Secret to Making Store-Bought Spaghetti Sauce Taste Good

For all of you Martha Stewart types out there who are canning your organic tomatoes and slow cooking your tomato sauce all day long, please invite me over to dinner. I’ll bring wine. And my undying gratitude.

For the rest of us who say “Crud! It’s dinner time. Again!” (and there must be plenty because I see a lot of tomato and pasta sauce on the grocery store shelves) this post is for you.

In general and in real loosey-goosey terms, I’ve found the more expensive pasta sauce at the grocery store tastes better than the least expensive sauce. I’m not sure why. Maybe they simmered it longer to let the flavors meld in perfect harmony. Maybe they only planted their tomatoes on a full moon while broadcasting classical sonatas to the young tomato starts. Maybe I’ve convinced myself it tastes better because I was just suckered into buying an $8 jar of spaghetti sauce that’s only large enough to feed a toddler.

We’ll never know. We’ll never want to know.

What “tastes better” means to me is that I do less to the sauce while preparing it. I’m not a “dump it in a pan and heat it up” girl. Although, my children might not notice the difference – so more power to you if this is your routine. No judging here. I just ate a chocolate chip off the floor. At least I think it was a chocolate chip. No judging!

Typically when I’m making pasta using a store-bought jar of sauce, I always add sautéed garlic and onion. Sometimes I add ground beef, pork or sausage. If I have fresh herbs on hand, which I never do, but if I did, I’d add those.

Mainly I’m adding salt and dried herbs to the sauce. Basil, thyme, oregano, rosemary, etc. Whatever combination that suits my fancy that particular night. And don’t ask me how much I add. It’s a sprinkle it in, taste, sprinkle it in, taste, dump some more in, taste, etc. kind of process.

Oh, the other thing I do, and this isn’t the secret, is I add a hidden vegetable to the sauce. I do this mainly because I have one child who is a picky eater and he can’t tell that I grated a carrot or a zucchini into the spaghetti sauce. In fact, no one seems to notice that I do this. Not even “he who has the refined palate” aka Handy Husband. It adds important nutrients to the dish and makes the dish go farther too. Win, win.

And no, in case you are wondering, I have no aim to be authentic in my recipes. I just have an aim to eat tasty, nutritious food.

So let’s just forget I told you about that chocolate chip. Okay? Thanks so much.

The secret to making store-bought tomato-based pasta sauce taste better is (drum roll please) a sprinkle of sugar.

Yep. Sugar. Regular white sugar.

Just start with a teaspoon sprinkled into the sauce and you can add more from there if necessary. You’re not trying to make your sauce sweet. Oh no.

What the sugar does, for some reason, is it cuts that acid taste of the tomatoes down. Do you know what acidic taste I’m talking about? That’s that best way I can describe it and it is particularly prevalent in inexpensive pasta sauce. The sauce isn’t savory…it has a hollow bite to it that’s just not pleasant in your mouth. A teeny bit of sugar will cure this.

By the way, no self-respecting, authentic Italian chef would ever use this technique. They probably won’t read this blog post either, so I think we’re safe.

I’m so happy I finally get to say…the secret’s in the sauce! (Name that movie!) You know I’ve been waiting a LONG time to work that one in.

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