11 Substitutes for Tomato Sauce in Chili

Finding a good substitute for tomato sauce in chili can be a challenge, even to the seasoned chef.  Whether you are hoping to expand your palate or avoid a tomato allergy, there are many great options to avoid the use of tomato sauce in your chili recipe.  

While there is no single best substitute for tomato sauce in chili, perhaps the best choice is to go with another tomato-based product such as diced fresh tomatoes, tomato paste with water added, or tomato juice boiled down.  If you prefer to avoid tomatoes altogether then consider another vegetable-based puree such as carrot, eggplant, zucchini, onion, or garlic.  

Overview of Substitutes for Tomato Sauce in Chili:

  • Tomato Paste
  • Tomato Juice
  • Diced Tomatoes (fresh)
  • Carrot Marinara Sauce
  • Eggplant Puree
  • Zucchini Puree
  • Onion Puree
  • Garlic Puree
  • Pesto
  • Ketchup 
  • BBQ Sauce

Tomato-Based Substitutions for Tomato Sauce in Chili:

If you’re planning to make a chili, but realize you don’t have any tomato sauce on hand, perhaps you have some other tomato products that will work in a pinch. 

If so you just may be able to substitute a home-made tomato-based product for tomato sauce in your chili recipe.

Common seasonings for homemade tomato sauce include olive oil, celery, garlic, onion, and salt.  

When making tomato sauce from fresh tomatoes you won’t need to add any water, since fresh tomatoes already contain plenty of water.  The water will be released as the tomatoes slowly boil down.

While preparing your homemade tomato-based sauce, keep in mind that your chili seasoning should provide the primary flavoring to your chili recipe.  Take care not to overdo the seasoning in your homemade tomato sauce. Otherwise, you may end up with a recipe that’s just going in too many different directions to be palatable.  

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If you just ran out of tomato sauce but have other tomato products on hand, you can try substituting fresh tomatoes, tomato paste, or even tomato juice as described below.

Fresh Tomatoes:

If you don’t mind using another tomato-based option, you can easily substitute fresh tomato chunks to create a homemade tomato puree.  

If you have fresh tomatoes on hand then simply dice them and sautee them on low heat until they begin to break down in the pan.  Use a spoon or fork to mash them up as they break down, and season to taste.  

Tomato Juice:

In a pinch, you can even boil tomato juice down to form a thicker sauce. Then add a few common seasonings as mentioned above. 

While the flavor you end up with may be a little different than store-bought tomato sauce, it’s relatively simple to make your own tomato sauce from scratch.  If nothing else, making your own tomato sauce from scratch can save you a trip to the store by using ingredients that you have on hand.  

Tomato Paste:

Finally, if you happen to have tomato paste on hand, just add some water, stir, and simmer until the consistency becomes similar to that of store-bought tomato paste.   Season lightly to taste, and set your homemade tomato sauce aside to use later in your chili recipe.  

Tomato-Free Substitutes for Tomato Sauce in Chili:

Although rare, some people experience an allergy to tomatoes and may therefore need to substitute a non-tomato-based product in their chili.  

Tomatoes are part of the nightshade family, which also includes peppers, goji berries, paprika, eggplant, and potatoes. 

If you prefer to avoid the use of tomatoes altogether then keep in mind that the taste of your chili can vary considerably according to the substitution you choose.

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Choosing a Similarly Flavored Substitute:

In general, it’s a good idea to consider a substitute that will taste similar to tomato sauce so that your chili recipe will not taste drastically different.   Otherwise, your chili might not taste like chili at all once your recipe is prepared!

With regards to culinary design and implementation, what is the core flavor of tomato sauce? In order to determine the flavor of the combined ingredients, you need to consider the flavor of each ingredient individually. 

Common Ingredients of Tomato Sauce:

  • Tomatoes (slightly sour, sweet)
  • Onions (sweet, pungent)
  • Salt (salty)
  • Olive Oil (sweet, neutral)
  • Garlic (spicy, pungent, sweet)

While these are the ingredients most common to tomato sauce, there are countless varieties of tomato sauce.  One popular variation of tomato sauce is vodka sauce.  

Vodka sauce has some extra ingredients, such as heavy cream and butter. These additional ingredients create a flavor that is richer and creamier.  

The primary ingredient of tomato sauce is the tomato itself, which has a flavor that is both sweet and slightly sour. 

Furthermore, olive oil and spices can add qualities to the flavor such as pungent, spicy, and salty.  Overall we can say that tomato sauce is primarily sweet, but also spicy, pungent, and a little bit salty.

In summary, we can conclude that tomato sauce is sweet, pungent, spicy, and perhaps creamy.  

While you could substitute a variety of different blended vegetables for tomato sauce, perhaps carrot marinara sauce best exemplifies all of these qualities. Check out this healthy and tasty Carrot Marinara sauce recipe below.

Carrot Marinara Sauce Recipe: 

This delicious recipe is so similar to tomato sauce that your friends may not even notice the difference!  Just blend carrots, onions, garlic, lemon, and add a beet for color.  This sauce is easy, super healthy, and satisfying.  This recipe makes 5 cups.

  • 1 tablespoon of coconut oil
  • 2 chopped yellow onions
  • 4 minced garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 pound chopped carrots
  • 1 medium beet, chopped
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon salt (use sea salt if available)
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Start with a large pot over medium heat, and add the coconut oil first.  Once the coconut oil is melted, saute the onions until they begin to brown (about 3 minutes). Next, add the minced garlic and saute until they begin to soften (about 2 minutes). 

Next, add the water and bring the mixture to a boil.  Add the carrots and beets, cover and simmer. Boil on low heat until the carrots and beets are tender (about 30 to 40 minutes).

Consistency of a Tomato Sauce Substitute in Chili

Have you ever tried to prepare chili without using tomato sauce? How did it taste? In all likelihood, it was too spicy, too “edgy”, and perhaps unpalatable. More than any other ingredient, tomato sauce is responsible for the consistency of your chili recipe.

Tomato sauce is an essential building block in the chili recipe. It is responsible for both the taste and the consistency of your chili recipe. You should prepare your tomato sauce substitute first, and taste it before adding the remaining chili ingredients.

Reviewing Your Options:

  • Tomato-based substitutes
  • Barbecue Sauce
  • Pesto
  • Carrot Marinara (Paleo friendly, and healthy!)
  • Vegetable Puree (Eggplant, Zucchini, Garlic, Onion)


At first, it may seem like there are not a lot of great options for substituting tomato sauce in chili. But actually, there are plenty of choices. What you choose will depend on the taste and consistency of the chili dish that you plan to prepare. As you can see it’s possible to create chili that is healthy and delicious, even without having tomato sauce as an ingredient.