The Unexpected Ingredient You Should Add To Your Tomato Sauce

There's nothing quite like a simple, hearty tomato sauce smothered over pasta, pizza, chicken parmesan, eggs, and other dishes. Traditionally made with a blend of extra virgin olive oil, salt, sugar, garlic, oregano, black pepper, basil, and peeled tomatoes, the vivid red sauce is as delicious as it is versatile. While recipes may vary among families and regions, tomato sauce is a staple item in countless kitchens around the globe.

Cook's Illustrated shares that tomato sauce was made and eaten by the ancient Aztecs, who would often incorporate squash seeds and chiles into the dressing. Over the years, new culinary techniques have been experimented with and introduced to perfect tomato sauce's flavor and texture. 

If you want to whip up a batch of homemade tomato sauce, there's one unexpected ingredient you should consider swirling into the simmering pot — and you likely already have a bottle of it in your pantry.

Add vanilla extract to your homemade tomato sauce recipe

Vanilla extract serves more purposes than just those involving baking. You can also use the pleasantly fragrant, potent liquid to clean surfaces and freshen the air, give your cup of coffee a naturally sweeter flavor, and yes, even mellow out an overly zippy tomato sauce. But how does this trick work, exactly? 

Real Simple explains that vanilla extract doesn't overwhelm the other ingredients' flavors — even savory ones. Rather, it makes them shine. This is why cooks swear by folding in a smidge of vanilla extract towards the end of sauce preparation. Furthermore, tomato sauce and vanilla extract complement each other quite well nutrition-wise, as tomato sauce is a great source of iron and vitamins B5 and B6, while vanilla extract contains vitamins C and E, fiber, and manganese, per FoodStruct.

Nielsen-Massey, one of the world's most well-known premium vanilla extract brands, suggests adding a dash of vanilla extract to sauces to reduce tomatoes' acidity. According to Healthline, vanilla extract is a great addition for enhancing other ingredients' tastes, whether predominantly sweet or umami.