Why Is My Tomato Sauce Bitter?

Written By Acacia Crossley


Bitter should be the last word that comes to mind when describing your tomato sauce. It should be sweet, rich, and possibly complex but not bitter.

A dish that uses tomato sauce is probably built upon what should be the sweetness of the sauce, so a bitter tomato sauce can throw your whole dish out of balance. That is why it is good to know why your tomato sauce tastes bitter so that you can fix it. 

A bitter tomato sauce is likely caused by the types of tomatoes you have used to make the sauce. Tomatoes that are under or over-ripe will have higher levels of acidity, which is the leading cause of a bitter tomato sauce. 

Why Is My Store-Bought Tomato Sauce Bitter? 

Not everyone has the time, skill, or energy to make their own tomato sauce from scratch. Store-bought tomato sauces can be a great way of getting one of your five-a-day without having to put the effort into making a whole dish. 

The issue is that every brand of store-bought tomato sauce will use its own secret recipe to make the sauce. With each variation in recipe, there will be a variation in the sauce’s taste.

In some cases, store-bought tomato sauce will be more bitter than sweet. 

Cheaper tomato sauce brands are more likely to taste bitter as the manufacturers will be using cheaper products to make their sauce to keep costs down. Perhaps their tomatoes are of poor growing quality or are underripe.

Either way, the bitter taste of store-bought tomato sauce is due to far too much acid in the sauce itself. 

More expensive tomato sauce brands should not taste bitter. Of course, taste is subjective, so you may think that the highest-end tomato sauce does taste bitter. But for the most part, higher-end tomato sauces will have a perfect balance of acid and sweetness from better-quality tomatoes. 

If you splurged out on a higher-end tomato sauce and it still tastes bitter, that could be down to your specific taste buds. Or the sauce may be out of date, in which case you will need to throw the sauce away in case the tomatoes in the sauce have started to rot. 

Ways To Fix Your Bitter Tomato Sauce

A bitter tomato sauce is, on a basic level, because of an imbalance in flavours – too much acidity for whatever reason and too little counter flavours to stop the bitterness from changing the overall taste of the dish.

As such, fixing a bitter tomato sauce means that you will need to add ingredients to your sauce that can balance out the bitterness. 

Add Sweetness

The best way to fix a bitter tomato sauce is to add some extra sweetness to the sauce. This can come in the form of honey or some plain white sugar. As tomato sauce is supposed to have a sweetness from the tomato base, a little extra sweetness will add to the specific flavour you are trying to achieve. 

You do run the risk of making the tomato sauce too sweet, even if your tomatoes are more on the bitter side of the ripeness scale.

Only add a little sweetness at a time to your sauce and taste it after every addition to stop yourself from making the sauce overly sweet.

Add Butter

Butter is often the unsung hero of the kitchen but has many uses beyond making your toast delicious. As a source of fat, butter and other fatty foods like cheese can be used to neutralise high levels of acidity in tomato sauce. 

Admittedly, the butter will not remove a bitter taste from your tomato sauce altogether. You would have to use far more butter than your sauce could handle without making the sauce overly creamy. But the fat in the butter will reduce the more potent bitterness of a tomato sauce. 

Add Baking Soda

It may seem like an odd addition for a sauce, but as an alkaline, baking soda acts as the perfect chemical pairing for acidity. When you add baking soda to a bread or baked good, its alkaline base reacts with your added acidity to create bubbles that then make the bread or cake or muffin wonderfully fluffy. 

By adding baking soda to your overly bitter tomato sauce, you give the high levels of unwanted acid in the sauce something to react with. In other words, it neutralises the acid and removes any bitterness without changing the other flavours in the sauce. 

Does It Matter What Pan I Cook My Tomato Sauce In? 

Something as simple as the type of pan you are using can have a knock-on effect over the rest of your dish before you even realize it, whether that be a change in taste or texture. It is worth knowing which pots should be used when. 

In the case of tomato sauce, you should not use aluminium pots to cook your tomato sauce. That goes for if you are simply warming a store bought sauce up or making your own from scratch. 

Tomatoes are a naturally acidic food, but as science would have it, the acidic component of tomatoes does not react well to aluminium. The metal can make the tomatoes develop a bitter and metallic taste that will completely overshadow the flavour of the tomato sauce itself. 

Cooking Tomato Sauce

Bitter Tomato Sauce FAQs

If you still have a question or two about bitter tomato sauce, then have a look over these FAQs:

Can You Add Sugar to Fix a Bitter Tomato Sauce?

A pinch of sugar can work to fix a bitter sauce, but you’ll need to give it time to dissolve, or you risk fixing the bitterness but ruining the texture. It’s also far better to add a little multiple times so you can fix it gradually.

Do Tomato Seeds Make a Sauce Bitter?

No, tomato seeds are unlikely to make a sauce bitter. If the tomato is bitter then the seeds might add bitterness but sweet tomatoes will not have bitter seeds. Removing the seeds is only for one reason, to make a smoother sauce.

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