Take the 2-minute tour ×
Seasoned Advice is a question and answer site for professional and amateur chefs. It's 100% free, no registration required.

It seems that every time I make a tomato sauce for pasta, the sauce is a little bit too acid for my taste. I've tried using sugar or sodium bicarbonate, but I'm not satisfied with the results.

share|improve this question

We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

2  
What ingredients are you using? –  Ocaasi Aug 3 '10 at 19:43

25 Answers 25

up vote 36 down vote accepted

My secret weapon is onion. Caramelize the onions first. This creates a natural sweetness. Always use ripe tomatoes; if you cannot then use canned. The canned are made from ripe tomatoes and tend to be a very good substitute.

Also, the celery and carrot suggestions are very much a good addition - you are making a classic tomato sauce when you include the celery and carrots, 1 part each celery and carrot to 2 parts onion. Add the onions first to get the caramelization.

I don't get too fancy with herbs, usually one good fresh herb does it for me, basil or sage are two favorites of mine.

There is a suggestion to add cream, why not use the Parmesan end you may have in your fridge, it is dairy and allowed to slowly simmer in the sauce will lend a very nice flavor note.

Acidic sauces are usually reserved for nights when I make a Putenesca sauce - it goes with the capers and calamata olives I add to it.

Don't forget to season with salt and pepper.

share|improve this answer
1  
Yes, onion works great that way. Make sure to sauté them at low heat, see also cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/8289/… –  Hanno Fietz Oct 21 '10 at 17:16

Just add half a teaspoon (or even less) of white sugar. Typical Italian tomato-sauce always requires a bit of sugar (and not just to cut acidity).

share|improve this answer
2  
+1 - A small amount of sugar can do wonders to a tomato sauce. –  Fredrik Mörk Jul 9 '10 at 21:30
2  
@Ian: not at all. Typical, old fashioned, Italian tomato-sauce recipe requires a bit of sugar added (the original reason was actually cutting acidity, and eventually became part of the traditional recipe). –  Lorenzo Jul 27 '10 at 7:00
12  
If you use too much sugar, it ends up tasting like cheap store sauce, so go gently. –  Tim Gilbert Aug 3 '10 at 14:03
4  
@Aaron - no, but 2 tablespoons is too much even for a large pan full of sauce. I speak from accidental experience. –  Tim Gilbert Aug 3 '10 at 22:10
3  
I'm for the even less: the tradition suggests the tip of a teaspoon of sugar. –  MaD70 Oct 27 '10 at 15:01

I know there is already an accepted answer, but I will offer a different opinion: cook it for 3-4 hours over a low heat. Stir it every 30 minutes or so (more often if you can't get the burner down to a low enough level, to prevent burning). Not only will it taste wonderful but the house will smell wonderful, too!

share|improve this answer
1  
I seem to remember that this is also a very traditional "Italian grandma" way to do it. Any idea on how it works? Is there stuff in the tomato sauce that caramelizes or acids that break down during long cooking? –  Hanno Fietz Oct 21 '10 at 17:18
1  
@Hanno: It's the way my mother did it and she learned it from her mother, so.... No idea why it works, though -- sorry. –  Joe Casadonte Oct 22 '10 at 13:38
    
I know it's sort of culinary folklore that the acidity will reduce with longer cooking (like alcohol does), though with the boiling points of common culinary acids, I'm not sure that it's true. The longer cooking probably does reduce the acidity to some small degree, but also concentrates all of the other flavors helping them to overpower the acidity. –  sourd'oh Aug 26 '13 at 21:06

A little more salt, a little less tomato, a little more stock / water / non-tomato liquid, a slightly longer cooking time. If using dried herbs, switch to fresh (and increase the quantity). If you're using pureed tomato in some form, try switching to tinned; if you're already using tinned, try switching to chopped fresh; if you're using chopped fresh, switch to a sweeter variety.

share|improve this answer

One of the ways to do this is to make sure you have some finely diced onion in the sauce or start of with a Sofrito. Once the tomatos have been added turn the heat down, and put a lid on and then leave for as long as you have. The sauce tastes sweeter and less acidic the longer you cook it so if you do have time to leave it for a few hours to gradually cook you should have a sauce that is much less acidic. To my taste it gives a much more rounded seetness than just using sugar but you do need to be careful when cooking this way because even without using any sugar in the recipie it is possible to create a suace that is too sweet.

share|improve this answer

Mushrooms are often included in recipes to balance out acidity, it's the reason they're in recipes such as beef bourguignon. If you're at the tuning stage then you can also turn down the acidity level by adding some butter.

