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Why Do You Put Sugar In Spaghetti Sauce? ⋆ When & How To Do So ⋆

Are you following a spaghetti sauce recipe and notice the ingredient list contains sugar? Perhaps you’ve been advised or been recommended to add this sweet refined carbohydrate during the cooking process? But why? What is the purpose of the sugar and do you really need it? Let’s find out!

So, why do you put sugar in spaghetti sauce? The purpose of adding sugar to a spaghetti sauce is to reduce the acidity of the tomatoes. The sugar balances the sauce and provides a sweetness that the tomatoes may be lacking. Although the type of tomatoes and how fresh they are will dictate if and how much sugar to use.

Should Sugar Go In Spaghetti Sauce?

Sugar does not necessarily have to go in spaghetti sauce. Sugar should only be used if needed.

Of course, we are talking about a tomato-based spaghetti sauce here, like a marinara, for instance.

For other types of spaghetti sauces, sugar is not generally required.

Nevertheless, whether you should add sugar depends on the inherent sweetness of the tomatoes you are using.

Now, this sweetness will be released naturally when they are cooked and reduced.

However, sometimes there just is not enough sweetness left.

In fact, adding sugar is a trick that originated in Southern Italy.

They used to do so when working with out-of-season or unripe tomatoes. Those that were too tart.

So that’s how you need to approach it.

Add sugar to your spaghetti sauce, if required.

Not all sauces will need it.

Some varieties of tomatoes are naturally very sweet.

But if you are using sub-standard tomatoes, such as passed their best or from a can even, sugar could be your savior.

How Much Sugar Should I Add To My Spaghetti Sauce?

How much sugar you should add to your spaghetti sauce will vary by context. That being said it is generally advised to go with the “less is more” approach and add sugar slowly and in small amounts.

And here’s the thing.

You won’t know if you will need to add sugar, or how much, until the sauce is almost finished cooking.

You basically need to get to the point where your sauce has reduced and the natural sweetness has had a chance to bear through.

So, taste your sauce at the end of cooking.

If it tastes too acidic, add a pinch of sugar (1/4 of a teaspoon).

If it’s sweet enough already, don’t.

If you find that the sauce still needs more sugar after stirring in, giving a little time for the sauce to come together again and a second taste test, go with another pinch.

Keep doing this until you reach the sweetness and balance you desire.

And when it comes to what type of sugar; white or brown works well.

What To Do If You Add Too Much Sugar To Spaghetti Sauce

If you proceed to add too much sugar or find that your spaghetti sauce is too sweet, you can re-balance the sauce by introducing acidic flavors. A small dash of lemon juice or vinegar can do the trick.

Again, you want to add a very small amount, to begin with.

A splash.

Mix this in thoroughly and let the sauce have a chance to come together.

From there, again you’ll need to go for a taste test.

See what it’s like and adjust accordingly.

At this point, a little sugar may be required if you went overboard on the acidity, or a little more lemon juice/vinegar if you were too sparing.


Sugar is added to spaghetti sauce to stabilize the flavor.

The idea here is to bring up the sweetness the tomatoes may be lacking.

It’s not always needed and it is something that should be done with caution. A little sugar tends to go a long way./

Thankfully if you do go overboard with the sugar or add it when it isn’t necessary, you can still save your sauce.

And if you are looking for one final suggestion then consider adding butter too (at least towards the end of cooking, just prior to serving, and while the sauce is not too hot!)

Just like sugar, butter will mellow out some of the acidity and will provide your sauce a somewhat thicker, deeper texture and flavor thanks to its high-fat content.

Have other questions about spaghetti sauce or encountered other issues? My guides may be for you: