Spaghetti sauce is a staple of Italian cuisine and is made regularly in almost any kitchen around the world. It’s an easy pasta dish for busy nights and can be whipped up super quick with just a few ingredients.
If you make your own tomato sauce, which I highly encourage you to do because it’s so much better and less expensive than store-bought sauce, you might find yourself wondering how to thicken spaghetti sauce if it turns out a bit watery. Don’t worry, it happens to all of us!
If you’re whipping up some pasta and having a hard time thickening your spaghetti sauce, we’ve got you covered. This article will cover how to thicken spaghetti sauce in a few different ways.
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8 Ways to Thicken Spaghetti Sauce
Spaghetti sauce is an Italian tomato-based sauce that’s typically served over spaghetti noodles. You make the sauce by cooking diced tomatoes with spices and seasonings to create a super flavorful tomato sauce.
Pureeing the sauce will makes it smooth without chunks or you can leave it chunky, which gives it a more rustic texture. We like it both ways. No matter how you do it, it can sometimes turn out a little watery and doesn’t stick to the noodles.
If that happens to you, here are a few excellent ways to thicken your spaghetti sauce:
1. Add Tomato Paste
The fastest and best way to thicken your spaghetti sauce is with a little bit of tomato paste. Tomato paste is very concentrated, so a small amount goes a long way. When it’s added to tomato sauce made with chopped tomatoes, it will instantly begin to thicken the sauce by incorporating with the water.
The tomato paste also adds a rich tomato flavor that really brightens up the sauce. For these reasons, I always use tomato paste in my spaghetti sauce to make it thicker and help it stick to the pasta better.
In almost every case, this is all you need to make your watery spaghetti sauce thicker. If you don’t have any tomato sauce, continue reading for additional ideas.
2. Simmer and Reduce
Sometimes your spaghetti sauce just needs to reduce a little bit more, to allow the excess water to evaporate. If you’ve already added tomato sauce, or you don’t have any, this is the next best option. Allowing the sauce to reduce over low heat is one of the best ways to thicken it.
Reducing requires more cooking time than other methods. However, it does not affect the original sauce recipe, because it is tomato based. Cooking it longer actually helps to develop even more flavor, so not only will it not negatively affect the sauce, it will actually improve it.
How long you need to simmer it for will depend on how watery or liquidy you sauce was to begin with. Keep an eye on it as it cooks and remove it from the heat when the sauce is as thick as you want it to be.
3. Add Starchy Water
Starch is what is released into the cooking water when you make pasta. Did you know that you can use this starchy water to thicken your spaghetti sauce? It might sound counterintuitive adding more water to a watery sauce, but it works!
The salty, starchy water not only adds flavor to the sauce, but helps glue the pasta and sauce together; it will also help thicken the sauce as it cooks.
It works much like adding a cornstarch slurry to a sauce or gravy works. The starch, when heated in a liquid, soaks up water, swells, and releases molecules that thicken the sauce.
So next time you’re making your spaghetti noodles, don’t toss out the water! Add a small ladle of it to your sauce and let it simmer for 5 minutes, then add the pasta to the sauce and cook together for a few minutes. This will dramatically improve the dish.
4. Add a Cornstarch Slurry
I just got done explaining how starchy pasta water helps to thicken the sauce, but what if you’ve already tossed out the water! If you don’t have any starchy water left to put in, you can use a cornstarch slurry instead.
You don’t need a lot to thicken your sauce. You don’t want to add to much and risk the sauce seizing up and becoming gloopy. So mix 1-2 teaspoons of cornstarch with cold water in a bowl, then add it to your sauce. Simmer the sauce until it reaches your desired consistency.
5. Add Some Ground Beef
Adding a protein, like ground beef or pork, strengthens the flavor of any red sauce and it will naturally thicken the sauce.
You can give your tomato sauce the consistency of a meat sauce like Bolognese with ground beef. All you need to do is brown the ground beef in a pan and crumble it into small pieces. When it’s done, add it to the pot with your sauce and simmer it until everything has thickened.
Alternative Methods for Thickening Sauce
When all else fails, there are a few alternative methods that you can use to thicken your sauce. I wouldn’t go to any of these until you’ve you’ve exhausted the five possibilities above. Those five will maintain the integrity of the sauce, without introducing additional ingredients that might alter the taste and texture.
If you don’t have the means to thicken any other way, here are 3 alternative ways you can thicken a spaghetti sauce.
