The Spaghetti Sauce Flop

Last week I slaved for hours over this spaghetti sauce. I processed 15 pounds of tomatoes I’d frozen from my garden, mixed them in a huge pot with a bunch of other ingredients, and let it simmer for most of the day. The house was filled with the wonderful aroma of progress.

spaghetti sauce (Medium)

This was my first ever attempt at making spaghetti sauce.

I was a little disappointed when it came time to fill the jars. All of those tomatoes, all of that work, and I was only able to fill four quart jars. Still, it was something. “They better be good for all that work!” I told my husband.

When the canning was completed, and the jars were cooling on the wire rack, I found myself smiling at them with pride. Gorgeous. They looked so good!

Tonight, we decided to break into a jar for dinner. I couldn’t wait to devour that rich sauce inside. Spaghetti noodles were cooked, the prized sauce ladled over-top, and the plates were set on the table.

I snuck a little nibble before everybody sat down.

Uh-oh. Oh, no!

I kept my findings to myself.

“Spaghetti!!” Jada shouted as she came into the kitchen, licking her lips in anticipation. “I love spaghetti!”

“Oh, good baby!” *Nervous laugh*. “But… it’s a little different than usual…”

She sat down and eagerly gobbled down her first bite. I tried not to stare too obviously as I watched to see if she’d swallow it down or spit it out. Oh good! She’s eating it!

But the second bite went in with much more hesitation. And then it came, “Mommy, this isn’t so good.”

Nooooooo! Not after all that work!

All of that time and effort could not be for nothing! I was desperate to make it work. I grabbed a heaping spoonful of sugar and sprinkled it over her plate.

“Here baby, maybe some sugar will make it taste better!”

Shameful, I know.

She ate a few of the sweetest pieces off the top, then excused herself from the table.

Drat. No dice.

Nobody else would touch it either. I don’t blame them, really. It wasn’t good. Maybe I used too many peppers or something, but whatever I did caused it to taste really sour. Yuck.

Three more jars of Spaghetti Sauce flop to go… maybe I can add something to them to help with the flavor? Sugar, perhaps??

Obviously I’m in need of a good spaghetti sauce recipe. Anyone care to share??

58 thoughts on “The Spaghetti Sauce Flop”

  1. Kendra, the sad truth is that there is no recipe which will work to make pressure canned pasta sauce even close to what it was before you put it in the jars. I have been trying for 25 years. It’s not the recipe, it what the superheated temperatures do to the food inside the jar.

    My only suggestion is to not cook the sauce all day, or even for an hour. Put your ingredients together and then bring the pot up to boling, then put it in the canning jars. The 74 min or so it spends pressure cooking in the jars is more than enough to cook, even over cook the recipe. This made a considerable difference, but not enough.

  2. What i’ve discovered is best for sweetening spaghetti sauce is 2-3 tablespoons of honey, along with freshly sauteed mushrooms and a smidge of veg or chicken stock πŸ™‚ yum!

  3. My husband loves my spaghetti sauce, so I pressure can it my way, a pint is enough for one meal for both of us, on pasta for him, and spaghetti squash for me. In two big stock pots, I brown:
    8 hot italian sausages, browned whole then cut in ten pieces each, browned on both sides
    2 big onions, chopped
    6 garlic cloves, crushed
    2 lbs lean ground beef or ground turkey
    then add the following:
    4 cans 18 oz sliced mushrooms
    3 24 oz jars marinara or other commercial spaghetti sauce
    (then ‘rinse’ the jars with red wine, and into the pot)
    4 15 oz cans diced tomatoes
    48 oz total cans tomato paste
    2 32 oz bags frozen vegetables (cauliflower, carrot, broccoli) or (zucchini, broccoli, green beans)
    Italian herbs to taste: basil, oregano, rosemary, etc.
    Salt and pepper to taste
    When the stock pots have simmered at least an hour, I place 5 or 6 pieces of hot italian sausages in each clean pint jar, then fill with remaining sauce to just within an inch of the top, and proceed with proper pressure canning procedure for a pint of meat sauce. In my Presto canner, I can 19 or 20 pints at a time. My sauce, my way, with plenty of veggies.

