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Great Tomato Substitutes for Everyday Cooking

I have been living with a tomato intolerance my entire life. I enjoy writing about ways to cope with a tomato intolerance or allergy.

Red bell peppers are a great ingredient for tomato sauce substitutes.

Red bell peppers are a great ingredient for tomato sauce substitutes.

Tomato Alternatives and Replacements

Whether you have an allergy, sensitivity, or intolerance to tomatoes as I do, or you simply don't have them on hand, here are some great substitutes for tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, and more that you can use in your everyday cooking.

From soups to sandwiches to pizzas, there is always a tomato substitute available. There are quick sauce solutions for those of you who are busy, rushed, or just looking for the best flavor alternative.

There are also bell pepper, chili powder, and paprika options that will help those of you who cook from scratch.

Substitutes for Tomato Sauce

1. Zergut Mild Ajvar

If you are explicitly looking for the closest flavor and feel possible to tomatoes, the following sauce is the most similar in terms of taste and texture and is enjoyable on a wide variety of dishes.

In my effort to both eat foods that taste tomato-like and also save my health, I accidentally found the most ideal substitute in Zergut Mild Ajvar. This works as a great substitute for tomato sauce in pizza, lasagna, pasta, stuffed peppers and eggplant, or veal Parmesan.

This is actually a red bell pepper and eggplant spread that has an uncanny similarity to the texture and taste of tomato sauce. The ingredients in this Ajvar are: peppers, eggplant, sugar, sunflower oil, salt, acetic acid, garlic, and natural pepper flavoring.

The product is imported from Bulgaria, which is one of the reasons the ingredients are very wholesome. Foods imported from Europe tend to have fewer additives, artificial colors, etc.

How to Use It

I use this product two-fold: First, if I want pasta, I'll add a little water to the Ajvar and mix it over heat. Then I just pour it over my pasta. Next, I use this product full-strength as a substitute for pizza sauce. I have also used it on veal Parmesan.

This product is highly suited for people with allergies and intolerances to tomato. I'm a little addicted to this stuff myself. People you serve this sauce to might not even know it isn't tomato sauce. That is how close the flavor is.

Disclosure: I may earn a commission from purchases.

2. Pesto

If you are bored of Alfredo sauce and want a little bit of a flavor kick, you will enjoy pesto-based sauces, which include basil, garlic, sunflower oil, spinach, and a touch of cheese in their ingredients. Pesto sauce goes far as the taste is very concentrated, and the oil helps it spread through the dish more. I usually use a few teaspoons per serving.

How to Use It

Pesto sauce tastes especially good with:

  • Fettuccine chicken pasta
  • Cheese or vegetable lasagna
  • Bowtie pasta salad with tuna

This sauce can also be smeared onto pitas and fresh dough for homemade pizzas and also topped onto Italian bread as a tasty baked garlic bread substitute.

3. Homemade Sauce

This is how I made a homemade substitute for tomato sauce in lasagna.

  1. Cut six cored and de-seeded red bell peppers into eighths (so you have chunks).
  2. Place them on a baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray and bake in a pre-heated 425°F oven for 18 to 20 minutes.
  3. Many people take the black charring off of the peppers when they are done, but I leave the charring on. I like the flavor it adds.
  4. Place the warm peppers into a paper bag and close the bag. Let the bag sit for about five minutes.
  5. Your peppers should be moist and soft now. Place them in a blender with 2 teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon sugar, 1 teaspoon dried oregano, and 1 teaspoon dried basil. (This herb combination is to taste. You can modify it as you wish.)
  6. Puree all ingredients in food processor for 20 seconds.
  7. Reheat sauce when ready to serve.

Substitute for Barbecue Sauce

If you are on the market for a barbecue sauce without tomatoes, this one is mustard-based. This sauce is from a South Carolina recipe that's been perfected over four generations. Common ingredients in mustard-based sauces include molasses and vinegar and a great blend of herbs and spices. You will not miss the tomatoes at all, and your guests and family will enjoy this as well.