6. Add Mashed Potatoes
If you have any leftover mashed potatoes, or any dried boxed potatoes, you can add a few servings to your sauce to thicken it up. Add a small amount, like 1-2 tablespoons at a time and stir it in well.
Allow the potatoes to absorb the moisture before continuing to add any additional potatoes. Before serving, taste the sauce and season as necessary. Potatoes need a lot of salt, so you will likely have to adjust the amount of salt you’ve added.
7. Add Heavy Cream or Cheese
Many Italian tomato sauces have cream or cheese added. While this isn’t a typical spaghetti sauce, it’s not too far fetched. It will still taste great, though it will be a bit different than what you started with.
Start by removing the pan from the heat and adding a spoonful or two of heavy cream, cream cheese, or an aged cheese like Parmesan or Pecorino, to increase the creaminess factor of your sauce.
Stir the cream or cheese into the sauce until it’s completely mixed, then return it to the heat. Keep simmering the sauce as necessary.
8. Use Egg Yolks
To replicate the rich creamy texture of carbonara sauce, you could add egg yolks to your sauce to thicken it. To prevent the yolks from scrambling, whisk them in a bowl and slowly add some of the hot spaghetti sauce to the bowl, stirring constantly.
Once you’ve added about 1/4 cup of the sauce to the eggs, you can add it back into the full pot of sauce without risking the eggs cooking. This is called tempering the eggs.
The protein in egg yolks thicken when heatedand they also add a richness to your sauce at the same time.
Why Is My Spaghetti Sauce Not Thick Enough?
The most common cause of watery sauce is the type of tomato used.
Plum or Roma tomatoes are our favorites because they have a meaty texture and few to no seeds. With these, if your tomatoes are particularly juicy, they may produce additional moisture.
Another possibility is that your spaghetti sauce was not allowed to reduce sufficiently. This is simple to fix, and you can simply keep the sauce on the stove and wait for the sauce to reduce.
Finally, your sauce might be thin just because you don’t have time to allow it to thicken by reducing. I’ve definitely been in that situation where I need to get dinner on fast and it will take too long to naturally thicken it. That’s where our fixes above come in handy.
Is It Necessary to Have Thick Spaghetti Sauce?
Traditional tomato sauce is rather thin. The meaty spaghetti sauce you’re probably used to is a modern American invention.
If you want a thick sauce, there’s nothing wrong with adding some extra ingredients to it. There’s also nothing wrong with having a thin, savory tomato sauce!
Feel free to experiment with both styles to see what works best for your palate.
How to Make Waterless Spaghetti Sauce
It’s not difficult to learn how to make a thick pasta sauce. However, when attempting to make a thick sauce, it can sometimes turn out watery.
One of the most important ways to keep your sauce from becoming watery is to bring it to a rapid boil first. Then reduce it to a simmer.
Using fresh tomatoes is important. If you’re using canned tomatoes, you can prevent watery sauce by making sure to drain them first. This isn’t necessary at all if you have the time needed to properly reduce it.
A combination of the steps mentioned above will thicken your spaghetti sauce nicely. If those don’t work the first time, just repeat the steps!
Make sure to taste your sauce as you go. If you find yourself going a bit overboard, add more seasonings or even tomatoes to balance the taste.
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Laura is a home cook who loves making new recipes and finding new favorite things to eat, whether at home or abroad. She also runs a popular travel blog and spends a lot of her time traveling for food.
What is a good thickener for spaghetti sauce? ›
Use all-purpose flour in a roux, and save cornstarch, rice flour, tapioca starch, or arrowroot starch for a 1:1 slurry. 7. Add more tomato paste or tomato sauce: To thicken a sauce made with fresh tomatoes, use a tablespoon or two of canned tomato paste or one fourteen-ounce can of tomato sauce.How do you thicken watery spaghetti sauce? ›
- Add ¼ cup water to a small bowl and add cornstarch to the water.
- Whisk the two ingredients together until the cornstarch is dissolved.
- Whisk the cornstarch slurry into the pasta sauce (be sure the pasta sauce is warm).
- Bring the pasta sauce to a gentle simmer, the pasta sauce should thicken quickly.
- Use two tablespoons flour mixed with ¼ cup cold water for each cup of medium-thick sauce.
- Thoroughly mix in the water to prevent lumps.
- After stirring the combined flour and water into the sauce, cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly.
