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Baking Soda to Reduce Acidity of Tomato Sauce

  • f

Has anyone used baking soda to reduce the acidity of tomatoes in either tomato sauce or tomato soup?

What was the outcome, and what proportions do you recommend?

TIA :)

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  1. I've never tried it. I recommend a small amount of sugar – to balance the acidity rather than reduce it.

    1 Reply
    1. re: GG Mora

      I agree. It's better to balance it with sweetness than to remove the acidity. I've grown tomatoes for a number of years. Some are acidic, some are sweet, but the best ones have a good balance between them.

    2. That's interesting, although I've never tried it. It would make sense to actually change the pH of the dish with baking soda. I don't have anything to add, but I hope that someone does.

      1. I've heard that in Italy, they use certain mineral waters rather than tap water to acheive the same objective, but I wouldn't know the chemical compostions of each , maybe the label would tell you?

        5 Replies
        1. re: coll

          If the mineral water you're talking about is the fizzy kind, the net effect would be adding acidity. The carbon dioxide (present as bubbles) forms carbonic acid in the water. Of course heating it would raise the pH again by driving off the CO2 but it wouldn't be raised enough to lessen the acidity of tomato sauce. There are different types of mineral water, some of which are both noncarbonated and alkaline, and that might work to reduce acidity but it seems you'd have to add a whole lot of water to your sauce to have a dramatic effect.

          I've tried adding baking soda to tomato sauce and have regretted ruining a pot of sauce both times I did it. (Fool me twice...) The baking soda didn't just neutralize the acid, it seemed to erase all the flavor as well. If you're trying to lessen the taste of the acid, I'd go with adding sugar as other posters have suggested. If you're trying to avoid heartburn, just enjoy your meal and get the Rolaids ready.

          1. re: Jenny

            The fizzy kind isn't actually mineral water. It's just seltzer or soda water mislabeled. True mineral water typically comes in large glass bottles that are bottle on site at a very deep ground spring - which is quite full of natural minerals. Drinking true mineral water, there is natural carbonation, but an incredibly small amount, and the mineral taste is very apparent, although pleasant. I used to buy it often, and love it!

            Adding sugar can balance it, but a balance isn't a fix, it's just adding more. Baking soda will work - starting at 1tbsp and going up from there. However the mineral water trick is very intriguing and has potential for great success. The reason it can be very successful is that pasta sauce is nothing more than tomato paste, water, and spices - sometimes also beef or chicken stock. I used to make about 20 gallons daily at a restaurant, so trust me on this one. This means that to neutralize the acids, simply use mineral water with the tomato paste! The minerals may accentuate the flavor of some spices as well!

            1. re: Jenny

              Yes I "just ruined a wonderful huge pot of homemade sauce made from fresh tomatoes from my garden. I did use this once before (a pinch) it worked, this time, becauce it was a "larger pot" I used maybe a tablespoon...Thing went crazy(bubbled) after 15 minutes it settled down, but "guess what? Took ALL the flavor out of my sauce I'd been simmering to perfection for 4 hours beforehand...Ruined the flavor of the Italian sausage and pork pieces and meatballs...Lots of time and money "gone"...Never again...I'll stick to my friends grand mothers "secret" of putting a whole quartered raw potatoe" in the sauce...I used that for years...By the way, sagur "doesn't always help. ", adds sweetness, but doesn't totally get rid of the acidity taste of the tomatoe. It isn't about "heartburn", its about "flavor". So, today, I start over as I was craving "gfnocchi" Yum...But, as good cooks know, "it's all about the sauce(gravy, as they say in New York)

              1. re: christine51

                Oh God- I'm so sorry for your horrible experience. It sounds like it was going to be so good!

            2. re: coll

              Hey guys, 10 years later! I think I meant that the tap water in Italy has a lot more minerals than we have here. I wasn't thinking bottled water there, just that maybe you could use a bottled one here.