How to Use It

This version is mildly sweet and rich and can be used on:

  • Chicken thighs, breasts, drumsticks, and wings
  • Beef or pork ribs
  • Rib-eye, T-Bone, and New York strip steaks
  • Beef or turkey burgers
  • Salmon and cod

Sauce smeared over ribs at cook-outs usually meant I was excluded or had to ask the cook to make me a bland, unflavored piece of meat. If it was my husband making the dinner, I always felt guilty for asking the family to forgo barbecue sauce on my behalf. This is no longer the case. I love this barbecue sauce and can indulge freely.

How to Make Tomato-Free Chili

I make chili for my family using the following technique, and they have no idea there are no tomatoes in it. Chances are your guests will never know, either!

Start With the Right Base

Make a base of beef bouillon powder, chili powder, and McCormick Paprika. I chose McCormick Paprika because it has a slightly smoky flavor and provides the closest imitation to tomato acidity I could find. You will need a generous amount of paprika to produce this similarity in flavor.

  1. Mix beef bouillon powder with 75% of the water recommended on the label. (For example, if 10 teaspoons call for 10 cups of water, simply use 7 1/2 cups of water instead. This will help the flavor be tangier and more concentrated.)
  2. Add McCormick Paprika and chili powder to taste.

Disclosure: I may earn a commission from purchases.

Tips for the Meat and Vegetables

  • Add extra ground beef. Using 80/20 ground beef instead of extra lean will help your broth be thicker and smoother like it has tomatoes. The fat will have this effect.
  • If you want vegetarian chili without tomatoes, then use oil in place of the fat ground beef would create.
  • If you are using low-fat ground turkey, chicken, or pork, likewise add a little oil.
  • Add sliced green pepper if you wish and cook until it is soft to replicate the texture of tomatoes.

Substitute for Crushed Tomatoes in Soups and Stews

If you remember how the broth tastes in alphabet soup by Campbell's, this comes close to that, especially when you have pasta or starchy vegetables cooked in the broth. The sugars come out in the starches and sweeten the broth a little.


  1. Make a base of beef bouillon powder and paprika. Using beef bouillon powder, mix it with 75% of the water recommended on the label. (For example, if 10 teaspoons of bullion call for 10 cups of water, simply use 7 1/2 cups of water instead.)
  2. Add paprika to taste (you might need a lot).
  3. Slice red bell peppers, if desired, and cook them in the broth until they are soft. The peppers replicate the taste and feel of tomatoes very closely.

Substitutes for Tomatoes in Sandwiches, Pitas, and Wraps

  • Slice cucumbers and, if desired, add a dash of hot sauce to them. The cucumbers provide the texture, and the hot sauce adds the tang.
  • Roast red peppers in the oven as directed above. Once they are finished steaming in the bag, add to your dish.

Tips on Buying Red Bell Peppers

Red bell peppers can be expensive, so stock up on them when they are on sale. At Kroger supermarkets in the Midwest, red bell peppers are commonly $1.50 each. They go on sale occasionally during the summer months for $1. For this reason, I tend to buy the Ajvar sauce above as it ends up being cheaper.

But if you catch a great sale, buy as many red peppers as you can, process immediately, and freeze, or just stuff them in your freezer raw for later use. It won't matter that they get soft when defrosted because you will be cooking them for sauce or roasting them anyway.

Stay Healthy and Enjoy!

I know how it feels to have allergies and intolerances to foods you love, so I understand the struggle in finding good substitutes. I hope this information helps you stay healthy in your quest to eat delicious food, as it has done for me!

Questions & Answers

Question: A tomato intolerance is often linked to a benzoate/histamine intolerance. What else have you got to offer as a substitute?

Answer: You can try the following:

Question: I have an intolerance for both tomatoes & sweet pepppers. Do you perhaps have any suggestions for a substitute for these food items?

Answer: Although it is not an exact replacement, a good substitute in terms of flavoring your food is sumac spice. This stuff is addictive.

On sandwiches, I think sliced cucumbers with sumac sprinkled on it will offer a good substitute for the crunch too. Are you able to use paprika? When you need a flavor kick in soups you can try that or the sumac, or even Worcestershire sauce.

To imitate the texture of tomato in cooked foods, I find sliced eggplant works really well (add sumac if desired).

Question: How do I make tomato sauce without using tomatoes?

Answer: You can process a bunch of fresh red peppers into a smooth consistency and season accordingly. This might be a little expensive to do from scratch. An easy alternative is the red pepper sauce in my article.

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