Chili con carne, simply known as chili, is a spicy, delicious stew full of healthy ingredients. It has a mixture of spices and also contains ground meat, beans, hot and bell peppers, and tomatoes.
It includes some seasonings as well and these can vary depending on the cook. However, the most common are cumin, chili powder, paprika, garlic, and pepper.
The tomatoes in chili are often underrated and an afterthought for some. However, they infuse a strong and vibrant flavor into the dish plus give it a beautiful color.
They also create a luscious sauce for the meat. Therefore, tomatoes play a major role in any chili. The question then arises – should you use tomato paste or tomato sauce/passata for chili?
We will give you some quick tips to help you decide which one to use.
Tomato Paste or Sauce for Chili
First, we need to understand the basic difference between tomato paste and sauce.
Tomato paste is extremely concentrated with a strong flavor and very thick consistency. Tomato paste is made by cooking tomato puree down until it loses most of its moisture. Most people use store-bought tomato paste.
You need to add just a small amount of the paste to uplift the taste of the entire dish. We suggest never using more than two tablespoons of tomato paste for every pound of ground meat.
Its taste is tart so when using it, we often add a spoon or two of sugar to balance the flavor. Tomato paste is a healthy addition to your meal because it contains good amounts of lycopene.
How to use tomato paste
Tomato paste is available in small sachets, tiny cans, or convenient squeeze tubes. The paste is used mostly in soups, stews, and tomato-based sauces. It can also be mixed with olive oil and oregano and used as the tomato component on pizza bases.
Of course, you can add it to chili as well. However, you should keep in mind that tomato paste needs to be added in small amounts. A single tablespoonful can add a vibrant flavor. When using tomato paste less is more.
One way of using it is to first fry the tomato paste in oil to warm it and loosen up the paste’s consistency. Then, add water depending on the consistency you want. You can also add broth.
After that, to balance out the flavor, you can add the various spices and herbs used in the original sauce recipe. Other people add it directly to the pot containing the meat, beans, and other ingredients.
As mentioned earlier, the paste has a slightly acidic taste. You can add sugar, wine, or honey to balance the flavor. The paste gives a rich umami taste to the overall dish.
This sauce is also known as tomato puree or passata. It normally contains pureed tomatoes along with several other flavoring ingredients. These usually include different spices, herbs, garlic, and onion. The flavor profile and consistency differ from that of paste.
Tomato sauce has a looser, more watery texture and can be the choice of sauce for pasta and pizzas. Its loose consistency is because it is not cooked down as much as the paste so it retains much of its liquid.
The taste profile matches that of fresh tomatoes although, you will also get a touch of various seasonings. You would use more of it than paste – up to a cupful or two in a chili.
How to use tomato sauce
The problem with using tomato sauce in chili is its liquid texture. The end result will be soupy and too runny unless it is cooked down for longer. Some people may prefer to use it this way. However, chili should have a thicker consistency.
You can use tomato sauce but then you must cook the chili longer with the lid off to reduce the amount of liquid. Stir it often to prevent the bottom from scorching.
Disadvantages of tomato sauce
The advantage of using tomato sauce is that you get a lot of flavor because of the extra seasonings. The drawback is a watery chili.
Using sauce is not recommended if you don’t have time to cook the chili down to remove the liquid. A soupy stew is not a great choice when you have guests to serve.
What about canned tomatoes?
If you can’t get your hands on either tomato sauce or paste but you have canned tomatoes at home, you can use them in the chili instead. Canned tomatoes also sometimes contain seasonings so check for that. You may have to add your own.
The drawback here is that canned tomatoes are even more liquid than sauce so you will have to cook the chili down for a long time to remove the liquid. Flavor-wise, though, they are an appropriate substitute for both the sauce and the paste.
Chili is a stew loved by many so most people have their favorite recipe. Tomatoes, in whatever form, form an important foundation. Whether you use tomato paste or sauce in your chili is a matter of choice.
Some people use canned tomatoes in chili and you can also go with this option. Just be aware of the liquid content of these different tomato varieties and cook your chili for a longer time with the lid off if necessary.
Our recommendation for the best taste and consistency is tomato paste.