5 Ways to Thicken Tomato Sauce (2024)

Whether you like savor it, spread over pizza, stir into pasta, or serve as a delicious dipping sauce for mozzarella sticks, tomato sauce is likely a staple in many dishes you enjoy regularly. While making tomato sauce might be easy for you, learning how to thicken sauce comes with its own set of challenges—and that's true whether you preferstore-boughtor homemade, chunky or smooth. If you find that your spaghetti sauce ortomato sauceis a little too thin, there are a few simple ways to thicken it.

Cook It Down

The classic way to thicken a tomato-based sauce is also the best and the easiest, but it isn’t the quickest. Cooking teachers like Christopher Arturo, chef-instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education agree the time-honored method of reducing a tomato sauce is the best way to thicken it.

Reducing is a classic cooking technique. It means bringing the sauce to a boil, reducing the heat, and letting the sauce simmer gently until it reaches your desired consistency. That might be 20 minutes or an hour—perhaps even longer. Tomatoes naturally contain lots of water, so cooking any tomato sauce for a long period of time will help eliminate some of the water content. The water will slowly but surely evaporate, leaving behind a thickened, full-bodied sauce with lots of flavor.

When cooking down or reheating any sauces, Arturo reminds us of the importance of using non-reactive cookware and avoiding copper or aluminum saucepans, as they can give the sauce a metallic flavor. And we remind you that you should reduce a sauce without a lid on the pot to promote evaporation.

5 Ways to Thicken Tomato Sauce (1)

Add Tomato Paste

Tomato paste is a highly concentrated tomato-based product that adds deep tomato flavors and naturally helps to thicken any pasta sauce, thanks to its paste-like consistency. It’s available in cans and tubes, but tubes are more convenient as you'll rarely need to use a whole can of tomato paste at one time.

One of the best ways to make use of tomato paste is to treat it as a natural thickening agent for tomato-based sauces, says Arturo. In addition to helping to alter the consistency of your sauce, this pantry staple will also help to further enhance the rich, savory flavors of tomato sauce. Arturo recommends stirring in a tablespoon or two and cooking your sauce until it reaches your desired consistency.

Add Cream

Adding heavy cream will change the flavor of a tomato sauce, but it will also thicken it. Drizzle in the cream and simmer for a few minutes until the sauce has your desired consistency.

Add Cheese

Another quick fix is to add cheese: freshly grated Parmesan will add umami and thicken the sauce. Cream cheese is one of our favorite secret ingredients and will thicken a tomato sauce quickly. On the downside, it will also change the flavor of the sauce.

Use a Roux or a Slurry

A roux and a slurry are similar in that both are adding a starch to the sauce, and if not added carefully, can produce a lumpy sauce. How they are added to the tomato sauce is important and care and stirring is key.


Thickening a béchamel-type sauce with a cooked mixture of equal amounts of fat (usually butter) and flour, a roux, is a classic French technique.


A slurry is a more streamlined method, using an uncooked mixture of cornstarch, tapioca starch, or arrowroot mixed with water to create what is called a slurry. It’s often used to thicken a gravy or sauce. Cornstarch is most frequently used in a slurry but is less suited to thickening a tomato sauce; the acid of the tomatoes inhibits the thickening power of cornstarch. If you opt for a slurry to thicken a tomato sauce, use tapioca starch or arrowroot

5 Ways to Thicken Tomato Sauce (2024)


5 Ways to Thicken Tomato Sauce? ›

Add a little sugar

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.

How to make sauce less watery? ›

Add a little sugar

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.