  4. I have struggled with tomato sauce for a loooong time too. Many, many batches have been wasted. However, I finally hit on a recipe that works well.

    First, I make my own tomato paste. I skin the tomatoes and roughly chop them, then put them in a strainer in the fridge overnight to drain (I have a large stock pot with a colander type pot that nests inside, works perfectly). This get a lot of water (not solids, just clear liquid) that I won’t have to cook off later. You don’t HAVE to do this draining step, but it does reduce cooking time. When they are drained, I remove the seeds with a Foley food mill. Put the puree in a large roasting pan and bake it in the oven at 350 or so until it is thickened to the desired paste consistency. Mine tends to be a bit less thick than the commercial canned stuff, but still reasonably thick. I then freeze this in one cup servings in quart freezer bags (we have a small family, if you have a lot of mouths to feed, freeze it in bigger batches). The baking takes about 3 hours. You could most likely use a crock pot but I have never done so and am not sure about times.

    to make sauce:
    Puree one carrot, one stalk of celery and one onion in a food processor until mush. Cook the mush in 1 tbsp or so olive oil on top of the stove (I use a dutch oven) for a few minutes until golden-y. If you want meat sauce, you can then add 1 pound of beef, pork or a blend. Cook to brown the meat. Add in 1 and 1/2 cups of the homemade tomato paste and heat through. Add spices to taste, I use about 1 tsp each oregano and basil, you can tinker with this to suit your family’s tastes. Add sugar as needed, but keep in mind, the carrot makes it sweet. Taste it and go from there. Ditto for salt. It has proved to be both husband and kidlet friendly, and that makes me one happy Mama:)

  5. The problem was not your spaghetti sauce, IMHO; it was more likely that you used frozen tomatoes.

    Have you ever seen frozen tomatoes in the grocery stores? If it is a marketable food product, you will see it in the grocery stores; somebody will want to make money from it. But, no, you will not find frozen tomatoes in a grocery store.

    While it is POSSIBLE to freeze tomatoes, it should not be done; once frozen, they have a very mealy texture. They also will produce a great deal more water like this, making any “sauce” you attempt a very watery final product.

    Tomatoes should be cooked fresh then canned or frozen, and sauces made then canned or frozen.

    Also, in what utensil did you cook the tomatoes? It matters. Use ONLY stainless steel or glass saucepans and utensils for tomatoes. Acid in tomatoes reacts with aluminum, copper, brass, galvanized or iron equipment, making them bitter and darkening the food. Do not use wooden utensils, as they absorb flavor and color and transmit to other foods.

    More on tomatoes:
    If tomatoes are cut or crushed before being heated, exposure to the air activates a natural enzyme, which breaks down pectin, causing liquids and solids to separate. This is why you get watery sauces. It’s also why solids separate from liquids in jars of processed tomato products. Heating tomatoes IMMEDIATELY after they are cut or crushed inactivates this enzyme. Many recipes tell you to cut small quantities and heat in batches, for just this reason. Hot-packing (working quickly) also helps inactivate this enzyme.

    Green tomatoes CAN be used in small quantities in some recipes, but be aware that green tomatoes contain a compound called, β€œsolanine” (sola-neen), WHICH IS TOXIC TO HUMANS AND ANIMALS in sufficient doses. The darker the green, the higher the solanine content. It is safest to use only pale green tomatoes or those with a slight red tinge.

    To ripen green tomatoes, place them in a paper bag to ripen. Note: some heirloom varieties are green when fully ripened, so, know your tomato!

    Store tomatoes in a cool place, away from direct sunlight and heat. DO NOT store tomatoes in refrigeration; this makes them β€œmealy”.

    Hope this helps.

    • No, Kendra is absolutely correct. You can start with the very finest garden ripe plum tomatoes, cook them into a delicious sauce, but when you use pressure canning to preserve them they taste less than good. In fact not good enough to have gone through the trouble.

      There are a few branded jarred sauces such as Rao’s, Victorias, Silver Palate etc. which maintain a fresh taste, in fact even the worst of the worse jarred sauces don’t have that transformed ugliness of a pressure canned tomato sauce.