Tossing in strips of basil, a sprig of thyme or some oregano can take your sauce to the next level. Although fresh herbs might pop a bit more, dried herbs and spices can work just as well. Sprinkling in some red pepper flakes, a pinch of parsley and a dash of salt and pepper can liven up your jarred pasta sauce.How do chefs thicken a sauce? ›
Wheat Flour- The most common thickening agent used in kitchens for hundreds of years, flour is added in various ways but is best when combined with fat to prevent lumping in the sauce. Some refined flours, including Wondra, can be added directly to a liquid without causing this problem.What is the best ingredient to thicken sauce? ›
The most readily available sauce-thickener is flour. For a too-thin sauce, try adding a slurry (equal parts flour and water, whisked together) or beurre manie (equal parts softened butter and flour, kneaded together to form a paste)—both are ideal thickeners for rich and creamy sauces, such as steak sauce recipes.How can I thicken a tomato sauce? ›
Adding a cornstarch slurry is an easy way to thicken sauce quickly. Simply combine equal parts water and cornstarch (start with 1/4 cup each). Whisk until smooth, then stir into the sauce.How do you thicken sauce without overcooking it? ›
Use Flour and Water
Combine 2 tablespoons flour with every 1/4 cup cold water and whisk until smooth. Add the mixture to your sauce over medium heat, and continue to stir and cook until you've reached your desired consistency. Test with a spoon.
Cornstarch or arrowroot
Cornstarch and arrowroot are gluten-free alternatives to thickening with flour. They'll also keep your sauce clear and cloud-free. You'll need about 1 tablespoon for every cup of liquid in the recipe. Mix the cornstarch with equal parts water to create a slurry and pour it into the pot.
Reducing – reducing liquid to thicken it simply involves letting excess water boil out of the dish. Bring dish and liquid to a low to medium boil and watch carefully, stirring as needed to let excess liquid evaporate. Cornstarch – using cornstarch is an excellent way to thicken a sauce in a pinch.
What flour is best to thicken sauce? ›
Flour – Wheat flour is comprised of starch and proteins. It's a good thickening agent for sauces, stews, gumbos, gravies, and fruit fillings, as it imparts a smooth, velvety mouthfeel. It also works very well when it's mixed with a fat, making it ideal for creating a roux or beurre manié – more on those a little later.How much flour does it take to thicken spaghetti sauce? ›
Add a Roux
To make your own roux to add to your spaghetti sauce, you'll need equal parts butter and flour. Add your butter to a pan over medium heat and slowly sprinkle in the flour in small increments.
The reason for sprinkling a pinch of sugar into a simmering saucepan of tomatoes is simple: sugar cuts the acidity of the tomatoes and creates an overall more balanced sauce. The exact acid levels in tomatoes can vary quite a bit depending on whether they're fresh or canned, the tomato variety, and the time of year.How much sugar should you put in spaghetti sauce? ›
To determine how much sugar your pasta sauce needs, Taste of Home recommends starting with just ¼ teaspoon and working up from there. You'll know you've added enough sugar when the tartness has toned down and the actual tomato flavor begins to emerge.Why should you put sugar in spaghetti sauce? ›
Adding a bit of sugar to your homemade spaghetti sauce helps to cut the natural acidity of the tomatoes and helps to balance the sauce. For an extra kick, add a sprinkling of red pepper flakes to your sauce.What are the 3 thickening agent for sauce making? ›
- Cornstarch. Cornstarch is the most common thickening agent used in the industry. ...
- Pre-gelatinized Starches. Pre-gelatinized starches are mixed with sugar and then added to the water or juice. ...
- Arrowroot. ...
- Agar-Agar. ...
- Algin (Sodium Alginate) ...
- Gelatin. ...
- Gum Arabic or Acacia. ...
- Gum Tragacanth.
Cooking a soup, stew, or sauce uncovered allows water to evaporate, so if your goal is to reduce a sauce or thicken a soup, skip the lid. The longer you cook your dish, the more water that will evaporate and the thicker the liquid becomes—that means the flavors become more concentrated, too.What is a natural thickener? ›
All natural, aqueous-based polymeric thickeners are derived from polysaccharides with the most common being sourced from cellulose (wood, cotton) and starch (corn, potato). Other important polysaccharide sources include seaweed, plant seeds/roots, and those derived from fermentation.What is the strongest thickener? ›
Potato starch is the most potent of the bunch, with long starch molecules that quickly tangle with each other and thicken a liquid.What is the principal method used to thicken tomato sauce? ›
The easiest—yet most time-consuming—method for thickening a tomato-based sauce is letting it slowly reduce over the course of several hours. To do this, heat tomato sauce in a saucepan on a stovetop over low heat for approximately six hours.
