Ketchup is one of those condiments that is seemingly always lurking in the refrigerator, even when you can’t remember the last time you specifically bought some. Such a constant presence means this is one ingredient you might easily take for granted--always thinking that trusty ketchup bottle will be full and waiting when you have French fries in need of accompaniment or a meatloaf in need of a glaze.
So, what to do when your ketchup bottle is down to the last drop (or altogether missing!) in your greatest time of need? Is there anything you can convincingly replace ketchup with? Absolutely! Whether you need a substitute option that is as close to the real deal as possible, or you seek a replacement for allergy or aversion purposes, one of our ketchup substitute ideas is up to the task.
What is Ketchup?
As one of the most popular condiments of all time, tomato ketchup requires little introduction. Also known as “catsup”, this sauce consists of a thick, smooth puree of tomatoes and other ingredients such as onions, vinegar, sugar, and spices. The overall taste profile of ketchup varies from brand to brand, as some ketchups have a slightly spicy flavor while others may feature a more acidic tang.
Though it lives in the supermarket aisle alongside mayonnaise and mustard, ketchup is far more than just a condiment. Aside from being used as a sandwich topping or a dipping sauce for a variety of foods, ketchup is also used as the foundation of many different sauces, recipes, and dishes.
What to Consider When Substituting Ketchup
When seeking a substitute for ketchup, there are several factors you must take into consideration while making your selection.
- Intended Use: What are you planning on using your ketchup substitute for? Your ideal replacement option may vary if you are using it as a dipping sauce as opposed to using it in a recipe.
- Food Allergies or Aversions: If you are avoiding ketchup due to food allergies--specifically issues with tomatoes--this will greatly impact your choice as well. Many of the best ketchup substitute options are tomato-based, but there are some great tomato-free alternatives as well!
- Importance of Texture: Ketchup is unique in the sense that it has a silky, rich, and thick texture. In some applications, this texture is quite important, while in others, you can get away with a substitute that offers a similar taste yet different textural profile.
- Importance of Flavor: Do you want a replacement that mimics ketchup flavor as accurately as possible or are you open to (or actively seeking!) other flavor profiles? If you don’t enjoy the taste of ketchup or are looking for something a bit more unique, we have a few outside-the-box ketchup substitutes.
Best Tomato-Based Ketchup Substitutes
The good news when it comes to ketchup substitutes is that you’ve got a lot of options! First we’ll cover some substitutes for ketchup that are tomato-based--or otherwise contain tomato ingredients--then we’ll offer a few tomato-free options in case a tomato allergy or aversion is at hand!
Good ol’ BBQ sauce is hands down one of the best substitutes for ketchup as many varieties actually rely on regular ketchup as a base ingredient. You can use whatever type of barbecue sauce you already have on hand or pick up a bottle of your favorite brand. Homemade barbecue sauce would be great as well!
Keep in mind that most barbecue sauces will be more strongly seasoned as compared to ketchup and may be smokier, sweeter, spicier, or otherwise more robust than ketchup. Despite these differences in flavor, barbecue sauce is an excellent choice for a ketchup substitute as the texture is often very similar to that of ketchup: smooth, shiny, and thick without being too paste-like.
How to Substitute:
Barbecue sauce can be used in a 1:1 ratio to replace ketchup as a standalone condiment or as a recipe ingredient! Just be sure to take into account any other flavors the recipe calls for, potentially decreasing the amount of other spices and seasonings since the barbecue sauce will be bringing a lot to the table.
If you’re looking for tomato flavor in a ketchup substitute, tomato paste is that way to go! This pantry staple is made from tomato concentrate which is reduced until a thick, velvet-textured paste results. This intensity of taste means this option is far too strong to be used as a condiment, spread, or dipping sauce. However, is it perfect for use in recipes! You can definitely use plain tomato paste to replace ketchup in a recipe, but it would greatly benefit from some tinkering and extra flavor boosting.
In order to bring the tomato paste a bit closer to ketchup in terms of taste, you can always opt to jazz it up a bit with apple cider vinegar to boost the acidic flavor, Worcestershire sauce for some umami, honey for a touch of sweet, and any spices like onion powder or smoky paprika. You may also want to whisk in a few drops of olive oil to thin out the tomato paste, thereby making it a bit easier to incorporate into your recipe. You can use your own judgement to doctor up the flavor of your tomato paste, but if you'd like a full recipe, scroll down to the end of our article!
