Tomato paste is a funny thing. Unlike most other canned tomato products--which are essentially ready to toss with pasta, stir into stew, or otherwise heat and eat!--tomato paste must be carefully worked into a dish in order to live up to its full potential. The flavor is deep, unlike any other tomato ingredients, so even though it comes packaged in tiny cans or tubes, you’d be hard pressed to use up an entire container of tomato paste in one recipe.
If you’re anything like us, your go-to thought when faced with a sudden surplus of an ingredient is: well, can you freeze the rest? In the case of leftover tomato paste, the answer is a resounding yes!
This is one product which actually freezes quite wonderfully and we can (rather happily) highly recommend that you take advantage of this option. To help you do so, we're walking through everything you need to know about freezing tomato paste, from why it works so well, to a step-by-step guide for achieving best frozen tomato paste results.
What is Tomato Paste?
Like other tomato products such as tomato sauce and marinara sauce, tomato paste is made by blending and cooking fresh tomatoes. The main difference, however, is that the cooking process of tomato sauce is halted at a point when it is still quite runny and rich in moisture.
Tomato paste on the other hand, is cooked for far longer--until the majority of the water content is rendered out. Also, to achieve the super smooth consistency it’s known for, the skins and seeds of the tomatoes are always strained out of the tomato paste at just the right point during the cooking process.
While the main ingredient in tomato paste is always tomatoes, there are some brands and varieties which may contain a bit of added salt, citric acid (for shelf stability!), and sometimes additional flavorings such as herbs and spices. The overall low water content is precisely what makes this product such a good candidate for a trip through the freezer. Less water means less ice crystal formation, thus preserving the texture and flavor of the tomato paste better than foods which are richer in moisture.
What is Tomato Paste Used For?
As you’d expect, tomato paste is ideal for imparting rich tomato flavor into a range of delicious recipes. When incorporated into a dish early on in the cooking process, the sweet, tangy, umami rich taste of tomato paste results in a savory flavor and rich coloring of the final dish. Also, the dense, creamy consistency of tomato paste is wonderful for adding thickness to liquid recipes such as soup, stew, or sauces.
As with many canned items, raw canned tomato paste often has a somewhat metallic and less than pleasant flavor. Therefore, cooking the tomato paste when incorporating it into your dish is important. The idea here is not so much to remove water or concentrate flavor (as this product is already extremely concentrated), but to caramelize the natural sugars and develop the flavor within the paste itself.
How Long Does Tomato Paste Last?
The problem with all of this tomato paste-y goodness, however, is that it doesn’t last all that long! Whether it comes in a can, jar, or tube, sealed tomato paste is shelf stable for quite some time--about 6 months beyond the expiration date in fact!
However, once opened, the clock starts ticking--and quick. When stored properly (i.e., in a clean, airtight container), tomato paste will last for about 5-10 days in the fridge. The only exception to this fleeting shelf life is tomato paste which comes in a tube and can easily last for 1-2 months.
Why Freeze Tomato Paste?
So, why bother freezing tomato paste in the first place? There are several benefits to doing so.
Reduces Food Waste
Typically, you’ll find that recipes only call for rather small amounts of this stuff, sometimes as little as a teaspoon! Rather than throwing away the leftovers--or forgetting about them until rediscovery of the fully spoiled paste occurs weeks later--freezing your tomato paste will prevent this from happening. Added benefit: this action will help you save money as well!
Extends the Shelf Life
As mentioned in the previous section, the shelf life of tomato paste becomes greatly reduced after opening. By freezing it, you can make your leftovers last for far longer than simply storing them in the fridge! We don’t recommend opening a sealed can or jar of tomato paste for the sole purpose of getting it into the freezer (as a sealed can of food is about as long term storage as things go!), but if you have an open container, this is a great option.
Adds Convenience to Your Cooking
Having a powerful ingredient such as tomato paste on hand in your kitchen is a true cooking hack! However, portioning and dealing with all that is packed into those factory sealed cans and jars isn’t always so convenient when you're trying to get a meal on the table. If you freeze tomato paste according to our guide below, it will be pre-portioned and ready to go, allowing you to easily use as much as you need, add it to your dishes, dramatically ramping up the flavor profile of any recipe!
How to Freeze Tomato Paste
Have we thoroughly convinced you by now to go ahead and freeze your tomato paste? Good! If you’ve decided to do so, just follow our step-by-step guide to freezing tomato paste--whether store-bought or homemade--below.
Step 1: Evaluate the Tomato Paste
First things first, make sure the tomato paste you are planning to freeze is in excellent condition. The paste should be bright red and moist, with no discoloration or signs of mold growth. If the tomato paste has already been open and in the refrigerator for more than a few days (with the exception of tomato paste in a tube, which lasts a while longer!), this is not the time to freeze it.
Step 2: Portion the Tomato Paste
Line a plate or baking sheet with parchment paper, wax paper, or plastic wrap. Using a small ice cream or cookie scoop, melon baller, or a measuring spoon, scoop the tomato paste and drop each spoonful onto the prepared plate or baking sheet.
You want to aim for portion sizes that are about 1 tablespoon, as this will make your life easier later when you are using the tomato paste in your recipes. Dividing the tomato paste into the pockets of an ice cube tray is another great portioning method as well!
Pro tip: spray your scoop or measuring spoon with a bit of nonstick cooking spray, as this will help each portion of tomato paste to release from the spoon more readily.
Step 3: Freeze the Tomato Paste
Place the baking sheet or ice cube tray of tomato paste in a flat area of your freezer where it will remain undisturbed for a few hours.
Step 4: Transfer the Tomato Paste
Once the tomato paste is frozen solid (this could take several hours, depending on the size and shape), remove the frozen portions from the baking sheet or pop them out of the ice cube tray. You can now combine all of the portions into one freezer bag or airtight container, as this will help to prevent freezer burn.
Since the tomato paste portions are already frozen all the way through, there’s no need to worry about them sticking together!
How to Defrost Tomato Paste
The best way to thaw frozen tomato paste is to place the number of portions you need in a container with a tight fitting lid or a small bowl covered with plastic wrap, then place it in the refrigerator for 6-8 hours or overnight. Once thawed, give the tomato paste a stir to refresh the consistency and then you’re ready to use it!
In most cases though, you can go right ahead and use the tomato paste without thawing it first. Simply toss the frozen portions of tomato paste into the pot or pan of food as you are cooking and proceed with your recipe!
How Long Does Frozen Tomato Paste Last?
Frozen tomato paste can be considered good to use for up to 4 months, so long as it is stored properly. This means it is kept frozen the entire time (no defrosting and refreezing!) and sealed in an airtight container.
In all likelihood, your frozen tomato paste will remain safe for consumption well beyond this point, however, the flavor will inevitably begin to suffer as freezer burn starts to affect the moisture content of the product.
Recipe Inspiration for Using Up Tomato Paste
Realized that your frozen tomato paste is nearing the end of its shelf life and thus found yourself in need of some recipe inspo? Get cooking! Here are a few of our favorite recipes to make use of leftover tomato paste!
Freezing Leftover Tomato Paste: The Takeaway
The bottom line is that tomato paste takes to freezing amazingly well! Its flavor and velvety texture will remain intact for up to 4 months, thanks to the inherently low water content of the product.
Using this storage method is a great way to stretch the shelf life of an open container of tomato paste, save money, and set yourself up with convenient portions of tomato paste which will make whipping up delicious meals even easier than before!
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