              Glad I finally got that off my chest ;-)

            3. I've done this, a little trade secret I learned from my aunt-in-law in Italy. I use the tiniest pinch, and then taste. You don't want to remove all the acid. I also use a little tiny pinch of sugar, or I add a raisin or two to the sauce while it's cooking for sweetness.

              1. When I was visiting my mother a month ago, I was scanning her old copy of Simca's Cuisine by the legendary Simone Beck. The book is full of trucs (kitchen tricks) of Simca, including the suggestion to use granulated instant coffee to reduce the acidity of tomato and other acid fruit sauces.

                1. Yes, I've done that a couple of times. It worked fine after I learned that it only takes a tiny amount to achieve a significant reduction in perceived acidity - and if you go overboard I can assure you from personal experience that non-acidic tomato sauce is pretty ghastly stuff.

                  1. Thanks for the tips.

                    A local TV Chef/Personality mentioned it. Sugar was not doing the trick for me, as it usually had, so I wanted to try his idea.

                    Per your suggestions, I will start with just a smidge and see what happens.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Funwithfood

                      Burke and Wells on baking powder in food. Too funny!

                      Link: http://www.burkeandwells.com/archive/...

                    2. t
                      Tinkerin' with food

                      I've been playing around with baking soda to reduce the acidity in a tomato sauce I just made. Mixed results.

                      Too much baking soda and the sauce begins to foam.

                      Just the right amount leaves the sauce flavorless.

                      The threshold between too little baking soda and too much is very small.

                      I'll stick with using sugar.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Tinkerin' with food

                        I did it on a recommendation of adding baking soda. I obviously added too much as the sauce foamed and turned somewhat brown and the sauce was flavorless. But what I did notice was that beyond a lack of flavor, it was very salty. Why? Baking soda is SODIUM bicarbonate. So with the chemical reaction, you basically get a sodium salt, water and carbon dioxide gas. My advise to anyone is don't add baking soda to your pasta, EVER.

                      2. Or you could just add a pinch of sugar like Clemenza in The Godfather. Of course, making good pasta sauce didn't keep him from being garrotted in the end.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: chocolatetartguy

                          Au contraire. He was the garroter, not the garroted. Clemenza died of natural causes, a heart attack, while cooking for his crew. He garroted Carlo Rizzi for his role in the death of Sonny Corleone.

                        2. I do it when making cream of tomato soup. And yes, the tiniest pinch goes in before I add the milk or cream. I don't salt it until after adding the baking soda and tasting it.
                          A TINY pinch.

                          1. I grate carrots to toss in the sauce (when no one is looking, of course). No one knows they are there and it balances the sauce perfectly.

                            11 Replies
                            1. re: AngelaID

                              this is the method suggested by the Italian lady from outside Milan who gave me the sauce recipe I use all the time.

                              1. re: AngelaID

                                I have also heard of putting a whole or halved (lengthwise) carrot into the simmering sauce and discarding it before serving. I didn't think it made any difference to the acidity when I tried it. I once added baking soda - maybe a tsp for 3 qts sauce. Long ago, so all I recall is that it made the sauce very flat-tasting. I added balsamic vinegar and tomato paste to rescue it.
                                I like a sweet sauce but was trying to see if I could combat the acidity without adding sugar. Nope.

                                1. re: greygarious

                                  I tried the halved carrot years ago and had the same result, but a grated carrot melts into the sauce and gives a subtle sweetness. This is one of the best tips that I have learned on CH.

                                  And, may I add, I love CH. Someone asked for advice on thickening their tomato sauce on Reddit recently and people were advising them to start with or add a roux or cornstarch.

                                  1. re: EM23

                                    I agree -- the carrot works really, really well. My recipe called for diced, but grated is faster!

                                    I cannot. imagine. thickening a tomato sauce with roux or cornstarch. Cambell's soup comes to mind. (I love tomato soup, but not as tomato sauce, ta)

                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                      I head over to reddit on occasion, and it’s great for some things (like an IAMA with the most interesting man in the world), but a cooking board with multiple recs. for tomato sauce with a roux blew my mind, so I shall skip it from now on.
                                      As an aside, their askculinary board is inhabited by food professionals posting questions and advice, inc. Kenji from SE, so it can be worth lurking over there.

                                      Besides the carrot, any other secrets to your tomato sauce recipe, sunshine? Mine is just sautéed onions, grated carrots, whole peeled canned tomatoes (or fresh in season), salt and a splash of wine.

                                      1. re: EM23

                                        low and slow is the only other thing...if I'm making that recipe, I prefer to make it a day or two in advance, letting it simmer for several hours, then putting it into the fridge for a day or to for the flavors to marry.

                                        Mine has garlic (not a lot) -- and because she's from the north, ground or finely-chopped beef.

                                        1. re: sunshine842

                                          Ah, ha! You're talking meat sauce/ ragu. So funny the differences in meaning when it comes to tomato sauce, Bolognese, ragu, gravy, etc. It's all good, though.

                                          1. re: EM23

                                            No, I put carrots in non-meat sauce, too.

                                    2. re: EM23

                                      Do you grate a whole carrot in the sauce, I want to try this idea!

                                        1. re: kendramcquinn

                                          It depends on how many tomatoes I’m using and their acidity level. I grate the carrot(s), taste the sauce, grate, taste – until it tastes good to me. When they are finely grated they melt into the sauce.

                                  2. My mother taught me to do this! One night when I was first married I tried to make tomato soup using whole canned tomatos, when I added the milk it curdled! Looked like I had added cottage cheeze! Called mom and she said I had to add baking soda to reduce the acid! How much? about a tsp. to a large can of tomatos! Tsp and a half is not too much either! It does not totally eliminate the acid, just reduces it to a proper level! The tomatos will foam way up in the pot then foam back down! When tomatos are cooked down to a reduced state as in sauce or paste, the acid becomes concentrated and makes the PH just under the level of battery acid! It isn't the spices in Italian sauce, it's the acid that causes heartburn! Don't be affraid to try it! My Grandmother did it, My mom did it and I have done it for over 40 years! P.S. when you use it in you spagetti sauce, do not add sugar, as the neutralizing of the acid naturally makes the sauce sweeter! NO need for sugar! It enhances the flavor as well!

                                    1. Agree with jkiel1. Just the tiniest pinch of baking soda will help tons. Do a little at a time. Was married to a woman whose entire family had owned restaurants back past her great grandfather. Using sugar will do nothing more than turn the sauce into a sweet sauce. I discourage the sugar but the baking soda really will work if used very lightly until the sauce has the desired taste.

                                      1. yes, every time. the smallest pinch though. maybe between a 1/10th and a 1/20th of a teaspoon in a pint of sauce. too much and the it will taste very bland. you need to experiment to your own tastes, it's easily rescued with some white balsamic if you go too far.

                                        sugar does nothing to regulate the acidity, you merely end up creating a sweet and sour sauce.

                                        1. My mother was 3rd generation Sicilian. She was raised to use a pinch of baking soda and looked with disdain on "sweet sauce" using sugar. Her sauce was also flavored with a LOT of meat and herbs though. Not remotely marinara.

                                          1. I use baking soda to cut acidity. I use 1/4 tsp at a time. It bubbles up, I stir until bubbles are gone. I taste and continue to add 1/4 tsp at a time until I reach the taste I desire

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: tastepaste

                                              Tonight I made a tomato sauce and baking soda saved it. I'm done with dinner and cleaning up. Then I came on here to check and make sure it wasn't supposed to have used baking powder absentmindedly. I ate too much and was curious if I should be concerned about heartburn as well.

                                              I used the tomato sauce with stuffed cabbage. A recipe my mother made when we were little (I have never attempted or eaten since--she no longer cooks). Her tomato sauce recipe calls for brown sugar and Worcestershire sauce. I wasn't crazy about the flavor but at the same time I remembered cooking homemade pasta with an Italian friend who used a pinch of baking soda for acidity (After reading people's comments, I wasn't aware it took away flavor which may have been my saving grace). I added the baking soda, sprig of thyme, and bay leaf too let simmer with the stuffed cabbage...

