Lycopene that imparts red color to the tomato fruit is the most potent antioxidant among carotenes, an important nutrient and also used as a color ingredient in many food formulations. Since cooked and processed foods derived from tomatoes were shown to provide optimal lycopene boost, products such as paste, puree, juice, etc. are nowadays gaining popularity as dietary sources. The analysis of lycopene in tomato paste (partially dehydrated product prepared by vacuum concentrating tomato juice) is carried out using either high pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC), spectrophotometry, or by evaluating the color. The instability of lycopene during processes of extraction, etc., handling, and disposal of organic solvents makes the preparation of a sample for the analysis a delicate task. Despite a recognized need for accurate and rapid assessment of lycopene in tomato products no such method is available at present. The study described here focuses on a direct determination of a total lycopene content in different tomato pastes by means of the laser optothermal window (LOW) method at 502 nm. The concentration of lycopene in tomato paste ranged between 25 and 150 mg per 100 g product; the results are in excellent agreement with those obtained by spectrophotometry. The time needed to complete LOW analysis is very short, so that decomposition of pigment and the formation of artifacts are minimized. Preliminary results indicate a good degree of reproducibility making the LOW method suitable for routine assays of lycopene content in tomato paste. (C) 2003 American Institute of Physics.