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How Long Should You Caramelize Store-Bought Tomato Paste?

tomato paste in a wood bowl next to fresh tomatoes on a wood surface
tomato paste in a wood bowl next to fresh tomatoes on a wood surface - Halil ibrahim mescioglu/Shutterstock

While we associate the complex yet distinct umami flavor with funky fermented foods like kimchi, seaweed, and seafood, or the savoriness of mushrooms and red meat, tomatoes are arguably the most umami-rich food of all. Tomatoes contain some of the highest levels of glutamate, the compound behind umami-rich flavors. And tomato paste is one of the most concentrated forms of tomatoes -- a mere teaspoon of which will supply an intense savory boost to an entire dish.

Store-bought tomato paste is a convenient flavor enhancer to upgrade sauces, soups, and stews. However, instead of simply squeezing a dash into a bubbling pot, you should be browning tomato paste to reach its full flavor potential. Caramelizing tomato paste is essentially concentrating an already concentrated ingredient, transforming its tart, almost metallic taste into a richer, sweeter umami flavor.

While caramelization is usually a low and slow cooking method, tomato paste doesn't take very long to caramelize because you're using a very small amount of it. Many caramelized tomato paste recipes recommend adding a squeeze of store-bought tomato paste to a skillet with oil over medium heat for anywhere from three to five minutes. The precise cooking times may vary, but it's easy enough to take a visual cue; caramelization is complete when the paste is no longer bright red, but instead an opaque crimson. There's no dish that won't benefit from caramelized tomato paste, so you can add this quick five-minute step to any recipe that calls for tomato paste.

Read more: 13 Unexpected Ingredients To Elevate Lasagna

Caramelized Tomato Paste Is For More Than Just Pasta And Pizza Sauce

coconut milk basd chicken stir fry with tomato paste and chilies
coconut milk basd chicken stir fry with tomato paste and chilies - AS Foodstudio/Shutterstock

While cooking times to caramelize tomato paste range from three to five minutes, an agreed-upon ratio for tomato paste to oil is two parts paste to one part oil. Many Italian tomato-based recipes like pizza and pasta sauces have caramelized tomato paste as their starting point and it can add depth of flavor to dishes from countless other cuisines.

North African tomato-based stews benefit from the addition of caramelized tomato paste. You can start a Shakshuka or a Moroccan tagine by sauteing tomato paste with onions, garlic, olive oil, and a spice mixture of paprika, chili powder, cumin, and cinnamon before adding crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce.

Because umami is a flavor coined by the Japanese and an integral part of most Asian cuisines, caramelized tomato paste can easily be a secret weapon in your next stir-fry. It would enhance the umami-richness of sauces like hoisin, sweet soy, and Gochujang. You could add tomato paste to toasted Indian spices in a rich coconut-based dahl.

You could even use caramelized tomato paste to boost your favorite store-bought condiments and sauces like barbecue sauce and marinara. And it would be a delicious flavoring agent to stir into extra-virgin olive oil, creating the perfect dipping oil for crusty bread or finishing oil for everything from pizza to grilled fish.

Read the original article on Tasting Table.