How do you thicken tomato pasta sauce without cornstarch? ›
All-purpose flour: You can thicken sauces with all-purpose wheat flour. For every tablespoon of cornstarch, use three tablespoons of flour. Combine raw flour with cold water in a small bowl to form a paste, then add it into the sauce as it's simmering. Cooking the flour in the sauce will remove the flour taste.Will tomato paste thicken spaghetti sauce? ›
While adding tomato paste will thicken the sauce and give it a rich deep red color, sometimes we just don't have tomato paste in the cupboard. A thin spaghetti sauce is a sauce that has too much water and therefore an easy way (but sometimes longer way) is to simply SIMMER THE SAUCE.What can I use instead of cornstarch in sauce? ›
Cornstarch is used to thicken liquids in a variety of recipes such as sauces, gravies, pies, puddings, and stir-fries. It can be replaced with flour, arrowroot, potato starch, tapioca, and even instant mashed potato granules.Does simmering thicken sauce? ›
The easiest way to thicken a sauce is to reduce the liquid in a pot on the stovetop, widely used in slow-simmered ragus or pan sauces. For a ragu, you typically add wine or stock to browned meat, then let the sauce simmer to develop the flavors.Does butter thicken sauce? ›
Butter does not provide any thickening to a sauce, since it is made of just fat and water. But a chunk of butter, salted or unsalted, swirled into a sauce at the end, can temporarily emulsify a sauce, while adding richness and sheen, all of which are good things.How can I thicken liquids without thickener? ›
- Banana flakes.
- Cooked cereals (like cream of wheat or cream of rice)
- Custard mix.
- Instant potato flakes.
Three Ways to Thicken Sauce (Cornstarch, Roux, Beurre Manie)Why is my spaghetti sauce watery? ›
Some recipes call for the addition of some salty, starchy pasta water, but adding too much pasta water unintentionally will make your otherwise perfect sauce extra watery. If your sauce is the consistency you like, make sure to drain your noodles thoroughly before adding them in.What do you do if you put too much water in a sauce? ›
Too much liquid? Get rid of it with science! Let the excess liquid evaporate away by bringing the substance to a boil or a simmer until the desired consistency is reached.What are the three starches that are most commonly used to thicken a sauce? ›
The most commonly used starches (in this country at least) for thickening pan sauces, gravies, puddings, and pie fillings are flour, cornstarch, and tapioca.
Is it better to thicken with flour or cornstarch? ›
Because cornstarch is pure starch, it has twice the thickening power of flour, which is only part starch. Thus, twice as much flour is needed to achieve the same thickening as cornstarch.How long should I simmer spaghetti sauce? ›
The minimum time you should simmer sauce is 30 minutes. This is about how long the oils take to disappear into the sauce (rather than pooling on top). But you should consider simmering for three or more hours, letting it lazily cook away, no more than a few straggling bubbles surfacing at a time.How do you thicken sauce with flour or cornstarch? ›
Cornstarch has twice the thickening power of flour. When a gravy, sauce, soup or stew recipe calls for flour, use half as much cornstarch to thicken. To thicken hot liquids, first mix cornstarch with a little cold water until smooth. Gradually stir into hot liquid until blended.How much flour does it take to thicken 1 cup of liquid? ›
However, when using flour as a gravy thickener, you must double the amount—use 2 tablespoons of flour per 1 cup of liquid. Use a whisk or wooden spoon to incorporate, stirring constantly until you thicken the gravy to the desired consistency.What is the secret to good spaghetti? ›
IF YOU COOK spaghetti in a big pot of water, drain it, then toss it with sauce, you are pouring a lot of flavor down the drain, says Vendemmia chef Brian Clevenger. “The trick to good pasta is cooking it in the sauce,” he says.What makes spaghetti sauce taste better? ›
Maybe it needs a touch of salt, red pepper flakes, or some fresh garlic to liven it up. You could add dried or fresh herbs too: oregano, basil, thyme, tarragon, parsley—they're all great! Want to go next level? Toss in some chopped anchovies (or anchovy salt), olives, or some lemon zest and/or juice.Do you put butter in spaghetti sauce? ›
Yes, that's right. Toss in a few tablespoons of butter, and let it melt into the sauce. If you've never tried it before, it might seem strange, but a little butter makes tomato sauce rich and smooth, and also balances out too much acidity, which is common in jarred sauces.