  6. I had this same thing happen when I canned my Taco Soup

    We love it and I make a huge pot so since my no room in the freezer I decided to can it

    Was wonderful right after I cooked it but when I opened the jar it had a slight sour or bitter taste and no one would eat it.

    I didnt use tomato paste it it but I do use tomato past it spaghetti sauce I will put this on my list of things to do this month and test the sause again

    I have another jar still and maybe I will try opening it and using the baking soda with it.
    Glad I ran across this blog.
    thanks to everyone

  7. With great spaghetti sauce in cans and jars for $1 on sale, and envelope sauces even cheaper, that is one thing I buy.
    I know, preservatives, blah, blah, but I just grin and bear it.

  8. I roast everything in the oven and then freeze my sauce. I add a lot of other vegetables and that lowers the acidity enough that it’s not safe to can it. But freezing works really well.

    I chop my tomatoes (I don’t skin them) and put them on a cookie sheet with olive oil. I also put on lots of garlic cloves, onion, squash, carrots, and zucchini. I roast them on high heat, then I whir it all up in a blender, put it in a sterilized jar, cool it, and freeze it.

    The carrots make the sauce sweeter so there is no need for sugar of any kind. Even without carrots, it’s still a bit on the sweet side because the roasting concentrates the sugar of the tomato. (For those who don’t like a sweet sauce, you can add some vinegar or lemon juice to add acidity and cut the sweetness.)

    For us, it’s not that we want a sweet sauce but that we prefer a less acidic sauce. I’ll happily trade off having to freeze the sauce in favor of having all the other veggies in the sauce, both for the extra nutrients and because it lessens the acidity for us.

  9. Kendra, just had a thoughtabout your tomato sauce. What kind of pot did you cook it in? Tomatos can react to certain metals and leave a metalic taste. Barbara

  10. Just read your spaghetti sauce troubles. I’ve been cooking and canning for over 30 years. If I opened a jar and the food was sour, I would throw it out. Be thankful your child wouldn’t eat it. One of the things my granny and my mawmaw taught me was if it smells bad or tastes “funny” DON’T eat it. Looks like you got a lot of great recipes from your readers. Good luck on your next batch. I hope you throw out what you have left if they taste the same as the first jar.

  11. Hi again Kendra, just had to follow up on this. I canned many jars of sauce this year for the first time, and will probably freeze it all next year. The first batch came out really good, as did the second batch. The third and fourth batches are bitter. I used a food mill for the tomatoes and added fresh basil, salt, and a few more herbs. It tasted wonderful until I canned it, and used it the other night. Yes, it was bitter and just plain off. I know there was nothing wrong with it, but it just wasn’t right. I just read on-line that this can happen if cooked down at too high a temperature. I am going to assume I did that, and then had it in the water bath for 40 more minutes. Oh well, live and learn…….

  12. You are not alone I spent all day canning homemade spagetti sauce that was suppose to be so delicious. I canned about 10 to 15 jars and worked soooo hard just to find out that it was not very good. I know it is very dissappointing after all the hard work. I haven’t tried to attempt it again but I might in a few years πŸ™‚
    I hope that you are able to find a great recipe and that next time will go better for you.

  13. I’m so sorry that your sauce wasn’t good. I gotta say I have never canned spaghetti sauce. I usually only have the time to can the tomatoes and then as needed I use them for making whatever I need them for… sauce, tomato soup (my husband calls it bisque), stew or just baked tomato. If I need them with less juice we pop them in the screen collinder before using them. Lately I haven’t canned or frozen any tomatoes because we haven’t had enough to put up… we just eat them as they ripen. In the years to come when we get a handle on the growing season around here we may get enough for canning. It’s funny that even though we are still living in the same general latitude, the growing season is radically different because of altitude.

    I hope you are able to get a great recipe and that it works well for you.

  14. This was my first year also canning spaghetti sauce and tomatoes. I collected 3 bags of Roma’s a week from my garden, for 4-5 weeks!, and added any others that were ripe. To make sauce, I followed basically the Blue Book recipe, and added salt, pepper, basil from the garden. I found out it takes a lot of tomatoes to fill a pint or quart jar. I planted 20 Roma plants this year and will do it again next year. It’s a learning curve. I’ve alway been afraid of botulism, but bit the bullet and went ahead. As long as everything is clean and the jars are sterilized, don’t forget to add lemon juice……it’s okay. Good luck ,and next year, if you do this again, you will remember, from experience, what to do.