Tomato sauces often include red wine, if you're using a recipe that includes wine it's important that you reduce the red wine down fast to the point where it mellows the acidity levels. You can really push the heat up at this point. Make sure you get your head right in the pan and take a good whiff, if it needs longer to mellow you'll know instantly.

share|improve this answer

Sometimes I add an chopped apple to the sauce. The sauce becomes soften and the apple tastes good.

share|improve this answer

I often start off with crushed tomatoes. My normal recipe involves sautéing some spanish onions and garlic in olive oil, then adding some Serrano peppers, white pepper, sugar, celery, and carrots. After a short toss in the oil I pour the crushed tomatoes over top. I've never noticed that recipe to be acidic.

share|improve this answer

As you said you already tried sugar, and didn't like the results -- have you tried adding other sweet ingredients?

Our family recipe always started with lots of plenty of carrots and onions for our sauce, and I can't think of when I've ever needed extra sugar.

share|improve this answer

Yes, the suggestions for using a Sofrito–preferrably one that uses carrots–is the best route. I would suggest shredded/grated or finely diced. One carrot is typically sufficient for 4 cups-worth of sauce. I studied in Italy for three months and I was told this is the secret to a good red sauce. The natural sugars in the carrots, onion (as I suppose even more so an apple) balance out the acid without overbearing the sauce.

share|improve this answer

My favorite way to counter the perceived acidity of tomato sauces is kind of unusual, but I LOVE it. It's not traditional, so it might be hated, but I add a heaping teaspoon of sour cream to my bowl of pasta sauced-pasta right before I eat it. Nice and creamy and it helps my stomach at least.

share|improve this answer

Have you tried cream? It really seems to soften up a tomato sauce, as long as you don't mind the lighter change in color.

share|improve this answer
2  
Absolutely not. It is no longer tomato sauce if you add cream! –  Lorenzo Jul 9 '10 at 22:04
    
I have to disagree with Lorenzo. It's tomato sauce because that is the primary ingredient. I like acidic sauces myself, but sometimes I'll add 1/2 cup shredded cheddar to the spaghetti sauce for flavor and thickening. –  Tim Gilbert Jul 23 '10 at 7:20
2  
@Tim: even ketchup has tomato as its primary ingredient, however you don't call it tomato sauce. –  Lorenzo Jul 27 '10 at 7:01
    
The cream is added also in the original ragù recipe to cut off the acidity. A variant is to add milk. –  pygabriel Sep 7 '10 at 16:28

I add both a bit of sugar and wine vinegar to get some acidity back. It is a fuller taste than just the tomato. You can replace sugar with honey.

Other than that the only way is cooking longer or as others said stop using sour tomatoes. A ripe tomato is sickeningly sweet.

share|improve this answer

I echo the comments about sugar – but don't overdo the sugar either! A teaspoon seems to be more than adequate for a batch of sauce that will serve 4-6.

I simmer the sauce for a long time on low heat, which mellows and blends the flavors nicely.

Finally, I can recommend one ingredient in my tomato sauce that I never missed until I forgot it once: chopped celery. I find it too cuts the acidity and fills out the flavor. If you're not already using it, give it a try and see if you like the results!

share|improve this answer

Small amounts of pickling lime (calcium hydroxide) can be used to raise the pH, like sodium bicarbonate. Unlike bicarb, it doesn't leave your tomato sauce with a fizzy, oversalted flavor.

share|improve this answer

Believe it or not, a squirt of Heinz tomato ketchup can do the trick.

share|improve this answer
8  
Because of the sugar I imagine ... –  tomjedrz Jul 10 '10 at 4:38
1  
Using sauce to make a sauce.. Novel idea. –  Arafangion Jul 22 '11 at 13:37

I haven't tried the recipe yet myself, but the book "The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual" is supposed to contain a recipe that produces a mild, sweet tomato sauce using just good-quality canned San Marzano tomatoes cooked for four hours. There's no celery, carrot or even onion in this recipe; nor is there any added sugar. The recipe can also be found on a Serious Eats blog post from June 14th, 2010 which says: "You are left with a thick and rich sauce, with the flavor of the sweetest summer tomatoes."

share|improve this answer

Add some sugar, and cream or milk. A creamy tomato sauce is never acidic.

share|improve this answer
2  
Wrong. Sugar has no effect on acidity and milk has a slightly acidic pH itself. The flavour of added milk or cream might be very nice, but as far as reducing acidity, you'd get the same result by adding water. –  Aaronut Aug 12 '11 at 21:22
2  
How the heck is this one downvoted for sugar, but the second highest answer recommends sugar in it? –  Muz Mar 29 '13 at 2:17

An interesting way to cut acid in almost anything is to add a bit (1/3 tsp or less) of ground cinnamon (no sugar or anything) to it. I learned this from my grandmother who is Lebanese and it has always worked out well for me. If you search a bit you can probably find this tip on some other websites as well.

share|improve this answer

Adding sweet red wine will cut the acid and add some nice flavor. Drop the cream idea - yuck. Properly sauteed onion and garlic in olive oil will add sweetness. Paste can also add sweetness if desired.

