No Thanksgiving is complete without a well-made cranberry sauce! Whether it’s to complete your perfect Turkey-gravy sauce plate or make those perfect leftover sandwiches, a good cranberry sauce is a must-have.
But what do I mean when I talk about a well-made cranberry sauce? I am talking about the one with the perfect consistency, thick, gelled cranberry sauce we’ve grown up eating at our grandma’s.
Unfortunately, if your cranberry sauce has ended up on the runny end of the spectrum, fret not! I’m here to help. Here is all you need to do.
So how do you thicken cranberry sauce? Firstly, you can try cooking your cranberry sauce for a longer time; cooking time is a key component to gel your cranberry sauce. Other than that, you can try adding gelatin or a starch agent like tapioca or cornstarch.
Nobody likes a cranberry sauce that’s too watery, swishing around your plate. It’s not something we can give thanks for now, can we?! (I mean, we can, but let’s entertain wishful thinking here for a while, okay?)
But before we move on to the details of how you can fix your runny cranberry sauce, let’s focus on why this happened in the first place so we can avoid it from happening the next time.
- 1 Why Is My Cranberry Sauce Thin?
- 2 How Thick Should A Cranberry Sauce Be?
- 3 What Can You Use To Thicken Cranberry Sauce?
- 4 4 Simple Ways To Thicken Cranberry Sauce
- 5 Does Cranberry Sauce Thicken When Cooled?
- 6 How Long Does It Take For Cranberry Sauce To Gel?
- 7 To Sum It Up
Why Is My Cranberry Sauce Thin?
Your cranberry sauce might have turned out thin for a couple of reasons. Firstly, you might not have cooked it long enough for the pectin in the cranberries to activate. Secondly, you might be using less sugar than what is needed to thicken it.
Essentially, you only need cranberries, water, and sugar to make cranberry sauce. That is usually enough to make the thick, jelly-like cranberry sauce we all grew up loving.
Cranberries are naturally rich in a compound called pectin.
Pectin naturally gives fruits their gel-like consistency.
When you cook the cranberries long enough, they burst and release the pectin into the sauce, thickening it up.
If you don’t cook the sauce long enough, it won’t release the pectin, resulting in a runny sauce.
Secondly, you might have used less sugar. Sugar helps the sauce become more cohesive and thick.
If you use less sugar or use an alternative for sugar, it might result in a thinner sauce.
Another reason your sauce might be too thin is that you added too much water! You can easily fix this by reducing the liquid by cooking it for a longer time.
If you’re making a cranberry sauce from scratch for the first time ever, it’s better to use a good recipe just so you get the proportions right.
Once you have a hang of it, you can begin winging it on your own.
How Thick Should A Cranberry Sauce Be?
For the perfect cranberry sauce, you’re looking for a consistency that is a lot like jam but just a tad bit liquidy, so you can easily dish it out with a spoon.
However, this varies according to personal preference.
While some people prefer a thicker semi-solid consistency, other people like a sauce that is a little thinner than that.
You can adjust the thickness when you’re cooking the sauce by altering your cooking time.
Remember that the sauce thickens as it cools down, so be sure to factor that in!
What Can You Use To Thicken Cranberry Sauce?
Things you can use to thicken your cranberry sauce include more sugar, a starch agent like tapioca or cornstarch, or gelatin.
If you used less sugar than what the recipe called for, maybe you can fix that.
I don’t recommend adding sugar later into the sauce since it might result in a gritty texture.
You can add honey or agave, which will sweeten it up as well as thicken the sauce a little bit.
If you want to use sugar later in the process, use caster sugar since it’s easier to dissolve.
If your cranberry sauce is thick but not as thick as you want, it will get thicker when it cools down!
So make sure you’re considering that before adding anything to thicken it.
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4 Simple Ways To Thicken Cranberry Sauce
Now before we begin thickening our cranberry sauce, make sure you read the section on “how thick a cranberry sauce should be?” or you can check out a couple of cooking videos to see what kind of consistency they have while it’s cooking so you know what you’re aiming for.