  15. I just stumbled upon your blog and the spaghetti fiasco caught my eye. I can the sauce all the time and never have it turn out bad. Our garden was hit by a very bad hail storm this year so I had to use canned tomatoes this year but other than that all it fresh. I have never had the store bought stuff so I don’t know if this is better or not but I never add sugar. Anyway I wanted to pass on my recipe.

    Brown 1 pound of ground beef, 2 or 3 onions, 1 cup of Italian seasoning, 1 cup of oregano and a little salt in the large stock pot. Optional items green pepper, celery, mushrooms, garlic. Just add as much as you want of those (cup or two usually is good). They are optional because I usually just raid the fridge and use what I have on hand.

    Then just add two cans of tomato paste.
    Alternate canned diced tomatoes and canned sauce until your pot is filled. You can use fresh too if you have them, be sure to remove the skins though.

    Taste for salt, add some if you need to.
    Let simmer on very low heat (stir often) the whole day until it gets a creamy texture. Check the flavor add more spices if you need to. Then fill jars and can it. This should make two batches to pressure can plus dinner. Fill jars about a inch from top. Be sure to can the right amount of pressure and time for ground beef. Don’t worry nothing will get to mushy.

    Hope this helps, this is a family recipe that has been passed down. A well kept secret πŸ™‚ lol

  16. I have a wonderful spagetti sauce that I really like, however, I find that it is not quite as sweet as the store bought versions we got used to after so many years. I have found that when I make spagetti, I add a little brown sugar while the sauce is simmering and it tastes so much better.

  17. I wonder if cooking all day then additional heating in the canner damaged the flavor. Some herbs veggies lose flavor (and nutrients) with long cooking. I’ve found that herb flavors blend nicer with time rather than heat. Meat dishes seem to blend flavor more with heat.

  18. Oh no! That’s always heartbreaking.

    I know exactly the work (and small results) you’re talking about, too. I canned tons of tomato sauce (not full on spaghetti sauce, though) in July. I know the frozen stuff tasted amazing; not sure about what’s on the shelf. We’ll see if that makes a difference.

    One thought for salvaging it — perhaps go in a different direction, like using it as the base for a tomatoe’y soup or stew? My hunch is that diluting it and introducing more liquid might give you more wiggle room to make a taste change . . . but that’s a guess at best.

    Good luck!

  19. Actually I always add brown sugar to mine if it tastes sour or bitter before I put it on the table but then we prefer a sweeter sauce. The best sauce I made was when I used some little sweet 100 tomatoes in the sauce. You get loads of those little “pop in your mouth” tomatoes off one plant and they really made the sauce good. We didnt have any volunteers come up this year so next year I’ll have to plant them again. Everyone’s ideas are great. Hope you can solve your sauce dilemma.

  20. Kendra, I’m sure you already thought of this, but since you use the word “sour” rather than “bitter,” there’s not a chance that that particular jar had possibly “gone bad,” is there? I’m sure you would have noticed when you opened it if the seal wasn’t tight. Anyway, it might be worth tasting another jar just to compare.

    In case you’re interested in the future, here’s my freezer spaghetti sauce recipe I found on the internet. You could even “halve” it if you wanted to try a smaller batch for taste first. We really like it:

    16 cups peeled and chopped tomatoes (peel slides off easily if you dip tomato into boiling water for a minute)
    2 medium onions, chopped
    4 cloves garlic, minced
    1 green bell pepper chopped
    2 Tbsp dried oregano
    2 Tbsp dried basil
    1/4 c chopped parsley
    1/4 cup sugar
    1 Tbsp salt (original recipe called for 2, but I think I’ve just used 1, so just suit your own taste)
    3/4 tsp black pepper

    cans of tomato paste (for adding later, see below)

    In a large (non-aluminum) pot on stove, combine all ingredients except tomato paste. Simmer on low heat for at least 2-3 hours, stirring frequently. Let sauce cool down some, then pour into one-quart freezer bags (take up less space in freezer when frozen flat) or one-quart freezer containers. Store in freezer. When ready to use, heat, and add one 6-oz. can tomato paste, per quart, to thicken sauce.