You can use either white or brown sugar. Personally, I prefer packed brown sugar, but experiment to see which gives you the best results. I also make sure to add a dollop of butter to my pasta sauce.Does sugar go in authentic Italian spaghetti sauce? ›
Do chefs use sugar in spaghetti sauce? Usually no. But putting (a very small bit) of sugar or even a tiny pinch of baking soda in the tomato sauce can help if it is too acidic, but this is only done if the person cooking it is really in a rush.Do chefs use sugar in spaghetti sauce? ›
Do chefs use sugar in spaghetti sauce? Usually no. But putting (a very small bit) of sugar or even a tiny pinch of baking soda in the tomato sauce can help if it is too acidic, but this is only done if the person cooking it is really in a rush.
What cuts sugar in spaghetti sauce? ›
Try adding more acid to your sauce when it tastes too sweet. Acidic flavors can help subdue the sweetness and allow the sauce to become savory and balanced. Try various types of vinegar such as white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or balsamic vinegar. Citrus juice is also a great acidic alternative!What is the most commonly used thickeners in a sauce? ›
Starches are the most common and most useful thickeners for sauce making and most common binders for charcuterie cooking. Flour is the principal starch used, others starches used by chefs include cornstarch, arrowroot, waxy maize, instant or pregelatinized starch, bread crumbs, potato starch and rice flour, etc.What is the most common method for thickening a tomato sauce? ›
Let It Simmer
Letting the sauce simmer on the stovetop over medium-low heat is the easiest way to thicken it through a reduction process. Simmer anywhere between 10-45 minutes until desired consistency has been achieved. Stir regularly to avoid scorching.
- Vegetable Puree. MayoClinic.com recommends using vegetables such as carrots and cauliflower as an alternative to flour and cornstarch. ...
- Whole-wheat Flour. ...
- Barley. ...
- Flaxseed. ...
- Oat Flour.
- Roux – Equal parts flour to fat (clarified butter is traditional). ...
- Liason – A mixture of heavy cream and eggs, added just at the end of the cooking process to slightly thicken, but mostly enrich, sauces and soups.
Easy-to-access alternatives are wheat flour, arrowroot flour, and rice flour. These are good alternatives to cornstarch because they are more nutritious and contain fewer carbohydrates and calories. Xanthan and guar gum are much stronger thickeners than cornstarch, but they can be harder to obtain and use.What are the three basic thickeners? ›
The most commonly used starches (in this country at least) for thickening pan sauces, gravies, puddings, and pie fillings are flour, cornstarch, and tapioca.What are the 4 thickeners? ›
Although starches – all-purpose flour, cornstarch, arrowroot, and tapioca – are the most common food thickening agents, several other types exist as outlined in Table 1. Table 1 Common thickeners and their food applications.What are 3 types of thickeners? ›
Examples of thickening agents include: polysaccharides (starches, vegetable gums, and pectin), proteins (eggs, collagen, gelatin, blood albumin) and fats (butter, oil and lards).What techniques in sauce making that adds thickness to a sauce? ›
If the consistency of a sauce is too thin or the flavor too weak, adjust it by gently simmering the sauce to reduce, thicken and concentrate the flavors. Other alternatives include adding a thickening agent, cream, a swirl of butter, or a liaison of egg yolk and cream.
Will simmering sauce thicken it? ›
Reduce the Sauce Via Simmering
By far the easiest way to thicken your sauce is to boil out some of the liquid! Simmer the sauce on low heat for anywhere from an extra 5 to 20 minutes. Make sure to keep an eye on it and stir it frequently, so that it doesn't burn.
- Corn Starch. Why it works: Corn starch is a go-to when thickening sauce for good reason: It's widely available, inexpensive, flavorless and highly effective at thickening, even in small amounts. ...
- Flour. ...
- Egg Yolk. ...
- Butter. ...
- Reducing the Liquid. ...
- Arrowroot. ...
- Beurre Manié
Cooking a soup, stew, or sauce uncovered allows water to evaporate, so if your goal is to reduce a sauce or thicken a soup, skip the lid. The longer you cook your dish, the more water that will evaporate and the thicker the liquid becomes—that means the flavors become more concentrated, too.Does sugar help thicken sauce? ›
Sugar doesn't thicken in quite the same way as starch or fat, but it does make your sauce stickier, and getting your sauce to stick to the food is the entire point. Adding sugar to water creates a solution that is thicker than water, and further heating (boiling or simmering) makes it even thicker.