Tomato paste, like many other preserves in the Lebanese repertoire of moune, is a way to conserve foods for consumption during the scarce winter season, and for the times when that tomatoes are not fresh and available.
Freshly picked tomatoes are cleaned and juiced, either manually or using a tomato juicer, discarding at this stage both skin and seeds, usually composted or used as feed for chicken. The juice is then heated – traditionally over wood fire – until the juice thickens to reach the right concentration, reducing to at least half the original volume.
On the food trail, regional differences between West Bekaa and Higher Shouf can be appreciated in tomato concentrate making.
In Higher Shouf, the tomato paste is not too concentrated, made from Jabaliye tomatoes and reduced over wood fire. It is often eaten raw in a sandwich with fresh oregano leaves and olive oil, and is also used in cooking.
In West Bekaa, many leave the tomato concentrate to further dry in the blistering heat of the sun for 2-3 days, becoming a thick paste, mainly used in cooking.
On the food trail, several hosts open their houses for tourists to join in tomato harvesting and tomato paste making.