    And like I mentioned, sometimes the next day’s leftovers have a stronger taste, so a little more sugar can be added. I have noticed that certain foods that contain different herbs, like this sauce and various other meat seasonings/marinades I’ve tried, do seem to taste even stronger as leftovers the longer they are in the refrigerator.

    Good luck with your spaghetti sauce endeavors!

      • Kendra, I’ve never tried canning spaghetti sauce but here’s the recipe I use for freezing — it’s kind of a “what do I have in the garden today?” type of thing —
        8-10 cups quartered tomatoes of all kinds (I don’t peel or seed)
        3-4 roughly chopped peppers, incl. at least one hot pepper
        1-2 roughly chopped onions
        2-3 minced garlic cloves
        1 tsp basil (or more to taste)
        1 tsp oregano (or more to taste)
        salt and pepper
        Put above ingredients on a lined cookie sheet or two — drizzle with olive oil — roast at 375-400 degrees for about 20 minutes (the smell is heavenly). Add everything to a blender and puree. Pour everything from blender into a slow cooker — add a can of tomato paste and more seasonings to taste. You can add meat if you like at this stage, or sautΓ©ed mushrooms but I usually do that just before cooking it for a meal (after freezing). Leave in the slow cooker on low for 3-4 hours. Let cool then freeze in quart size bags, or larger. Yummy!

  21. My friend has a blog on lots of gardening/recipe related posts that I refered to lots when canning this year. I made her pizza sauce recipe under the recipe tab and use it for spaghetti – it worked beautifully every time. I have learned so much from her blog. Hope the next time works wll for you.

  22. Herbs often dont taste the same when canned. It is better to just can the tomatoes or the sauce. Add the herbs, onions, peppers when you are ready to eat it. It also means that the sauce can be used for more things. Maybe, next time ask for advice before you can your food. Keep trying, Barbara

  23. My first attempt at spaghetti sauce flopped too. I didn’t get all of the seeds out, which made it turn sour. Now I add a dash or two of baking soda when I use it. It fizzes for a couple minutes, then is fine. If it’s still off a sprinkle of sugar and garlic powder seems to work wonders.

    Hopefully the next batch is better!

  24. The cookbook is packed since we’ve moved but the last time I make spaghetti sauce I used a recipe from Giada’s Everyday Italian that had carrots in it and followed canning instructions from the Ball canning book and it was so tasty! Its probably the carrots that made it πŸ™‚

  25. I’ve been making my own gravy for years (I’m Italian, and we call it gravy, not sauce). I freeze mine after I make each batch, and it tastes the same as the day I make it. Maybe you’ll need to freeze it instead of leaving it on the shelf? I do add a pinch of brown sugar to my recipe, as it takes away the acidity of the tomatoes. This is an easier version of what my mom used to make when I was a kid. This version only takes 20 minutes. Enjoy!

    Homemade gravy
    Sautee some onions in olive oil until they’re soft, then add garlic.
    Add fresh or good canned Roma tomatoes. Simmer until tomatoes break down.
    Add salt, Italian herbs, fresh basil, parsley and a pinch of brown sugar.
    Simmer 20 minutes, covered, on low heat.
    I usually whiz it up in batches at this point to make it smoother (my boy doesn’t like chunky gravy).
    If it tastes too “tomato-y”, I add a couple of cubes of frozen veggie broth (I make a batch and freeze it in ice cube trays).

  26. You could try making Johnny Marzetti–it’s a very forgiving noodle/sauce/meat recipe that’s baked in the oven. I made lots of that to use up this weird sweet tomato chutney I canned last year that no one would eat. There’s a good recipe on AllRecipes, if I remember right. Good luck!

  27. I have only ever frozen my sauces. I have yet to try actually canning them because the spice and sugar and salt ratios are very different. My intention this year is to just make tomato sauce and can that, then use it later when I make sauce. That still gives me the homemade tomato sauce, and I have loads when I’m ready to make spagetti sauce (which I do in rather large batches and then freeze.) I would use a taste test and poke around with sweeteners, lemon juice or spices until it tastes the way I want it. Good luck!!

