How To Balance Too Much Tomato Paste (And Save Your Meal)


Tomato paste is a staple ingredient for stews, casseroles, pasta sauces, and chili. Unfortunately, if you add too much tomato paste, your dish can turn out sour, metallic, and have a one-dimensional tomato flavor. What happens if you’ve added too much? How do you balance too much tomato paste and save your meal?

Too much concentrated tomato paste in a dish can be sour and overwhelming. To balance out its flavor and counteract bitterness and acidity, try caramelizing it first or adding more liquid, sweetness, savory elements, vegetables, herbs, or spices, and let the dish simmer longer.

It’s easy to add too much tomato paste when cooking, especially if you’re against the clock. You don’t want to throw out the food and start again, so how do you rescue your dish? Let’s look at some quick fixes to balance too much tomato paste.

Why Is Tomato Paste So Sour And Strong?

Tomato paste is a particularly strong and powerful tomato product because it is made from concentrated tomatoes that have had the liquid cooked out. Commercial producers slow-cook and reduce fresh tomatoes to a thick, almost solid consistency to make tomato paste.

Because it is so concentrated, tomato paste’s flavor is intense. Best used sparingly, tomato paste is a flavor enhancer, tomato enricher, and color burst rather than a space filler. You will find tomato paste sold in small amounts – this is also a hint that you shouldn’t use too much at once.

If you use too much tomato paste, its sour, tomatoey flavor can overwhelm other ingredients and leave your dish acidic and bitter. Check out my post on how to fix a bitter tomato sauce.

How Do You Reduce Sourness In Tomato Paste?

There are two tips for reducing the sour flavor of tomato paste in your cooking:

  • Use tomato paste sparingly.
  • Caramelize the tomato paste to reduce its sour taste.

The first tip to using tomato paste is not to use too much of it – you will usually need only one or two tablespoons in a dish. Too much tomato paste leaves your food with an intense, sour flavor that dominates the other flavors with a one-dimensional tomato taste.

The second secret is browning tomato paste in oil near the beginning of the cooking process. Adding tomato paste last into a simmering pot of stew can result in a sour, even metallic flavor. Instead, you need to caramelize the tomato paste to bring out the sweetness of its natural sugars.

Tomato paste comes out as vivid red so we want to brown this until it is more burgundy in color. Most dishes start by frying some onion and other diced vegetables in oil. Once they are translucent, add your paste and continue stirring until brown. You’ll know it’s ready when the color changes.

You can then deglaze the pan with liquid – stock, wine, water – and continue cooking, safe in the knowledge that your dish won’t have an unpleasantly sour undertone. 

Let’s look at how you can rescue a dish when you’ve added too much tomato paste too late in the cooking process.

Too Much Tomato Paste In Pasta Sauce

To balance the overwhelming taste of tomato paste, the simplest solution is to add a little water, stock, or wine to dilute the tomato paste and cook the sauce a little longer. A gentle simmer helps the flavors to blend and reduces the overpowering tomato taste.

Some of the quickest pasta sauces that make mid-week meals easier are tomato-based. But too much tomato paste makes an acidic and unappealing sauce. 

Adding fresh or dried herbs can add flavor to the sauce, reducing the robust tomato flavor. Typical Italian flavors are oregano and basil, while thyme, tarragon, rosemary, parsley, and chives are strong enough to stand up to tomato paste’s dominance.

Heavy cream always makes a pasta sauce more delectable – add a generous dollop of whipping cream to enrich the sauce and mute the bitter tomato taste.

Too Much Tomato Paste In Stew

A hearty stew often has a rich tomato base which you develop using tomato paste. What do you do if you have put too much tomato paste in your stew?

Try adding some more root vegetables like carrots and potatoes which can help mask the tomato taste. More stock can be added but will dilute the stew, so try adding some cornstarch to thicken it if needed.

Carefully add a little salt at a time, tasting in between, to see if the salt improves the flavor. Be careful not to add too much – you will have a challenge on your hands.

You can also add something savory, adding umami-rich ingredients to add complexity to a one-dimensional tomato flavor profile. Worcestershire sauce, anchovy paste, dried stock cubes, or soy sauce adds depth and richness to a stew.

Another option is to add a sweet element, like sugar, honey, or black treacle, which balances the sourness of tomato paste. Caramelized onions also help to counteract bitterness and enhance other flavors. See how to caramelize the best onions.

Too Much Tomato Paste In Soup

If you’ve put too much tomato paste in a soup, the best way to balance the flavor is to add more liquid: adding stock, dairy, or water will dilute the taste of tomatoes and not upset the consistency of the dish too much, as it would a sauce or stew.

Another option is to add other flavors to the soup, to complement and dampen down the tomato paste’s sourness. A soup is an excellent opportunity to “hide” flavorful veggies like carrots, zucchini, mushrooms, swedes, and celery and give your family’s dinner a nutritional boost.

An old-fashioned method of reducing tomato acidity is to add a little baking soda to your soup. You just need a pinch or two for the baking soda to bubble up on the surface and neutralize the acidity as it is an alkali.

If you’re still concerned about your soup’s flavor, serve it with a swirl of cream, a handful of chopped, fresh herbs, and pass a bowl of cheese to mask any lasting bitterness.

Too Much Tomato Paste In Chili

A successful chili should have a warm spiciness, so if it tastes sour or too tomatoey, you need to balance out the tomato paste.

As with other dishes, you can add a little stock to the chili and let it cook for longer, diluting the tomato paste. However, adding liquid can change the dish’s consistency, so what else can you do?

Amp up the spice levels in your chili to balance the tomato’s bitterness: garlic and onion powder, cumin, coriander, and chili powder can create additional layers to the flavor profile. A teaspoon of dark cocoa powder also adds depth to chili and turns it brown rather than red.

If you’re still unhappy with the chili’s flavor, serve it with lots of toppings to divert attention: a pile of tortilla chips, guacamole, sour cream, shredded lettuce, chopped scallions, and grated cheese turn a simple chili into a feast.

Conclusion

Hopefully, you now know how to balance too much tomato paste in your dish. You can still rescue your dinner if you forget to caramelize your tomato paste or accidentally add too much.

Balance too much tomato paste by diluting it with water, stock or wine. Add other intense flavors like salt, sugar, herbs, spices, and vegetables to increase the complexity of the taste. Baking soda can counteract acidity, and cream will mute the intense sourness.

Tom

Hey, I'm Tom. I set up Boss The Kitchen to start answering the thousands of questions people have while cooking. For me, the kitchen is my happy place and I hope to help other people with the knowledge I've gained along the way.

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