Tomato Paste Dilemma

June 30, 20230

We are experiencing the worst drought in a millennium which is causing a tomato shortage. Tomato prices are up as much as 80% from 2021, and very limited supply means the product may not even be on shelves for those willing to pay a higher price.

Tomato paste, which is the foundational component of ketchup, salsa and spaghetti sauce is disappearing from store shelves. US food inflation is already nearing 50-year highs, and this summer’s punishing drought is not helping matters. Farmers growing tomatoes are facing numerous challenges this year, particularly in California where more than 90% of the country’s tomatoes come from.

Coming into the tomato-planting season, inventory across the country was already in short supply because of years of drought, substandard crops and growers’ focusing on their other commodities, said Mike Montna, the president of the California Tomato Growers Association. Farmers who conserve rainwater to irrigate their fields used to be able to allocate three to four feet of water for every acre of farmland, but now only have three to four inches to use per acre. Therefore, farmers are increasingly turning to groundwater reservoirs which are more expensive. The historic drought has led to statewide restrictions in California limiting groundwater use. Many farmers are choosing to cut back on tomato production altogether, focusing on less water-hungry crops that are easier to cultivate in areas with groundwater restrictions and historically low rainfall.

Tomato paste is one of those ingredients so full of flavor that it can make a dish pop. It belongs in various recipes because it blends the umami and sweet tastes that result from cooking tomatoes for a long period of time. Because tomato paste has a strong flavor, most recipes only require a slight amount, so it’s best to buy it in small cans or jars. What happens when you run out of this versatile ingredient and your recipe calls for its unique flavor and texture?

Some like to use tomato sauce as a substitute, but the big difference between paste and sauce is the flavor and texture. Tomato paste is reduced by boiling it until it thickens. It produces a more robust, acidic flavor and a naturally sweet taste. The sauce is lighter, has more liquid, and it may also have added sugar, sweet notes, and other ingredients or flavors like garlic and basil. A rule of thumb is to use 3 tablespoons of tomato sauce for every one tablespoon of tomato paste your recipe calls for. Add the sauce to your recipe. Cook and stir constantly until the sauce has reduced and thickened. If your recipe calls for sugar in it, you might want to substitute ketchup and reduce the amount of sugar your recipe calls for. These are nice substitutes, but they are no match for the flavorful tomato paste.

What do you do if you are a manufacturer of a product that contains tomato paste? Natural flavor modifiers might help. LifeWise Ingredients has two products – P60M and Simply Savor Tomato. They boost the tomato profiles and add back the fresh, bright flavor. In addition, our products help potentiate a stronger tomato flavor which may reduce the amount of tomato paste you need in your applications. Why not click here to reach out for a free sample and try it? At LifeWise, flavor is just the beginning…

A world without tomatoes is like a string quartet without violins. – Laurie Colwin

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