Nothing is worse than a sauce that is too sweet. Sure, a little sweetness is always appreciated but too much can really upset the balance of a dish. But what can you do to counteract or neutralize the flavor? Well, thankfully you have a couple of options. Here they are.
So, how do you reduce sweetness in sauce? The best two ways to reduce sweetness in a sauce is to either increase its volume (diluting the flavors) or add more (or introduce new) ingredients. Acidic ingredients (such as lemon juice, vinegar, or red wine), dairy products (cheese, milk, or yogurt), or increasing the salt are all potential options.
In reality, what you do will largely depend on the type and style of sauce.
Are you working with a Marinara, a spaghetti sauce, or something different altogether?
Chances are, your sauce will contain tomatoes.
Not always, but likely.
That is usually the culprit when it comes to sweetness as we shall soon see later.
Or it could be the simple addition of too much sugar, as can happen with store-bought options.
Nevertheless, let us explore your options in greater detail to help you restore your sauce and to make it much more appetizing and balanced!
What Can I Do If My Sauce Is Too Sweet?
If your sauce is too sweet you can manipulate the recipe to balance the flavors.
Here are the recommended ways to do so.
Increase Sauce Volume
Taking away the sweetness can be achieved by increasing the sauce volume.
And for this, you have a few options:
- Increase the quantity of the primary ingredients. For instance, this could be by simply adding more tomatoes. Or even, tomatoes that are not as sweet.
- Adding water, or a broth (such as chicken or vegetable. Just consider that this will dilute or alter the taste of the sauce somewhat. You can always add tomato paste to increase the flavor thereafter.
- Making a secondary, less-sweet sauce, and mixing it in. This way, you will be effectively diluting the sweetness by making it have to stretch further. If you are using a store-bought sauce you could make your own similar sauce (minor the sugar). Or, if you are making a sauce from scratch use two different pans and alter the recipes accordingly.
Each of these options is effective, but what is best will differ depending on your context (time, budget etc) and the dish you are looking to serve it with!
Add or Introduce Acidity
You can reduce sweetness by introducing acidic flavors.
To do this you have a few options.
A lemon or lime juice works particularly well for tomato-based sauces along with vinegar (such as apple cider vinegar), or even red wine.
Sometimes mustard is useful for other variations of spaghetti sauce.
Just be sure that you add anyone slowly and in small amounts at a time (1 teaspoon at a time).
It is advised to also add the acidic ingredients while the sauce is still heating and to thoroughly stir it in.
Have a taste and if it needs more, add again.
Salt will naturally counteract the sweetness.
Although, you should use salt sparingly – particularly if a lot has been used already in the sauce.
So a small pinch at a time. Again, tasting and testing as you go.
Sometimes you can introduce salty condiments instead; such as soy sauce.
This will introduce umami flavors (so do be mindful) and also a little goes a long way!
Add or Introduce Dairy
For some sauces, introducing dairy can transform them and minimize any excessive sweetness.
It’s particularly useful for savory sauces or those that include cheese already.
For dairy, you generally have three options: cheese, milk, or yogurt.
Parmigiano Reggiano (parmesan) and Pecorino Romano cheeses work particularly well, as do other Italian, earthy, hard-cheeses.
You essentially want to choose a cheese that is rich and sharp.
Be sure to add cheese to the sauce at the end of cooking, right before you serve. You do not want it to curdle or go grainy!
Milk, generally higher fat milk, is also a great option.
Be sure to only add a small amount of milk and increase slowly. Stir it thoroughly into your sauce.
Yogurt or Sour Cream
Yogurt or sour cream can work in very much the same way, although again you do not want to add it to your sauce too early or cook it over too high a heat.
Consider Other Ingredients
There are other ingredients that you may want to consider adding which can help.
One such example would be mushrooms.
Mushrooms naturally carry an umami flavor which does a great job at distracting and taking away the sweetness, or even a saltness, a sauce can be overbearing with.
Otherwise, you could consider adding other vegetables, like peppers or zucchini too!
Not for everyone, but an option nonetheless.
Your final option is to introduce spiciness, as another means of distracting and taking away from the sweetness.
You can look to add chili peppers and opt for those based on your preferences and appetite for heat.
Habaneros for instance is much spicier than your average red chili!
Use appropriately and be mindful of your diners!
Why Is Your Sauce Too Sweet?
Your sauce is likely too sweet due to the type of tomatoes you use (or their ripeness), an imbalance in ingredients, or that too much sugar has been added to the recipe.
It ultimately depends on whether you are making your sauce from scratch, or buying a store-bought option.
Store-bought options are notoriously sweet.
Some more so than others.
For this reason, it may just be the way it was made or the ingredients used.
Often, sugar is one of the primary ingredients.
So unless you want to counteract it with the recommendations above, you may have to opt for a different brand entirely.
Otherwise, if you are making the sauce yourself, it could be the type of tomatoes you use.
Some are much sweeter than others naturally.
Or it could be you got your ingredient ratios wrong or used a recipe that is naturally sweet.
For instance, some recipes call for honey or other ingredients which, when added to tomatoes or other ingredients, can be too much.
So do be mindful.
And you may need to alter, accordingly!
Sugar certainly provides flavor, but too much will simply ruin a dish.
Thankfully, a sauce that is too sweet (whether purposefully or accidentally) can be salvaged with a little manipulation here and there.
You can certainly tone it down, making it more palatable to your tastes and preferences.
And you have options too, so do consider these here today and experiment.
Besides, not all sauces are the same and some of the suggestions will certainly work better than others, depending on the context.
Chilli powder, chili flakes, cayenne pepper, regular pepper, and paprika are some of the best spices to remove sweetness. Although some of which will add heat.
Hi there. I’m Jeremy – a passionate food technologist with several decades in the food industry. With a love for sauces, food, and nutrition, I decided to create WeWantTheSauce. Here I share my experience, knowledge, and recommendations; from ingredients and recipes to storage all the way through to nutrition for every sauce imaginable.