Is the tomato sauce that tops your pasta vegan? Find out what tricky ingredients to look out for and how to make your own versions at home!
It’s a blistering summer afternoon in a rural Italian village.
You’re riding your rented bike along the quiet road when you spot an irresistible treat.
Plump red tomatoes peek out from neat, green rows on a small farm.
You casually look around the empty street, then run over quickly and pluck one fruit from the vine.
You’re about to sink your teeth into your bounty when you feel an urgent need to look over your shoulder.
The gigantic guard dog is growling at you, teeth bare … and is that drool?
It’s an easy decision. The tomato splats on the roadside as you jump onto your bike.
And you pedal faster than you ever thought possible, up and down torturous hills and winding paths.
Because a juicy, organic tomato from the Tuscany countryside is not worth a tetanus shot.
We’re all looking for that fresh, rustic tomato experience, but we also want convenience.
And if you want vegan options, you will scrutinize the back of every jar of pasta sauce. Just because it’s made from tomatoes doesn’t mean it is free of animal products.
Is tomato sauce vegan?
Types of Tomato Sauce
But before we tour the tomato sauce aisle, let’s have a look at the most popular kinds tomato or pasta sauces:
This is a simple mix of crushed tomatoes, garlic, onions, olive oil and herbs like basil and oregano. It’s the most versatile choice for most kinds of pasta, pizza sauce, soups, casseroles (like Garfield’s favorite food), sandwiches, and makes a tasty dipping sauce.
With a splash of vodka and heavy cream, the tomatoes will be singing! As a vegan, you don’t have to avoid this dish - there are plenty of vegan substitutes for heavy cream.
This is a classic meat sauce that you can easily modify for a vegan diet with alternatives like tofu, tempeh, mushrooms, or beans.
In the mood for something spicy? Fresh red peppers or crushed red pepper flakes give this sauce a medium kick. It’s usually made with seafood but goes fabulously with chickpeas or tofu.
Even hotter than fra diavolo, this fiery tomato sauce will please any culinary thrill-seeker.
This is a smooth, uncooked sauce that is passed through a sieve to remove tomato chunks, skin, and seeds. Foodies love its light, fresh tomato flavor in soups and stews.
If you cooked marinara sauce for hours, you’d come very close to a pomodoro. They both use the same ingredients but the end result of a Pomodoro sauce is smoother and darker with a more complex taste.
Which tomato sauces are vegan?
So we’re not planning a trip to Italy anytime soon but at least we can find authentic pasta sauces in our supermarkets.
If you want to keep a few jars in the pantry for quick meals, which vegan-friendly brands can you rely on?
If you’re following a vegan lifestyle, you want to avoid these in your tomato sauce:
- Meat (e.g. sausage, ground beef, meatballs)
- Dairy products (e.g. milk, butter, cream, and parmesan and other types of cheese)
The good news is that most tomato sauce in grocery stores is vegan.
However, you should learn to recognize the types that usually have dairy or meat (e.g. bolognese and vodka) so you can avoid them.
Most of the ingredients in the store brands are clearly labeled, both on the back of the product and online.
Let’s have a look at the most popular brands:
These brands start with a base of tomato puree (tomato paste and water) and are relatively cheap:
One exception is 356 Organic from Whole Foods, made with organic diced tomatoes.
The brands below are more expensive but their batches start with diced or whole peeled tomatoes:
All of these brands offer vegan choices among their collection, but be sure to check ingredient labels first.
Also, the Victoria brand has a line of vegan alfredo sauces if you’re looking for a creamy sauce to indulge in.
If you're looking for a quick and easy meal idea, try one of these vegan jarred sauces paired with our microwave pasta.
How can I make my own vegan tomato sauce?
It’s a breeze to make vegan marinara sauce because it already contains vegan ingredients. Here are some recipe ideas to inspire you:
- The Forked Spoon shows you how to use fresh tomatoes and an immersion blender to get a smooth, homemade marinara sauce
- This effortless pomodoro from Mrs. Jones’s Kitchen makes a beautiful dish
- Carve Your Craving gives plenty of tips on customizing spaghetti arrabbiata to your taste
- Meet two new best friends, crushed tomatoes and pumpkin puree, in my easy pumpkin tomato sauce recipe
And, of course, you can modify any traditional dish to make it vegan:
- My vegan vodka sauce uses coconut milk and nutritional yeast to transform this dish into the ultimate indulgence
- Red lentils add glorious fun and gives a meaty texture to this vegan bolognese recipe
- For creamy sauces, try Jessica in the Kitchen’s vegan cashew alternative
Weeknight dishes come together quickly with these kid-friendly recipes:
- Each mouthwatering layer of this vegan lasagna is packed with flavor
- Minimalist Baker’s vegan meatballs with black beans are an easy crowd pleaser
Most store-bought tomato sauce is vegan, as long as you avoid the creamy or meat-added varieties.
You can also make a whole batch at home and freeze for later. It’s a wonderful way to use up your summertime tomatoes (the ones from your own backyard garden!).
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