The Right Way to Open a Can of Tomato Paste

It doesn't always come in a tube

Getty Images

Tomato paste has certain properties that make people not want to deal with it, even though it comes in such a cute little package. Both stiff and sticky, it doesn’t plop attractively out of a can like cranberry jelly, and it doesn’t even come off a spoon cleanly unless you oil it first. Most people scoop out the amount required for a recipe and then do one of the following:

  1. Cover the can with a piece of foil or plastic and put it in the fridge
  2. Scoop the tomato paste into another container and store in the fridge or freezer
  3. Throw the unused paste away

Storing food in the can is gross, and I’m pretty sure the health department would write up a restaurant for having something like that on the premises. But trying to preserve tomato paste by spooning it from its tiny can into the right size container is annoying and always leaves some behind, which is probably why a lot of people just throw it all away.

You can buy tomato paste in a tube, which has a shelf life of 15-45 days after opening, depending on the brand. I generally think that’s fine for people who only ever use a dab of the stuff every so often, but tubed tomato paste is always several times the price of canned, and while I am usually all for leveling up at the grocery store, the more expensive option is not a universal solution.

And sometimes you need a lot of tomato paste, in which case there’s no point in buying a tube just to squeeze it all out in one go. At some point, you’re going to have to open a can of it. When you do, you should resist the impulse to treat it like any other canned food. Here’s the correct way to do it:

Open both sides of the can and press on the bottom lid so you can push out the cylinder of tomato paste like a push pop. It works whether your can is full or partially used.

Now what? Well, you can mix it with water and season to taste with a lot of salt and lemon juice for an impromptu glass of TJ (tomato juice), or for a future Bloody Mary. Or, if you foresee any tomato paste needs in the next three days, you can store it in an airtight container in the fridge, coated with a layer of olive oil to prevent spoilage.

The most responsible thing you can do is put the tomato paste in a small ziploc and flatten it out before scoring into tablespoon-sized squares with your finger. Then you can freeze it and break off a block when the recipe or your own inspiration calls for it.

I’m not saying you’re all doing it wrong. It’s very likely that big canned tomato paste knows this information and has refused to share it at the risk of losing profits from the people who buy a can of tomato paste every time they think they need it. But that doesn’t have to be you anymore.