How To Season Store-Bought Pasta Sauce And Make It Taste Homemade

Sometimes, you just need to pull a meal together quickly with the ingredients you have on hand. Unless you have a constantly restocked refrigerator, chances are that means you're grabbing something from your pantry staples — and for many people, a jar of pasta sauce is a necessity to have on hand for those moments; they simply find a pasta sauce brand that uses high-quality ingredients and tastes great then try to keep a jar available for the next time they need it. However, it's a mistake to think of jarred pasta sauce as the finished product. Instead, consider it the starting point, a base to layer your extra flavors of choice onto.

However, you do want to taste the sauce first. Jarred sauces can be a bit high in both sugar and sodium, so you probably won't need to add much of these ingredients. The best place to start is your collection of herbs and spices, either dried or fresh.

To liven up something like a marinara sauce (we've ranked a few store-bought sauces from worst to first, if you're looking for recommendations), just think of the flavors you'd add if you were making your own version from scratch. A bit of extra garlic is never a bad idea, and tomatoes always work beautifully with herbs such as oregano and basil. Or, for a bland sauce, something like red pepper flakes can add just a touch of heat that brings a whole different dimension of flavor.

Out-of-the-box additions

Perhaps you've already tried adding a healthy dose of herbs and spices, and the sauce is still a bit bland or one-note in terms of flavor. There are a few other options you might want to consider, and most of them are common enough that you likely have them on hand. For a subtle depth of flavor, the secret ingredient you should be using in your spaghetti sauce is instant coffee granules. While it seems like an odd combination, it works wonders in balancing tomato-based sauces (and no, it won't taste like you've poured a shot of espresso on your pasta).

For a bit of richness and creaminess, consider tossing in a dollop of dairy, such as a scoop of ricotta, a splash of cream, or a knob of butter​​. These seemingly simple additions can make your sauce's texture silky smooth and amp up the complexity of flavor in your dish.

While tomato-based pasta sauces are often the ones that need a bit of livening up, there's one ingredient that will work wonders for creamy jarred pasta sauces: a splash of lemon juice. It's likely not the best fit for tomato-based sauces since those often skew a bit acidic, but a squeeze of lemon can help improve the texture of creamy sauces and enhance the overall flavor of just about anything, bringing some much needed freshness and brightness.