How to Substitute:
Use tomato paste from the can--or your spiced up version--to replace ketchup in recipes for sauces, marinades, or braises. This option is best used in situations where the dish will be cooking for a while, as this will help to cook off that canned tomato taste. Start by just using half the quantity the recipe calls for to avoid making the tomato flavor too intense.
The word “chili sauce” may refer to a couple of different products, ranging from sweet to spicy. This may cause some confusion, but the good news is that either of them will make a good ketchup substitute!
Regular chili sauce (such as that iconic variety offered by Heinz) offers just about the same tomato flavor as ketchup, except with more seasoning and a subtle heat thanks to the addition of warming spices. Generally speaking, though, this type of chili sauce is not considered to be spicy. Spicy chili sauce on the other hand is a type of hot sauce made from chili peppers and oftentimes tomato ingredients as well. Sriracha is one well-known variety of chili sauce, famous for its wonderfully spicy-sweet flavor.
How to Substitute:
Whether you like it sweet or prefer the heat, chili sauce is a great replacement for ketchup--as either a condiment or when making sauces or other recipes. If using classic chili sauce, a 1:1 ratio of replacement will do, but when using the spicy stuff, go lightly at first to avoid too much heat!
Though there are some definite differences in flavor between salsa and ketchup, the basics are the same. Salsa is just another thick, liquid tomato product which is spiced and seasoned! Depending on which salsa you choose, the result could be far spicier or less sweet than ketchup, so be sure to taste before going for it.
You can use any salsa you like, but we recommend staying away from anything that says “chunky” as this would add some large pieces of onion, tomato, and peppers to your dish where ketchup is smooth and silky. Another option is to toss your salsa in the blender or food processor to spin it into a more uniform consistency like regular ketchup.
How to Substitute:
Salsa is great as a condiment substitute for ketchup (French fries dipped in salsa? Yes please!) as well as in recipes in a 1:1 ratio. If your salsa is moderate or hot on the heat scale, it would be wise to reduce any other heat-inducing ingredients the recipe calls for in order to balance things out.
Tomato Sauce or Puree
Wherever tomato paste works as a substitute, you can bet that tomato sauce (also sometimes called tomato puree) will do the trick as well. Tomato sauce has a higher water content as compared to tomato paste, but an overall similar taste. Therefore, you can also opt to add similar flavoring ingredients as suggested above such as: cider vinegar, honey, Worcestershire, onion or garlic powder, and/or paprika.
If you’re feeling ambitious, you can take the extra step to simmer your tomato sauce or puree in a small pot on the stove. This will serve to boil off some of the water, thickening up the resulting product to a consistency more in line with that of ketchup.
How to Substitute:
Seasoning and thickening the tomato sauce ahead of time is ideal if you plan to use it as a condiment or a dipping sauce, but not as necessary if you are planning to use it for replacing ketchup in a recipe. a 1:1 ratio of replacement will do the trick here, but keep a close eye to make sure your recipe does not get too watery.
Out of all of the available substitutes for ketchup, tomato jam actually tends to have a flavor that is the most like ketchup. However, the reasoning for its spot towards the end of our list is that it’s not exactly a common product, meaning you may not always be able to find it in the grocery store let alone happen to have some hanging around your fridge or pantry.
If you do though, consider yourself lucky because this stuff is perfect for replacing ketchup in any and all situations! Just bear in mind that tomato jam does have a rougher texture as compared to ketchup and oftentimes is much sweeter.
How to Substitute:
Despite its sweetness, tomato jam can be used to replace ketchup in a 1:1 ratio in savory dishes as well--from topping a pile of scrambled eggs to making barbecue sauce. You can also use tomato jam as a dipping sauce or spread, but it may be a little on the sweet side from the flavor you’d be seeking with ketchup.
Tomato-Free Ketchup Substitutes
Here are a few ideas for how to substitute ketchup without the tomato! As always, be sure to check the ingredients label on any individual items to make sure there are no allergens that are of particular concern to you.
