The Unexpected Secret Ingredient Italians Add For Perfect Pasta Sauce

I wasn't ready to hear this.
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Check off your foodie friend bingo card: if they’ve said “You know, I hated sprouts too ’til I cooked them with lardons,” “My secret ingredient for chilli is actually 80% chocolate, don’t tell anyone!” and “add some sugar to your pasta sauce, it’ll change your life,” you’ve got a full house.

I am the “foodie friend” in question, by the way. And the above statements aren’t even wrong ― but if you’re looking to try something less hackneyed new, you might want to hear TikToker Giuseppe Federici’s nan out.

The author of Cooking With Nonna shared that his Italian grandmother puts bicarbonate of soda along with sugar in her sauce ― and she’s far from alone.


“You might wonder why Nonna puts bicarbonate of soda in her pasta sauce,” the TikToker (@sepps_eats) said before explaining that it’s ideal for canned tommies.

Multiple experts advise using tinned tomatoes in areas where the produce isn’t as fresh as it could be, but the cost of preserved perfection is often a little too much acidity.

So, Guiseppe’s nan adds sugar and bicarbonate of soda to canned tomatoes to balance out that wincing tang.

Pros agree with the move. AllRecipes writes in their tomato sauce recipe, “Baking soda helps to neutralise acid in tomatoes, making the sauce more palatable. Add soda in very small increments and cook sauce for several minutes after adding.”

Meanwhile, Southern Living says “sugar might make the sauce taste better, but good old baking soda is an alkaline that will help balance the excess acid.”

The hack doesn’t just apply for tinned tomatoes either ― it’s perfect for any tomato sauce which is just a little on the tart side.

Huh! Anything else?

Yep! As we’ve mentioned above, you should be very cautious when adding your bicarbonate of soda because too much will make the sauce bitter.

Guiseppi says his gran puts it at a quarter of a teaspoon per two tins of tomatoes, and AllRecipes stresses that you should wait a couple of minutes after your first addition to decide if you want to add more.

Redditors who used the hack agreed, with one commenter saying “I’ve done it in the past to salvage soups and sauces and it does work, use very small amounts though and bear in mind that as a result of the chemical process, a bit of salt will be formed which could throw off other flavours.”

So use your bicarb with caution ― and with your likely already-beloved sugar.