                                              Together it was awsome.

                                              Want to say thanks for everyone's input and experience. I got a lot out of all of the comments.

                                            2. I have been using baking soda in my sauce, chili etc for over 30 yrs. I never could understand why people would add sugar or other stuff to a homemade sauce. It takes me hours to simmer my sauce and I would never want to change the flavor of the fresh herbs and love that goes into every pot!! I am Italian! It doesn't take alot, just a pinch. Let it bubble and cook out. It doesn't change the texture or the flavor where if you use sugar you end up with a sweet sauce not one with the freshness of basil, bay and on and on.

                                              1. Yes.Tomato Maranara sauce. A qt. size batch. Pinch of baking soda and
                                                a pinch of sugar, Put in half of the tomatoes and cook till it foams.
                                                then add the rest of your crushed tomatoes. Simmer.

                                                1. I tried it once out of curiosity. I could detect the chemical taste--not appealing--and haven't gone there again, although one could wonder if using less would have a desirable effect. I side with those who say a bit of sugar is a better step.

                                                  Also, I have a completely out-of-the blue speculation that maybe a dash of fish sauce, anchovy, and/or porcini mushroom liquid/powder might bring umami to the counter-balancing strategy.

                                                  1. About 30 years ago I was friendly with this cute little old woman down in NYC's Little Italy. Lucy. She told me to put a couple of tablespoons of unsalted butter into my sauce/gravy to cut the acidity. I've been doing it ever since. Works like a charm.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: jarona

                                                      Great idea! While still slightly more acidic than water, butter and presumably cream are a good tick or two more alkaline than tomatoes. Not so much more as baking soda, of course....

                                                    2. I've been adding sugar to pasta sauce for years, it balances the acidity, doesn't remove it as others have stated. Your best bet is to use San Marzano tomatoes. They are related to plum tomatoes, but have fewer seeds, and are more naturally sweet and less acidic.
                                                      Costco carried a three or four pack a couple of years ago, but IIRC, only one of the cans was plain, the others contained herbs and seasonings in them, not a good thing.

                                                      I've tried this brand (Carmelina) at the top of my post, which is pretty good:

                                                      Removing the seeds from regular tomatoes reduces the acidity as well.

                                                      In addition to adding sugar, I've also tried carrots and cinnamon, not in the same batch tho.

                                                      A good mix is the Italian version of soffritto, which is a med. stalk of celery, a med. red onion, and a med. carrot, all minced finely, almost to a paste. You then saute them in olive oil until the mixture is slightly brown and caramelized. The sweetness of the onion and carrot helps out.

                                                      I also tried bicarbonate of soda once w/o any knowledge of how much to use and it turned out nondescript.
                                                      Bicarbonate of soda has been used in Italian cooking for ages.

                                                      In "A Night at the Opera" Groucho Marx proclaims:
                                                      "Signor Lassparri comes from a very famous family. His mother was a well-known bass singer. His father was the first man to stuff spaghetti with bicarbonate of soda, thus causing and curing indigestion at the same time."
                                                      Maybe if they re-release that movie in a "Director's Cut" edition, they'll share the amounts Lassparri used!

                                                      1. My Sicilian family for generations it's been celery or carrot and in fish dishes anise/fresh fennel.Of course you can use the fennel in other tomato base dishes.

                                                        7 Replies
                                                        1. re: scunge

                                                          I just made a pesto out of processed fennel fronds and stalks, and added it to my clam sauce. Just wonderful! Then I took what was left and added mayo and lemon juice to make a tartar sauce type dip for our scallops...also out of this world! I'm serving it with boiled shrimp on Thanksgiving, can't wait to see everyone's reaction.

