April 1

Spaghetti Sauce Too Sweet? – 5 Simple Remedies

Written by: Dolly

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There's nothing quite like a bowl of pasta after a long day. It's hearty, it fills you up, and it tastes so dang good.

So, as you may know, it can be nightmarish when your pasta sauce disappoints, whether it's way too salty or way too sweet.

Today, we're going to be focusing on the latter. There are so many methods for reducing sweetness out there, so we thought it was time to compile the best of the best.

Here are our tried and true tips for making your overly-sweet sauce, whether it be homemade or storebought, balanced and flavorful in all the right ways.

How to Make Store-Bought Spaghetti Sauce Less Sweet

spaghetti

There are plenty of options for altering store-bought spaghetti sauce, even for those who may not have any ingredients on hand.


Dilute it

You may not have tomatoes, broth, or tomato paste on hand, but you probably have water. Dilute the sauce slowly and carefully, taste-testing along the way, until you've reached the perfect sweetness. 

Veggie, chicken, or bone broth will also work if you have them on hand.

If the water dilutes the other flavors too much, try some of the tips and tricks below to achieve a beautifully-balanced sauce.


Acid

lemon-wedge

As a huge fan of vinegar and its many uses, I can honestly say that acid is often underutilized in both the cooking and cleaning worlds.

If you have a bottle of lemon juice in the fridge or a couple of fresh lemons on the counter, squeeze some in! Either of these, when used in moderation, can ease the sugary flavor.

Even if you don't have a ton of ingredients, I guarantee you'll have this kitchen staple on hand: mustard. If you're feeling brave, consider trying a small amount of mustard. The vinegar in it should counteract the sugar as any citrus juice would.

Remember to always start small. You can always add more, but you can never take away.


Salt

spaghetti

Salt and sugar balance each other out beautifully. Truthfully, there's nothing better than a chocolate shake and some salty fries. The basics of that unbeatable desert remain true here.

Grab a pinch of salt and toss it in, tasting in between each addition. The salt will counteract the sweetness of the sauce. Obviously, a copious amount of salt is not the healthiest option, so consider combining a few of these tips to lessen the impact.

Or, if you have some parmesan on hand, sprinkle it on top and watch it melt. The salty cheese should help balance out the sweetness and add a new flavor profile to the sauce.


Spice

I know you may not have a ton of ingredients on hand, but if you ordered pizza recently, you may have some crushed red pepper flakes.

Try adding those or even a tiny amount of chili powder to add some spice and lessen the sugary flavor.


How to Make Homemade Spaghetti Sauce Less Sweet

canned-sauce

Now, if you're tampering with a new recipe or accidentally fudged the ingredients, this list is for you.

Assuming you have some more ingredients on hand, there are a few different roads you can take to reach a perfectly sweet, salty, and tangy sauce.


Volume

chopped-tomatoes

Simple enough really. If it's way too sweet, it's time to make some more. By diluting the sugar, you can even out the rest of the flavors to make a more balanced sauce.

Consider adding in some canned or freshly chopped tomatoes along with your spices of choice. The natural bitterness and water content of the tomatoes will help balance the sugar.

Or, if you want to take a more precise route, you can always make the sauce again, leaving out the sugar.

After concocting your sugar-less base, add it to the original batch ¼ cup at a time, taste testing after each pour.

This option gives you more control over the final outcome and will most likely leave you with lots of leftovers. Sounds like a win-win to me!


Acid

If you've ever watched a cooking show or read a cookbook, you know there are a few components that can turn an average meal into something truly amazing. One of which is acid.

If your sauce is overly sweet, consider adding in fresh lemon juice, citrus juice, mild vinegar, or whatever else you may have on hand.

Most bottles of vinegar will work well, aside from balsamic vinegar due to its high sugar content.

For the more experienced and experimental, try flavorless cream of tartar or citric acid crystals.

Of course, add in a squeeze or a teaspoon at a time. And be sure to taste test in between.


Spice

chili-powder

Now, I know spice isn't for everyone. But, in my humble opinion, one of the key ingredients in a good spaghetti sauce is red chili.

There's no doubt that a hint of spice makes every other flavor pop.

Try dicing some fresh red chilis and adding them to your roiling sauce, or even a healthy amount of crushed red pepper flakes.

Or, if you really want to take it up a notch, consider trying Kristina's Spicy Shrimp Pasta recipe. It won't disappoint.


Bitter

kale

Assuming you have some extra ingredients on hand, it could be time to branch out and make some significant changes to your pasta sauce.

Adding handfuls of kale or arugula into your sauce will significantly decrease the sweetness. Plus, all those hearty greens are great for your heart and gut.

However, achieving the perfect balance will require a significant amount of greens. Like I always say, one leaf just won't do.


Salt

parmesan-cheese

This may seem obvious, but salt is one of the most helpful tools in the kitchen. That being said, throwing in copious amounts of salt seems a little unhealthy and frankly boring, so let's switch it up.

Add a salty cheese, like pecorino romano or a nice parmesan to balance the sweetness and thicken it up.

If you need more help with thickening your spaghetti sauce, here are some handy tips to reach the perfect consistency.


Overly Sweet Spaghetti Sauce Brands

spaghetti

There are a few culprits out there that continually add way too much sugar to their pasta sauce. In fact, some of them have as much sugar per ½ cup as a bowl of cereal.

One thing you can always look out for is added sugar. To be clear, there will always be sugar in spaghetti sauce because tomatoes are full of natural sugars.

However, when brands add in a surplus of sugar, the final product is usually much too sweet.

Here are a few brands that tend to be overly sweet and chock full of added sugars:


Well-Balanced Spaghetti Sauce Brands

Unlike those listed above, the following brands are mostly (added) sugar-free:


There will always be exceptions to the rule, so be sure to check the nutritional label before making your purchase.


Tips to Avoid Making Overly Sweet Spaghetti Sauce

spaghetti

Finally achieving that perfect spaghetti sauce is an honorable feat. I know I'm still tampering with mine.

Here are a few tips and tricks to avoid making overly sweet spaghetti sauce in the future:

  • Taste test as you go!
  • All tomatoes have varying degrees of sweetness, depending on the season and how ripe they are.
  • Remember sugar is not the only component.
  • Add in your favorite herbs, like thyme, oregano, and basil.
  • Top with some salty cheese, like romano or parmesan.
  • Throw in a spicy element, like crushed red pepper flakes or fresh red chilies.
  • Add everything in small increments. You can always add more, but you can't take it back.


Hopefully, after reading these tips, you will be one step closer to reaching your own personal marinara heaven.


Conclusion

Whether you're altering store-bought sauce or homemade sauce, there are several ways to balance the sugary flavor with the others we know and love.

With salt, acid, and spice in mind, your pasta sauce will never disappoint. 

Let us know how your spaghetti sauce recipes turn out...we would love to hear what worked for you!

Dolly


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About the author

Dolly is a student at Goldsmiths, University of London and an avid cook. After managing a miniature organic farm for a year, she fell in love with the art of cooking and the taste of homegrown greens. Dolly first became plant-based eight years ago, and she is now a full-blown vegan; her plant-based journey has made her creative and experimental in the kitchen. If she’s not writing or cooking, Dolly can be found on her front porch, strumming her guitar and singing for anyone who will listen.

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