OK, made another beef stew in the crock pot and again, it has a bitter flavor. No tomatoes, only 2 T canned tomato paste and 1 C cabernet. Thinking maybe a lighter wine to fix this and/or eliminate the tomato paste? Add brown sugar?

  • What spices and herbs did you use and when did you add them? Some will turn bitter is overcooked, sometimes even if they are not scorched. In sweeter dishes, nutmeg can be notorious for this, and I have had issues with some fresh herbs as well. Many are better left until late in the process both for bitterness and because many lose much of their flavor under heat.
    – dlb
    Jan 30, 2019 at 16:39
  • Added crushed garlic and a bit of fresh thyme before cooking. Will try your recommendation to add towards the end and thankyou so much!!
    – CML
    Jan 30, 2019 at 19:06
  • With thyme and garlic, as long as the garlic did not have green sprouts and was not charred they likely are not the issue. I personally would probably not add until fairly late, but I like strong garlic. The paste is more likely to be the source.
    – dlb
    Jan 30, 2019 at 23:12

6 Answers 6


It's the tomato paste. Many brands of tomato paste can have a bitter, almost metallic flavor if it isn't fried off first. I don't use it in crock pot recipes for that very reason unless I saute it in some oil for a minute before adding it. You can add some sugar but that doesn't counteract the bitterness.

Also you are adding too much of it, 2 tbsp for 1 cup of wine is very, very tomato pastey for lack of a better term. You could try half that and see how you get.

So try a bit less paste, fried off first or use a good thick canned tomato sauce instead.

  • Had no idea how powerful tomato paste is, so will use your idea to eliminate it altogether. Hummm ... will try saute in oil too - great idea! Thanks so much!
    – CML
    Jan 30, 2019 at 16:38
  • 1
    ..having fried off the tomato paste, you might as well reduce your wine a bit in the same pan, which will also heat it up to give the crock pot a head start, and deglaze the pan, if you browned your meat in it, too? Jan 30, 2019 at 17:01
  • Awesome idea! Thankyou!
    – CML
    Jan 30, 2019 at 22:56
  • If you want to tomato flavor, but reduce the bitter risk, you might consider adding some tomato juice to your reduction to replace some of the paste.
    – dlb
    Jan 30, 2019 at 23:14

Hmm, what are other veggies you ad? Or only canned tomatoes? I usually add a spoonful (teaspoon) of sugar to around 1 cup of tomato sauce. Sometimes less when using sweet peppers. You can try to salvage with adding sugar (just slowly). If you oversweet use vinegar to balance the taste. Cabernet is definitely a wine you should balance with something sweet as it have a lot of tannins. If I use any wine I just macerate the meat in it beforehand and not add during process.

  • Pearl onions, carrots, red potatoes. No canned tomatoes, just the tomato paste. You make a great point re: the wine. It absolutely does need something sweet to balance it out. Like your suggestion of not even adding wine for the cooking process, only macerating the meat in it. Thankyou so much!
    – CML
    Jan 30, 2019 at 16:42
  • @CML Oh tomato paste! Sorry I've read that wrong. If it was paste than definitely to much of it and it need something sweet. Paste itself is usually bitter on itself as it's made form skin and seeds. Jan 31, 2019 at 8:32
  • @SZCZERZOKŁY Where do you get your tomato paste? All canned tomato paste that I've had tastes quite sweet.
    – gnicko
    Jul 21 at 12:15

Totally agree with GdG about too much tomato paste. But I'd also say cabernet is too heavy a wine. And what else are you putting in there? A regular beef stew would have a lot of onions, which sweeten the pot a lot, especially if you pre-saute them as you really should to develop taste. Carrots are another traditional sweet vegetable. I think you may be tasting bitterness more because of a lack of other flavors?

  • Used a package of frozen pearl onions & carrots, small red potatoes. Yes, think a lighter red wine is in order. Thankyou for your suggestions!
    – CML
    Jan 30, 2019 at 22:59
  • It could also be a particularly bad bottle of cabernet :-)..
    – user57361
    Jan 30, 2019 at 23:29

it is mostly the alcohol making it bitter. Add sugar and/or ketchup to the stew to reduce the bitterness. Butter and salt also help to reduce the bitter taste.

  • Welcome to SA! When you say "mostly the alcohol" do you mean the actual alcohol, or other flavors in the wine?
    – FuzzyChef
    Jul 22 at 16:54

If you like tomatoes and beef in the slow cooker use V8 juice. I think it is a little much for drinking straight, but it is awesome for slow cooking stew and chili.

Even if you use high end good paste, pure wine as the only cooking fluid is a lot and you might get bitterness just from that. Beef bourguignon is the classic and it uses half and half wine and beef stock. You could go half and half wine and V8 and then you will have some wine left to drink while you wait.


Just wanna say that mine was bitter BEFORE I added any tomato paste or tomatoes. I'm guessing it was either the morels or the beer that did it.

I manage to solve my bitter issue by putting the content of the stew in a colander, rinsing the solids off, flushing the gravy, & making a new rue & broth from scratch with a tweaked recipe & then dumping the solids back in.

But I know from experience that the wrong tomatoes can ruin a sauce or stew, so I tell you you gotta use Plum tomatoes, San Marzanos, or fresh cherry/grape tomatoes. Makes a world of difference.

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