Tomato paste has been a pantry staple for me as long as I can remember. It’s a great thing to have on hand for adding extra tomato flavor and color to sauces, stews and soups. Up until recently, I had never tried making it myself. But last year we were blessed with an abundance of tomatoes, and after filling the pantry and freezer with tomato sauce and ketchup, I decided to give tomato paste a try. I cooked down pureed homegrown tomatoes on the stove until they were as thick as I could get them. That produced a super concentrated product that was thicker than tomato sauce, but still not as thick as tomato paste. At that point, I wasn’t really sure how to get it any thicker.
The answer, as it turns out, was sitting on the counter top in the form of our Excalibur dehydrator. A few weeks ago gardener and blogger Michelle (From Seed To Table) commented on her method for making tomato paste using the dehydrator. That seemed like a great way to get that final bit of moisture out of the tomato sauce and turn it into concentrated tomato paste. And since this year we again have lots of homegrown tomatoes, I couldn’t wait to give it a try!
It all starts with only one ingredient: red ripe paste tomatoes, though any ripe tomatoes will do. Paste tomatoes (like Roma) are meatier and less juicy than other tomatoes to begin with, so they tend to cook down into sauce quicker. I grow specific varieties because they are good for processing, and some of my favorites include hybrids like Viva Italia, Health Kick, Rio Grande, Big Mama, Juliet and Super Marzano plus open pollinated varieties like Ludmilla’s Red Plum and Quadro. But you certainly don’t have to grow your own tomatoes. This time of year, farmer’s markets are loaded with fresh tomatoes, and great deals can often be found by buying in quantity.
In the past I made tomato sauce by chopping up the tomatoes, cooking them down until they soften up, then running them through a food mill. That removes the skin and most of the seeds, but takes a fair amount of time and effort. The last couple of years I have used the Vitamix blender to cut the preparation time considerably.
First I wash and drain the tomatoes, and then remove the core of the tomato. I use only firm, ripe tomatoes, and cut out any blemishes or bad spots. Next they go to the Vitamix for blending. I usually cut the larger tomatoes in half first, but smaller plum tomatoes (like Juliet) go in whole. I process the tomatoes on high speed until they are very well blended and any signs of the skins disappear. The juice is so pretty at this point, and already quite thick. I pour the juice into a big kettle, and blend up more tomatoes until I have them all pureed. I like to use an eight quart stainless steel pan that is wider than it is tall. I can get about ten pounds of pureed tomatoes in there without it boiling over.
Now it’s time to start cooking the tomatoes down. This will take around two to three hours, depending on the size of your kettle and how juicy the tomatoes were to begin with. I start out on a fairly high heat, then as the sauce cooks down I keep lowering the heat, stirring often to keep the sauce from sticking to the sides and bottom of the pan. You want the tomato sauce to be thick enough that it will stay on the dehydrator sheet without running off. For me, that meant reducing the sauce to about one fourth of the original volume. At that point, it’s time to put the dehydrator to use.
We bought non-stick drying sheets for our Excalibur dehydrator that are designed for making fruit leathers. They fit on top of the trays and keep pureed foods in place while drying. Those worked great for making the tomato paste. I spooned the tomato sauce onto the sheets, then spread it out as evenly as I could. The sauce was about a half inch thick or less, and it took three sheets/trays to hold all the sauce. After loading up the dehydrator with the trays of sauce, I set the thermostat on the fruit setting (125°F to 135°F).
It took about three hours to dry the sauce down to the right consistency for tomato paste. That time will depend on how thick your sauce is to begin with, and how much you put in your dehydrator, since larger loads typically take longer to dry than smaller ones. The edges also tend to dry faster, so every hour or so I stirred the paste on the sheet then spread it out evenly again.
When the paste is thick enough for your tastes, and doesn’t weep water any more, it is done. I scooped the paste off the dehydrator sheets and into a bowl to let it cool a bit. I had managed to reduce ten pounds of tomatoes to 32 ounces (by weight) of thick, concentrated tomato paste. For short term storage, you can spoon the paste into jars, pour in a bit of olive oil to cover the surface, and store in the refrigerator. For longer storage, I freeze the paste in jars.
I also spoon some of it into ice cube trays and make tomato paste cubes, which are perfect for dropping into soups or sauces that just need a little bit of added tomato flavor. After they are frozen I pop the cubes into a freezer bag.
The USDA does not have any specific recommendations for canning tomato paste, at least none that I could find, so I will not offer any suggestions for canning. I think freezing is a better option anyway, and by freezing in small jars or the ice cube tray you can make reasonable sized portions to suit your own needs.
All in all, it took around six hours from start to finish to make the tomato paste. About half that time involved prepping the tomatoes and cooking them down on the stove, and the rest of the time went to dehydrating the tomato sauce. While it is a time consuming process it’s really not that difficult, and once you get the sauce in the dehydrator, the hardest part is behind you. For me, it was well worth the effort to make homemade tomato paste from our very own homegrown tomatoes, without anything extra added. And I especially want to thank Michelle for giving me the idea of using the dehydrator. If you are looking to make your own tomato paste, this is a great way to do it!
I hope you have enjoyed this article on how to make homemade tomato paste, and I’ll be back soon with more gardening and cooking adventures from Happy Acres.
For more information on preserving tomatoes:
- Dehydrating Tomatoes
- Vitamix Freezer Tomato Sauce
- Homemade Tomato Ketchup
- Freezer Tomato Sauce
- Slow-Roasted Tomatoes