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Homemade tomato sauce often comes out thin and watery. Use these simple tips to ensure your homemade tomato sauce is thick, delicious, and not watery.
I love canning my tomatoes and making pasta sauce with vegetables straight out of the garden. But most of the time, homemade tomato sauce ends up thin and watery–which doesn’t taste good at all. It doesn’t have a rich flavor, and doesn’t stick to pasta the way it should.
Now, some folks will tell you to use flour, cornstarch, roux, arrowroot powder, or other thickening agents in your tomato sauce.
While those are ingredients you can use to thicken a finished product, you cannot use any thickeners when canning tomato sauce. These products change the acidity level of the sauce and prevent the sauce from being safely canned.
I don’t want to take any chances when I’m canning! So I wanted to find a way to thicken homemade tomato sauce without any additives.
It’s All About the Pectin
You’ve probably heard of pectin: it’s a soluble fiber found in most plants. It’s a thickener that occurs naturally in the peel and pulp of fruits and veggies. It gives sauces and jellies an even, thick consistency as they cook.
The trouble with fresh tomatoes is that they contain an enzyme that breaks down pectin. So as you’re preparing your sauce, those little enzymes are eating up all that magical pectin… ultimately leading to a watery sauce.
Fortunately, there’s a quick and easy fix for this that will give you thick, hearty homemade tomato sauce.
Boil Before Simmering
We all know sauces are supposed to simmer not boil, right? As a rule of thumb, this is absolutely correct. Generally speaking, simmering is the perfect method for cooking and reducing sauces of all kinds.
But to avoid watery tomato sauce, we’re going to bend this rule just a bit. We need to quickly deactivate the enzyme that breaks down pectin. For that, we need to boil the sauce!
Luckily, we don’t need to boil it long in order to get the job done. Here’s how it works:
- Quickly bring your tomato sauce to a hard boil.
- Boil for 5 minutes, stirring constantly to avoid scorching the sauce.
- Reduce to low heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 90 minutes.
Just 5 minutes of boiling is enough to neutralize that pesky enzyme and allow the pectin to do its work.
More Tips for Perfect Homemade Tomato Sauce
1. Run your tomatoes through a food mill or KitchenAid grinder to remove skins and seeds.
Roughly chop your tomatoes and run them through a food mill or KitchenAid grinder/strainer (which is my favorite) to separate the pulp from the skin and seeds. This makes for a perfectly smooth, flavorful sauce.
It’s also much faster than traditional blanching, which is often recommended to peel tomatoes but doesn’t remove the seeds.
2. Don’t skimp on the simmering.
By simmering the tomato sauce, you’re taking advantage of the reducing method. Reducing both thickens your sauce and intensifies the flavors.
It’s the key to making gourmet-level sauces with mouthwatering results.
3. Choose a meaty tomato variety.
Roma, Amish Paste, and San Marzano tomatoes contain less juice and fewer seeds. These are some of the best tomatoes to use for homemade tomato sauce.
However, if you grow different varieties in your garden or found a spectacular deal on tomatoes at your local farmers market, don’t despair too much. You’ll eliminate most of the issues by using a food mill or kitchen grinder to process your tomatoes and by simmering for a nice long time to reduce your sauce.
If your tomatoes are particularly juicy, they might benefit from simmering an extra 30-60 minutes to evaporate even more of that water.
What are you going to make with your rich, thick tomato sauce?