How To Thicken Tomato Pasta Sauce Without Complicating The Flavor

If you end up with a watery tomato sauce, do not worry — it is a common problem with a simple solution. This can happen with fresh, frozen, or canned tomatoes of any variety — or even a jar of store-bought sauce. The answer is actually more of this juicy red fruit but in the form of tomato paste. Tomato paste is made by cooking down tomato sauce — with the seeds and skin removed — until highly concentrated and uniform. Then, much of the water is extracted through an evaporation process.

The resulting dense and smooth texture helps to thicken a tomato pasta sauce without adding anything that changes the flavor like heavy cream, cheese, a cornstarch slurry, or a flour-based roux. In fact, using tomato paste as a thickening agent has a bonus — it adds incredible depth and a rich umami taste to your sauce. Start with about a tablespoon and work your way up from there. You can stir it right into your sauce for a somewhat brighter taste, or saute it in some olive oil in a separate pan before adding it if you want to introduce a more caramelized tomato flavor. To reach the desired consistency, you should still continue to reduce your sauce as water will evaporate as it cooks, but tomato paste can help speed up this process.

What are the different kinds of tomato paste, and which is better?

Standard tomato paste has a deep taste, but double-concentrated paste has an even richer flavor. There are even some triple-concentrated products. Additional levels of concentration require the tomato paste to be cooked over low heat for a long time. Regular American tomato paste has more of a rounded flavor while Italian tomato paste is not quite as thick and has a taste that is slightly fresher — but both are big on flavor. The American-made products are almost always sold in six-ounce or 12-ounce cans while Italian tomato paste, on the other hand, is usually sold in tubes.

For the purposes of making a basic tomato sauce recipe thicker, any variety will work. However, American tomato paste is the better option because of its density. Plus, those tubes of Italian tomato paste tend to be pricier, but the looser texture means you may have to add more to impact the wateriness of your sauce when compared to the thicker canned stuff. No matter which you choose, be mindful of any additional ingredients. Tomato paste usually has salt unless you specifically purchase a salt-free product. Others are made with ingredients like garlic, oregano, or pesto in the mix. Extra salt or flavorings could throw off the balance of your sauce, so add a little at a time, and taste as you go.