Can You Use Ketchup As A Substitute for Tomato Sauce?

We’ve all been there. You grabbed ketchup by accident. It was right next to the tomato sauce! Now you’re home, you need to get dinner going, and all you have in your hand is a red bottle instead of a shiny can. Don’t worry, you’re not doomed. 

Admittedly, using ketchup in place of tomato sauce is not widely recommended, but if you’re in a bind, there are some recipes where you can directly substitute ketchup for tomato sauce. You can also dilute ketchup, reduce the intense flavor, or remix it so it will still work similarly to tomato sauce. 

Why Substituting Ketchup is Hard

Your average tomato sauce has an ingredient list that looks something like this: tomatoes, water, <2% salt, spices, citric acid. On the other hand, ketchup is usually made of this: tomato concentrate, distilled vinegar, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, salt, spice, onion powder. Yikes. 

Because of the big ingredient discrepancy, there are a lot of other substitutes for tomato sauce. It’s actually way easier to turn tomato sauce into tomato sauce. This is because it is easier to add ingredients, but harder to remove ingredients that have already been mixed in, like with ketchup. At the end, you’ll see how to turn tomato sauce into ketchup in case you find yourself in the opposite situation.

Direct Substitutions

There are some recipes in which you can simply use ketchup in place of tomato sauce. If you don’t see your recipe here, check to see how much tomato sauce is called for. If there’s only a little bit, it might be safe to use ketchup. 

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In most pastas where tomato sauce is not one of the main ingredients, it is safe to substitute ketchup for tomato sauce. Pastas like beef stroganoff, baked ziti, and fettuccines recipes typically don’t use much tomato sauce, so in these recipes you can substitute ketchup for tomato sauce. 


It might get you some weird looks, but you can usually substitute ketchup for tomato sauce in chili. One way to make this work is if you have some other form of tomatoes in your chili. Try adding some tomato chunks, or paste, to balance out the intensity of the ketchup. 

One of the biggest hurdles when it comes to using ketchup in place of tomato sauce is knowing that you did. Pro tip: don’t tell your family, friends, or guests that you used ketchup instead of tomato sauce. Chances are, they probably won’t even notice!


To be honest, you probably shouldn’t throw cups of ketchup into your famous spaghetti. But, if you spread that ketchup out a little, it could do you some favors! You can dilute ketchup with either water or milk. 


However much tomato sauce you need, halve it. Add that much ketchup to a saucepan. Add the same amount of either milk or water. Simmer the two together until they blend into one consistent liquid. 

You can now use this solution as a substitution for tomato sauce in more recipes, such as pastas that call for more tomato sauce. Of course, you can try substituting your newly-diluted tomato-sauce-substitute ketchup in whatever recipe you’d like. 

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Be sure to keep an eye on the flavor as you cook to make sure you’re not over or underwhelming the dish. 

Reducing the Intense Ketchup Flavor

At the end of the day, ketchup is still ketchup. There’s some great news though! Remember that ingredient list! If your recipe calls for things such as vinegar, salt, corn syrup, spice, or onion powder, you’re in luck. 

Because you are using ketchup, you’ve already got those included. So, leave those ingredients out. The additional flavors in ketchup won’t be noticeable since they are supposed to be there in the first place!


Not having such a staple ingredient like tomato sauce on hand is tricky. Ketchup is an even more common household food though. With these tips and tricks, you can keep your original, tomato-heaven dish intact with a little extra Heinz help. 

Remember: knowing is half the struggle. If you don’t tell anyone, and try to forget yourself, all you’ll taste is sweet success!