This is just to ensure you’re not thickening a sauce that will already get thicker once it cools (since we don’t want to end up with cranberry jello…).
If you’re sure you need to thicken your cranberry sauce, you can do that by cooking your sauce for a longer time on low heat to reduce the liquid, adding enough sugar, or adding thickening agents like tapioca, gelatin, or cornstarch slurry.
Now let’s go into a little bit more detail on how you can use each of those methods effectively.
Method One: Let It Simmer
As we talked about above, cranberries naturally contain a lot of pectins that give most fruits their jelly-like consistency.
The key to thick cranberry sauce is cooking the cranberries long enough to make sure they burst and release their pectin.
After this, you need to allow the pectins to do their work combined with the sugar and water to bring the whole thing together.
If you have already been cooking it long enough and it hasn’t thickened yet, it’s probably because your sugar to water to cranberry proportion wasn’t right, and you ended up adding too much water.
If that’s the case, you just need to let it simmer long enough to allow the water to evaporate, so the liquid reduces.
If you’re in a rush, try transferring it to a bigger, wider pan, so the surface area in contact with the heat increases and the process becomes quicker.
Make sure you’re using low heat and stirring it continuously to prevent it from burning.
Method Two: Add Cornstarch Slurry
Cornstarch is something most people usually have in their pantry. You can use it as a quick fix to thicken your sauce.
To do this, you first need to make a cornstarch slurry using equal parts water and cornstarch (for example, one tablespoon water and one tablespoon cornstarch).
Combine both of them in a cup until dissolved.
Then slowly pour it into your cranberry sauce while stirring it continuously. Mix until fully incorporated.
Then let it cook for about 5 minutes before it starts thickening up.
Depending on the quantity of your sauce, I recommend using a smaller amount of cornflour as starters and then gradually increasing it until you get the consistency you want.
Method 3: Add Tapioca
If you have it, you can also add tapioca starch to your sauce.
Tapioca starch is what’s used to make the bubbles (tapioca pearls) in that delicious bubble tea!
So it’s known for its chewy texture. Adding some of it to the sauce will reduce the liquid mess and make it more cohesive and jelly-like.
Simply add 1-2 teaspoons of tapioca (depending on how liquidy your sauce is) to a cup, add enough water to dissolve the starch.
Then add it to your sauce while it’s simmering on the stove, and then mix to dissolve it. Let it cook for a while until it begins to thicken.
Cook until it comes to your desired consistency, then turn off the heat and allow it to cool.
Method 4: Use Gelatin
Some experts recommend using gelatin instead of starch to thicken cranberry sauce. Probably because it can get you closer to that jam-like texture that we’re looking for.
To use this method, dissolve some gelatin in cold water and then add it to your sauce while it’s still cooking. Then turn off the heat and mix it.
Allow the sauce to cool to come down to your preferred consistency.
Does Cranberry Sauce Thicken When Cooled?
Cranberry sauce thickens a significant amount while it cools, so long as it has cooked for long enough. This is due to the high amount of pectin in cranberries.
Another factor is that liquid is constantly evaporating from the surface of the sauce as it cools down.
So until it has come down to room temperature, it will be dissipating liquid into the environment.
How Long Does It Take For Cranberry Sauce To Gel?
Depending on what heat you’re making the sauce on and what kind of pan you’re using, it takes about 10-15 minutes for the cranberries to burst and release the pectin, thus beginning the process of gelling.
After this time, you should notice that the cranberry sauce gels as it cools.
To Sum It Up
Making cranberry sauce is simple, only requiring three basic ingredients to get you started.
However, to get the consistency right, it’s important to use the right proportion of those ingredients and cook them for the right amount of time in order to make sure everything comes together in the end.
If you have found that your sauce is a little to thin, then hopefully the recommendations here today will get it sorted quickly!
Want to learn how to thicken other sweet sauces? Then go ahead and check out my other related guides:
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.