Rarely would I ever use sugar. I like to keep it Italian.

share|improve this answer

I always add a little salt and a little sugar. I also know of an old Italian recipe that calls for a small potato, peeled, to simmer in the sauce. I'm not quite sure how it works, but it's supposed to absorb the acidity.

share|improve this answer

Things that will reduce the acidity bite: sugar, onions, carrots, and red wine. This is because all of these things are very sweet.

To actually cut acidity: baking soda. But please understand that you should only use a very small amount and skim off the foam that rises to the top. Too much baking soda will alter the flavor and probably ruin your sauce.

share|improve this answer

I threw an onion and a celery stalk in my food processer first and carmalized it. Once the sauce was made I peel a potato and left it whole in the sauce to absorb the acidity. I added sugar to it to add sweetness. I have to say I love my sauce. I use 4 types of seasoning not inlcuding salt pepper and a dash of red pepper. To each is own. I like a flavorfull sauce. I managed to get my picky fiance to eat it and he enjoyed it. I also read to cut acidity to add butter.

share|improve this answer
    
So, is it the potato that cuts the acidity or the onion and celery? –  lemontwist Nov 2 '12 at 21:57

my mom always told me a little bit of baking soda.

share|improve this answer
1  
How much is a a little bit? Have you actually tried this? –  KatieK Jan 19 '13 at 20:58
    
Yes, baking soda works. About a teaspoon for every 20 tomatoes. –  Muz May 2 '13 at 7:33

The biggest reason why your tomato sauce is acidic is because of citric acid. Companies add this crap to their tomato sauce because they pick tomatoes when they are not yet ripe and it helps the ripening process in the can. The biggest way to rid yourself of the acidity is to buy tomatoes that don't have citric acid in the ingredients on the label, then if you want to add sugar or whatever else you can.

This tomato doesn't have citric acid and if you don't like whole tomatoes, just cook them on low for a long time (30 minutes or so). As they cook the whole tomatoes will break down and you can take a fork or potato masher to puree them more. Enjoy!

Oh yea, tomatoes without the citric acid are going to be more expensive because they are better tasting and more ripe.

share|improve this answer
2  
This makes very little sense. The addition of citric acid has nothing to do with ripeness and everything to do with food safety. Without it, it would be impossible to can the tomatoes; slight acidifying moves the pH just below the point where botulism and other nasties can grow. Canned tomatoes without added citric acid, in order to be safe to store, would either have to be pressure-canned (and therefore heavily cooked) or already acidic enough and therefore unripe. In most cases, the acid is added precisely because the tomatoes are ripe, and therefore naturally lower in citric acid. –  Aaronut Aug 12 '11 at 1:09
    
@Aaronut I've read this in a couple of places, so maybe my sources are wrong, but I've definitely read it before. One place I know I've seen/watched it is on a subscription-based site called rouxbe.com. They said to avoid canned tomatoes with that because the tomatoes are usually picked under-ripened and then that's added. Thanks for you input. –  Robert Aug 12 '11 at 15:52
1  
That claim is actually more plausible - for a safe, repeatable process, it's better to err on the side of caution (under-ripe). It's quite possible that most canned tomatoes are both under-ripe and have citric acid added for safety reasons, and using fresh ripe tomatoes would be a great option. It is possible that there are pressure-canned varieties of canned tomatoes without citric acid; however, I wouldn't necessarily assume that they are riper or less acidic than any other kind unless the can explicitly said so. Regardless, citric acid is naturally in tomatoes, so it's not "crap". –  Aaronut Aug 12 '11 at 21:29
    
Makes sense to me. I used the word "crap" in the context of the original posters question of tomato sauce being "acidic". In my experience (and from my knowledge) citric acid is added to foods because it's a natural preservative and it makes food taste "acidic" like in Sour Patch Kids and other candies. I assume that adding it to an already acidic food like a tomato would make it more acidic. –  Robert Aug 15 '11 at 17:24
    
I agree that citric acid is the problem. I abhor most foods with added citric acid. Store bought hummus is just one example of many foods ruined by citric acid. Of course, as was pointed out, safety is the reason, but it doesn't make it taste any better. I like to use a sauce, such as Bertolli's, without any added citric acid, add lots of mushrooms and a bit of parmesan cheese, herbs, etc., and end up with a mellow, flavorful sauce. –  user15124 Jan 8 '13 at 5:07

protected by Aaronut Jan 21 '13 at 0:46

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.