Upgrade Your Jarred Tomato Sauce With These 12 Tried-and-True Tips

12 Ways to Elevate Store-Bought Pasta Sauce

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12 Ways to Elevate Store-Bought Pasta Sauce
Cheapism / DALL-E 3

Store-Bought Who?

While store-bought pasta sauces offer a convenient way to make a variety of quick and easy meals, they can fall flat with texture and flavor. Many of these jarred concoctions (with a few exceptions) lack the depth and richness found in homemade versions. But don't worry, with a few simple additions and culinary tricks, you can transform these sauces into gourmet creations that will impress even the pickiest of eaters. 

From incorporating a parmesan rind for umami depth to adding fresh herbs for aroma and brightness, here are 12 foolproof tips to help you bring jarred tomato sauce to new heights. 

parmesan cheese
parmesan cheese by Emily (CC BY-NC)

1. Add a Parmesan Rind

When simmering your sauce, drop in a piece of Parmesan rind to infuse it with a nutty, cheesy flavor. The rind is rich in umami, which enhances the savory qualities of the sauce without overwhelming its original taste. Over time, the rind softens and releases more flavor into the sauce. Just don't forget to remove it before serving.

Related: The 14 Cheesiest Recipes for When You've Had One of Those Days

Frozen basil leaves (basilius) in ice cubes with fresh basil on a wooden table. Frozen Herbs. Frozen food concept

2. Incorporate Fresh Herbs

Fresh herbs have the power to transform a mundane sauce into something extraordinary by adding more depth and flavor. Herbs like basil add a sweet, peppery flavor that's perfect for balancing out tomato-based sauces, while oregano has a slightly bitter, earthy note that's ideal for heartier dishes like soups and stews. 

Pro tip: Finely chop the herbs and add them towards the end of cooking to help preserve their color and flavor.

Fresh multi-colored vegetables.

3. Mix in Frozen or Fresh Vegetables

Adding frozen (or fresh) vegetables to your sauce is another quick and easy way to introduce color, texture, and nutrients. Veggies like frozen peas and spinach can add a subtle hint of sweetness and creaminess, while root vegetables like carrots and cauliflower offer texture and crunch. But the best part is how you can customize different sauces using the veggies you like while adding extra nutrients to your meal. 

Related: 10 Foolproof Hacks To Make Frozen Vegetables Taste Fresh

Olive oil
Cheapism / DALL-E 3

4. Stir in Butter or Olive Oil

Adding a tablespoon or two of high-quality butter (and/or extra-virgin olive oil) can enrich the sauce while giving it a silky texture and pleasant mouthfeel. Butter adds a creamy richness that can temper the acidity of tomatoes, while olive oil brings its own fruity, peppery nuances to enhance the flavor profile. This method also helps in creating a glossy, visually appealing sauce that clings to pasta more effectively.

Related: These Pasta Recipes Are Taking TikTok by Storm

Cooking vegetables, step seven, seasoning

5. Layer Your Seasonings

Spices can dramatically alter and enhance the flavor profile of your pasta sauce, so be sure not to skimp on the seasoning. If you prefer your dishes on the spicier side, add a dash of red pepper flakes and smoked paprika for a spicy kick and hint of smokiness. For a slightly sweet and zesty kick, add fennel or mustard seeds for an earthy, anise-like flavor that pairs super well with pork or sausage-based sauces. 

Related: 11 Easy DIY Seasoning Blends You Can Make at Home


6. Saute Onions and Garlic

You can never go wrong with onions and garlic when it comes to infusing flavor into just about any dish. While your jarred sauce is simmering, saute an onion (or shallot) until translucent, then add minced garlic and cook for a few minutes until all the aromas come through. Combine it with the sauce. This will create a rich flavor base that can make even the simplest sauce taste like it's been simmering for hours.

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Ground Beef

7. Incorporate Cooked Meat

Whether it's ground beef, sausage, or even leftover rotisserie chicken, adding cooked meat can transform a simple pasta sauce into a hearty and nutritious meal. For tomato-based sauces, brown ground beef or sausage before tossing it into the sauce, or you can use shredded chicken and even chunks of leftover roasted meats to thicken the sauce and make it more flavorful and substantial. 

Related: 15 Ground Veal Recipes To Make When Ground Beef Won’t Cut It


8. Use Wine for Deglazing

Adding a splash of white or red wine to the pan after sauteing your onions and garlic will help scrape the browned bits off the bottom while infusing them with a rich and deep flavor. And don't worry, if you've got little ones at home — the alcohol will cook off and leave behind a complex flavor that complements the sauce beautifully. Red wine lends a robust, tannic edge, while white wine can add a lighter, fruitier note.

Milk bottles

9. Splash of Cream

For a richer, creamier texture, stir in a splash of heavy cream, milk, or half-and-half towards the end of cooking to thicken the sauce. Adding a creamy element can also help soften the sauce's acidity and add a luxurious feel to your pasta dish. This tip is especially useful for creating a more indulgent, restaurant-style dish at home.

canned anchovy fillet on a black wooden rustic background
Andrii Pohranychnyi/istockphoto

10. Add Anchovy Paste or Fish Sauce

Though it may sound a bit sketch, anchovy paste or fish sauce can add a profound depth of flavor without imparting an off-putting or fishy taste. These ingredients are rich in glutamates (the same compounds found in MSG), to enhance a sauce's savory character and add more complexity and richness to the dish's flavor profile.  

Citrus fresh fruits

11. Zest and Juice of Citrus

A touch of citrus can brighten the entire dish by cutting through the richness and adding a layer of freshness to lifts all the other ingredients. Lemon or lime zest brings a fragrant, citrusy note, while the juice adds tanginess that can highlight the sauce's base flavors to make each bite more flavorful and vibrant. 

pesto by chefpercaso (CC BY-NC)

12. Stir in Pesto or Sun-Dried Tomatoes

For an instant flavor and color boost, mix in a spoonful of pesto or chopped sun-dried tomatoes. Pesto, with its nutty and cheesy flavor, introduces a burst of herbal freshness, while sun-dried tomatoes offer a concentrated tomato flavor with a bit of tanginess and sweetness to give your sauces a vibrant hue and a rich, layered taste. 

Related: 19 Italian Dishes Made Cheaper at Home