Sweet and Sour Sauce
Sweet and sour sauce may not be the first thing that comes to mind when considering ketchup substitute options, but trust us, this one works! Most store bought versions of this stuff get a salty-savory flavor from soy sauce, sweet-tartness from pineapple juice, and an excellent thick consistency from the addition of cornstarch.
If you are substituting ketchup for tomato allergy reasons, be sure to check the label of your sweet and sour sauce extra carefully, as some store-bought versions of this sauce do contain actual ketchup as an ingredient or may contain other tomato products like tomato paste.
How to Substitute:
Sweet and sour sauce is an excellent 1:1 ketchup substitute in situations where you want a sauce that has a similar taste to ketchup as well as a similar texture. Sweet and sour sauce shines as a dipping sauce instead of ketchup but would fare equally well in almost any recipe!
Ok, this one is a bit different but hang in there because surprisingly enough, hummus actually checks a lot of the same boxes as ketchup! It is thick, making it ideal for use as a spread or a condiment, as well as has both a savory and a sweet taste. Plus, hummus makes for an extra-healthy ketchup substitute as it contains far less sugar than regular ketchup and you get an added fiber and protein boost thanks to those chickpeas.
There are many different flavors of hummus to choose from and the direction you want to go is entirely up to you. If you aren’t avoiding tomato ingredients, sun-dried tomato hummus is a great choice as it takes on a tomato-y taste as well as offers a similar coloring. Roasted red pepper would be an option along the same lines as well, but feel free to think outside the box with roasted garlic hummus, lemon hummus, or artichoke hummus depending on what other flavors are at play in your recipe!
How to Substitute:
This substitute option is a bit more freeform, as where and how much hummus you use to replace ketchup depends on many factors. Needless to say, we don’t recommend using this substitute in recipes for sauces or glazes, as the taste and texture are just too different. However, it makes a wonderful--albeit unexpected--replacement on sandwiches and burgers!
Apple Cider Vinegar
So far we’ve discussed apple cider vinegar as a flavoring component to boost the acidity of other ketchup substitutes, but it can actually be used as a replacement all on its own as well! Apple cider vinegar is an excellent ketchup substitute in situations where you are simply seeking the tang and punch of vinegary flavor that ketchup delivers, but the absence of texture nor tomato flavor would be a both.
You could also use another sweet vinegar such as red wine or champagne vinegar, however we don’t recommend using distilled vinegar here as its sharpness is quite intense as compared to ACV or wine vinegars, as well as the fact that it lacks any sweetness whatsoever.
How to Substitute:
In this case, you definitely want to start out small so as to avoid over-acidifying your recipe. Start out with just a splash of vinegar (about a quarter of the ketchup quantity called for), then taste to see if you are looking for an even brighter flavor. This option is best used in recipes, not as a condiment replacement. However, vinegar & French fries are a classic combination so in lieu of ketchup, try a little sprinkle of vinegar over your fried potatoes!
Quick Homemade Ketchup Substitute
So far we’ve discussed a few semi-homemade ketchup substitutes where you are just adding some seasonings or sweetness to existing products, but here is an easy way to whip up your own ketchup.
Simply stir together:
- ½ cup tomato paste (or thick tomato sauce)
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar (or lemon juice)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon honey (or brown sugar)
- 1 teaspoon smoked or sweet paprika
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- Salt and black pepper, to taste
If the mixture seems too thick for your purposes, drizzle in some warm water or olive oil and whisk until you achieve a creamy consistency. If you feel like getting creative, add some chopped sun dried tomatoes (just in case you have some leftover after making our Creamy Sun Dried Tomato Pasta) or roasted red peppers to make a delicious dip!
Final Thoughts on Finding the Best Substitute for Ketchup
Just when you thought you were fresh out of luck and would have to change up your dinner plans, these ketchup substitutes are here to save the meal! Whether you seek a substitute for ketchup that is as tomato-forward as the real thing, or you are looking for a replacement option for that tomato-allergy friend of yours, we hope you found a ketchup stand-in that will fill the role.
If you have a bit more time (and a few more ingredients) on your hands, take a stab at making your own simple homemade ketchup. With a base of tomato paste or sauce that is amplified by sweetness and seasonings, you can bet that this sauce will do everything your usual bottle of the store bought stuff does.