipes where tomatoes are not the main ingredient, you can always try to substitute tomatoes with a few different spices.
Paprika, for example, is a ground spice made from the dried fruits of different varieties of peppers. The peppers used for paprika are usually milder and sweeter, and this spice is used in a lot of different recipes.
There are different kinds of paprika, that range from mild to regular, from smoked to spicy: you can choose the one that works best with your recipe or with your personal taste.
Another spice that could work as a tomato substitute is chili powder, made from the dried, pulverized fruit of different varieties of chili pepper, blended with other spices like cumin, onion, and garlic.
Chili powder works well as a tomato substitute, but keep in mind that it adds a level of spiciness that tomato doesn’t have. If you like this then go on and add some chili powder to your curry, stew, soup, or chili!
How to choose a tomato substitute
Choosing a tomato substitute depends mostly on what kind of dish you want to prepare, and if you like the taste of tomatoes or not.
When looking for a tomato substitute, your first bet should be to use another variety of tomato: fresh tomatoes are always a safe choice, and all the different varieties should work pretty well in different recipes.
As an alternative, you could always use tomatoes in other forms, such as canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato puree, tomato paste, sun-dried tomatoes, or even tomato powder. Of course, this isn’t really a choice if you don’t enjoy the taste of tomatoes.
If you’re looking specifically for a tomato substitute in curry, you actually have a lot of different choices: you could use tamarind paste, mango, alma, pumpkin, or yogurt. It depends mostly on the recipe you’re following, your personal taste, and the final flavor you want to achieve. You might have to adjust the sweetness or the acidic taste based on your needs.
If you’re looking for a fresh tomato substitute, to use as a topping on bruschetta or in a salad, bell peppers are your best option. For other recipes like stew or soups, you can always add some spices like paprika and chili powder. They’re easy to manage and you can control just how much of an added flavor you want.