What are the 5 different ways to thicken sauces? ›

7 Ways to Thicken up a Sauce
  • Flour. If being gluten-free isn't a concern, adding flour is a fantastic way to thicken dairy-based sauces, thick soups and gravies. ...
  • Cornstarch or arrowroot. ...
  • Tomato paste. ...
  • Reduce the liquid. ...
  • Swirl in a pat of butter. ...
  • Add an egg yolk. ...
  • Puree some vegetables.
Apr 9, 2019

How do you thicken up a tomato sauce? ›

Cornstarch: Make a slurry of half water, half cornstarch and whisk until smooth. Cornstarch is a powerful thickener, so start by whisking in no more than 1 tablespoon of the mixture per 2 cups of simmering sauce; stir and simmer for 2 minutes, check the thickness, and repeat with more slurry as needed.

How do you thicken pasta sauce without adding anything? ›

The best way to thicken spaghetti sauce without paste is to reduce the amount of liquid by gently simmering the sauce over low heat. Other options include using a thickening agent such as corn starch or bulking up the sauce with additional ingredients like ground meats and pureed root vegetables.

How do you fix a sauce that is too thin? ›

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 do chefs thicken a sauce? ›

Ways To Thicken Sauce
  1. Tomato Paste. If your soup or stew is watery, adding tomato paste may help! ...
  2. Arrowroot. You might prefer to avoid gluten in your recipes. ...
  3. Flour. ...
  4. Reduce Your Liquid. ...
  5. Puréed Vegetables. ...
  6. Egg Yolk. ...
  7. Yogurt. ...
  8. Rice.
Jul 15, 2022

What do restaurants use to thicken sauces? ›

List of Thickening Agents
  • Corn Starch. The most common of all the starches, corn starch is derived from corn, making it vegan and gluten-free, as well as transparent and relatively flavorless. ...
  • Xanthan Gum. ...
  • Gelatin. ...
  • Pectin. ...
  • Potato Starch. ...
  • Tapioca Starch. ...
  • Arrowroot. ...
  • Agar-Agar.

How to make sauce thicker without flour or cornstarch? ›

Egg yolks, arrowroot, tomato paste or butter can thicken sauce in place of flour or cornstarch.

How do you make tomato sauce not watery? ›

5 Ways to Thicken Tomato Sauce
  1. Cook It Down.
  2. Add Tomato Paste.
  3. Add Cream.
  4. Add Cheese.
  5. Use a Roux or a Slurry.
Jul 19, 2023

Why is my tomato sauce so watery? ›

In most cases, the reason is that it hasn't been simmered long enough. You see, fresh tomatoes contain a lot of liquids, which are released during cooking. And if you don't give them time to evaporate, your sauce will be diluted.

What to put in spaghetti sauce to make it taste better? ›

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 can I thicken a sauce quickly? ›

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.

Does simmering thicken sauce? ›

At first, the liquid appears thin and watery, and as the water evaporates, it thickens nicely to coat each bit of meat. You can apply the same principle to any sauce reduction: Simmer the sauce in a sauce pot until it reaches your desired consistency.

How to reduce tomato sauce? ›

Reduce by cooking at a low boil or simmer.

Bring your tomato sauce to a boil and slightly reduce the heat, allowing it to simmer uncovered to the desired consistency. Stir the sauce often to prevent burning. This will encourage the evaporation of extra water, thickening the sauce.

What do you do if you add too much water to sauce? ›

Let the excess liquid evaporate away by bringing the substance to a boil or a simmer until the desired consistency is reached. This method is great for sauces – including a quick pan sauce created after cooking a protein – and gravies that are only marginally looser than desired.

How do you reduce water activity in sauces? ›

You can decrease the water activity of your food by dehydrating it or adding salt, sugar, or other humectants.

Why does my sauce go watery? ›

It's All About the Pectin

It gives sauces and jellies an even, thick consistency as they cook. The trouble with fresh tomatoes is that they contain an enzyme that breaks down pectin. So as you're preparing your sauce, those little enzymes are eating up all that magical pectin… ultimately leading to a watery sauce.

What can I add to sauce to make it less thick? ›

The key is to add a little bit of liquid. The most common thinner for any creamy sauce is milk, however, you can also use other liquids like water, broth, or cream. Note that the liquid has to contain moisture so it can actually work, which is why melted butter won't do.

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