  28. I used a package mix I bought at walmart instructions on the back. I found it in the canning section. One pot of tomatoes made 5 pints. it was real good when I cooked it now that its canned you’ve got me curious. (I also added a bunch of fresh basil)

  29. Here’s a surefire fix:

    Mix 1 Jar Kendra Sauce with 22 jars of your favorite spaghetti sauce.

    Heat and serve. Viola! Your kids are guaranteed to eat it. πŸ™‚

    On a more serious note, Valerie can sympathize with your troubles. Her solution was to put them into a very dark place for a very long time. In other words, they’re sitting on our shelf, unused.

  30. Ok I’ll admit I’ve been canning spaghetti sauce for a few years and have never had it taste sour. Hmmm, that’s a tough one. I do know that I don’t add sugar to mine or salt. Lots and lots of herbs though! But, if my husband is making it he’ll add sugar to it. DON’T THROW THEM AWAY!!!! When you reheat another one like someone said above just add some sugar to it and let it cook down a little. And yes canning spaghetti sauce never yields all that much once you cook the tomatoes down- a lot of work for little sauce. I usually do about 25-30 lbs at a time and I get about 6-8 quarts from that. Maybe you used sour tomatoes? Or maybe it was from them being frozen?? I’ve always used fresh tomatoes.

  31. Did it taste okay before you canned it? I haven’t canned spaghetti sauce, but I freeze it and it does very well. Also, sometimes when we use it and have leftovers, it tastes a little stronger the next day after being in the refrigerator, and it helps to add a little more sugar to it. Perhaps the canning process changes the taste? Also, I try to stick with specific recipes in books like the Ball books and taste while cooking to see if I need to adjust ingredients to suit our tastes.

  32. Hmm. Did you add lemon juice before you canned it? Sometimes that helps preserve the flavor. And everyone so far has mentioned sugar, but I coat mine in local honey – same reason, far better taste.

    Wish I could help, but I just can my tomatoes and make the sauce fresh, so I’m no help at all. πŸ™ I’ll be interested to see if you come up with a solution!

  33. Kendra –

    Oh nos! I have no clue why it went sour. I never use sugar, but I also never can my tomato sauce either.

    I don’t even know what to tell you. If it’s bitter, add more salt. That’s the only tip I know.

    Googling brings up these tips:
    1. add a pinch of baking soda, it helps neutralize the acidity
    2. Toss a couple of carrots (in thirds or quarters, depending on their size and the size of the sauce) in, and discard them when done. They’re naturally sweet, and also will help absorb some of the acidity of the tomatoes with their natural basicity.

  34. I’m shamed to say that my DELICIOUS homemade spaghetti sauce that everyone RAVES about tastes bad when it’s canned. Sigh. It gets this weird flavor. I’m going to follow a specific canning recipe next time and see if that works. If it does I’ll try and dissect why my recipe goes wrong and theirs right.

  35. Sour is different from bitter. Most every tomato sauce needs a little sweet added to it. I suggest also to add equal amounts of hunts tomato sauce, fresh basil and a bit of parmesan cheese to bring the flavor more in line with what you might be accustomed to with a jarred sauce.

  36. Almost all homemade recipes have at least a tablespoon of sugar in them. I don’t put it in mine, in fact, I add balsamic vinegar to it, but a lot of people do. I find a really good solution for sour sauce (when it happens) is Stevia. It can take A LOT of sugar some times to sweeten sour tomatoes, especially when you concentrate the sour by cooking off a lot of the liquid. That’s why sauces from the store (i.e. Prego) are so high in calories. There is a mass amount of sugar in them. I grow stevia and if you do you could just pick some, wash it, chop it, and add it in the beginning and let the sweetness steep into the sauce. If you grow it but don’t have fresh you can pulverize it in a coffee grinder and sprinkle it in. Otherwise, I think the powder works best. Don’t throw away your other jars if you haven’t already. Add the stevia, sugar, or whatever you choose to the sauce when you preheat and it should be fine.


Leave a Comment