                                                          The bulb is also chopped and in the freezer, and will be added to chowder or maybe even the stuffing, not sure yet.

                                                          1. re: coll

                                                            That sounds fantastic! Can you share a recipe or proportions for the tartar sauce?

                                                            1. re: EM23

                                                              I had a nice size head of fennel. I removed the stems and fronds (saved the bulb for other purposes) and processed with a half cup of oil, 2 cloves garlic, salt and red pepper flakes, juice and zest of a lemon and some assorted herbs from the garden (lemon verbena, thyme, maybe mint? I don't remember...whatever you have) anyway plain it made a nice rub for fish or whatnot, but with mayo a great dip. Maybe a half cup mayo with a quarter cup of fennel mix? Then a nice dash of lemon juice plus zest if you are using fresh.

                                                              Not sure how important this was, but I had made basil pesto first, and didn't wipe out the processor before making this. So maybe a bit of fresh basil and a few nuts (pignolia or pistachio?) wouldn't hurt either. Next time I make it I'll try to be more exact.....I was just fooling around!

                                                              1. re: coll

                                                                Ooh! A rub for fish sounds great, too. Thanks, Coll.

                                                                1. re: EM23

                                                                  Let me know if you think of any improvements too. It's a work in progress, but so far all signs are good. Then maybe we can start a dedicated thread ;-)

                                                                  1. re: coll

                                                                    I will do, when I try it. I have banned myself from buying any vegetables until I use up what’s crammed into my refrigerator right now. Next up, Czech cabbage, potato dumplings and pork.

                                                                    1. re: EM23

                                                                      I know what you mean! I went ahead and chopped, then froze, celery (leaves and stalks separately), leeks, fennel bulb, onions and I don't know what else over the last month or so. I'm pretty sure I will be using most of it for Thanksgiving, or for the soup the next day, and will give thanks for my budget coming in a little lighter.

                                                        2. Coll, those fennel bulbs make a marvelous salad. Slice them vertically as thinly as you can. Toss them with slices of orange--blood orange is especially nice--some olive oil, and mint or other herb.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: Father Kitchen

                                                            I already diced up the bulb and froze but I'm doing my major produce shopping for Thanksgiving next weekend. I'm sure I can get a good deal on fennel, not sure about the blood oranges. But I am stocking up on oranges in general for my cranberry sauce, so will grab a few extra. Great idea!

                                                          2. Baking soda using the very tip of a teaspoon added to your tomato sauce will cut the acid. My grandmother from Portugal and my mother (born in the US) both used it instead of sugar. Always with success. You don't need very much at all. They added it toward the end of cooking time, stirring it in. The sauce will bubble a little bit when you add it. I have done the same for the last 30 years.

                                                            Sadly today, for the very first time, I decided to shake a little bit into the sauce from the box. Much to my surprise, a giant chunk fell from the box into my sauce. I couldn't scoop it out. My sauce bubbled wildly. And, I've ruined the whole thing. Giant size pan of sauce with homemade meatballs, spare ribs, beef meet, fresh herbs. I'm still trying to "doctor it up' with more fresh herbs, fresh onion, I even seared two pork chops in garlic and added them with the juices and am simmering for a bit more on low to see if I can bring the flavor back! Wish me luck!

                                                            Our family does not use sugar as we do not care for a sweet sauce and the sugar does not always cut the acid. I presume if I were shaking the bag of sugar over the sauce and dumped a chunk in, the sauce would be ruined!

                                                            Of course, the sugar sweetens the sauce....dumping all the baking soda in error actually took the flavor out. Sooooo, hoping I can add flavor back. Can't ever take the sugar out.

                                                            Another woman commenting on this site said she uses a potato to cut the acid. I might try that some time. Although, for 3 generations, we've always had success with the baking soda. Just don't do what I did and decide to shake a little from the box. Use the tip of a teaspoon. Good luck!

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: jannyjanny77

                                                              What a shame. Maybe you could counteract with some lemon juice or other acid?