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How to Thicken Pasta Sauce (9 Ways)

Any great pasta dish deserves an equally great and perfect pasta sauce to match it. But what if your marinara or pasta sauce is runny? Well, you’ll need some ways how to thicken pasta sauce. Reducing the sauce, adding a thickening agent like flour or cornstarch, or even browning sauce are a few ways how to thicken pasta sauce. But these aren’t the only ways I’ve got up my sleeve. So, let’s hop in!

Why Do You Need To Thicken Tomato Sauce?

When making pasta sauce from scratch, you may have noticed that the sauce can become quite watery very easily, which can be troublesome as it doesn’t cling well to the pasta. 

This can be quite easily prevented by thickening the sauce more, causing it to adhere better to the pasta, resulting in a more enjoyable eating experience with every bite. This thickening will also impart a richer, more flavorful taste and even coating on the pasta. 

Causes of Watery Tomato Sauce

Overcooking the tomatoes

Overcooking your tomatoes can cause them to become too soft and release excess water, leading to a watery disaster. This is quite common in Bolognese sauces. You can avoid this by cooking your tomatoes until they are soft enough to blend easily but not so long that they turn mushy.

Using too much water

Adding just the right amount of water is a game changer in consistency, as adding too much can cause its watery downfall. To avoid this, start with a small amount of water and add more as needed.

Using fresh tomatoes

Even fresh tomatoes can contain high amounts of water, leading to the same problem. To evade this possible problem, consider using canned tomatoes instead. They have a thicker consistency and are less likely to make your sauce watery. 

Ways to Thicken Pasta Sauce

Let It Simmer

Simmering the sauce is one of the easiest ways to create a rich, flavorful sauce that clings to your pasta. After boiling the sauce, reduce the heat and let it simmer gently while stirring occasionally. Cook for at least 30 minutes to an hour until you get that thickness and flavor you want, and also adjust seasoning as needed. Let it cool before serving, or store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer for later use.

Add A Starch

Starches are natural thickeners that can be added to not just pasta sauce but anything that needs thickening in general. Just like with any starch, you’ll need to create a slurry. This involves mixing a small amount of it with water or broth and stirring.

Gradually pour the slurry into the simmering sauce while stirring constantly until it thickens. But avoid adding too much and using a starch with a different flavor from what you want.

Add Shredded Parmesan Cheese

Adding shredded Parmesan cheese to pasta sauce is a great way to thicken it while also adding a rich, savory flavor. Parmesan cheese is a hard, aged cheese that’s low in moisture and high in protein, just perfect for use as a thickener.

When you add shredded Parmesan cheese to your pasta sauce, the cheese melts and combines with the sauce, creating a creamy, thick texture. The cheese’s proteins also help bind the sauce together, making it less watery and more cohesive.

To add Parmesan cheese to your pasta sauce, stir in a handful of shredded cheese after the sauce has simmered. Be sure to stir the cheese well to ensure it melts and combines evenly with the sauce.

Add Tomato Paste

Tomato paste is another great thickening option to add to not only pasta sauce but also pizza sauce with a similarly rich, concentrated tomato flavor. The paste is made by cooking down tomatoes until most of the moisture evaporates, leaving behind a thick, paste-like substance. 

When added to the sauce, the paste absorbs some of the liquid, thickening the sauce and creating an even richer, more complex flavor. The caramelization of natural sugars in the tomatoes also adds a touch of sweetness to the sauce.

Simply stir in a tablespoon or two of tomato paste after the sauce has simmered to reach that luscious thickness you want.

Add An Egg Yolk

Even using an egg yolk can gradually thicken and create a smooth, velvety texture with a luxurious richness and depth of flavor. This is because the egg yolk contains lecithin, a natural emulsifier that binds the ingredients together. 

To prevent curdling or scrambling, you’ll need to whisk the yolk continuously while adding it to the sauce. After fully incorporating the yolk, simmering the sauce for a few minutes will help it thicken and develop a richer flavor. 

Use Pasta Water

Pasta water is another simple and effective way to thicken pasta sauce (that you’ll most definitely have), pairing well with tomato, garlic, and oil-based sauces like chili oil. If you wanna use it, reserve a cup of the starchy water after cooking your pasta.  

Add a small amount of it to your sauce and stir well. But don’t add too much salt, as pasta water can be salty. Use the pasta water immediately after cooking the pasta for the best results.  

Add Meat To Create A Thick Spaghetti Sauce

Adding meat to pasta sauce is a very popular technique to thicken the sauce and enhance its taste. When cooked and added to the sauce, the natural protein and fat content of meat releases its juices that contain a lot of flavor and help create a thicker, more viscous sauce.

Start by browning your choice of meat in a pan. Ground beef, sausage, and diced chicken are all great options. Once the meat is browned, add it to your sauce and let it simmer for at least 30 minutes to allow the flavors to meld together. You can also add vegetables like onions, garlic, and bell peppers to the pan when cooking the meat for even more flavor.

Add Heavy Cream

Heavy cream is a classic way to thicken pasta sauce and create a creamy texture, with its fat content helping to thicken the sauce. It also pairs well with tomato, garlic, and cheese-based sauces and adds a delicious flavor. Using it requires adding a small amount to your sauce and gradually adding more until you attain the type of thickness you want.

If you’re looking for a healthier option, consider using low-fat alternatives such as milk, Greek yogurt, or low-fat cream cheese. These alternatives can still provide a creamy texture and delicious flavor to your pasta sauce without the added fat.

Add Mashed Potatoes

This is actually a surprising and unique way to thicken pasta sauce. The starch in the potatoes acts as a thickening agent, giving the sauce a creamy texture. All you have to do is add a small amount to your sauce and gradually add more until you reach the desired consistency. 

The potatoes also add a subtle, earthy flavor that can complement a variety of sauces. They are even a great way to use up leftovers and add a different twist to your pasta dish.


Why does my pasta sauce get watery?

Pasta sauce may become watery if the tomatoes used have a high water content or if the sauce is cooked for too long, causing excess moisture to be released.

Can you thicken spaghetti sauce?

Yes, you can thicken spaghetti sauce by simmering it uncovered to allow excess moisture to evaporate, or by adding tomato paste, grated cheese, or a roux made from flour and butter to enhance thickness and flavor. Adjusting the consistency to your preference can help create a richer and heartier spaghetti sauce.

Does boiling pasta sauce thicken it?

Boiling pasta sauce can help thicken it as the heat promotes evaporation, reducing the liquid content and intensifying the flavors.

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Thursday 12th of October 2023

Seasoned bread crumbs

Perfect Sauces

Friday 13th of October 2023

Thanks for the tip, James!

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