We tested the two most common methods for reducing acidity in overly tart sauce—and found one approach is decidedly better than the other.
Great tomato flavor is all about balancing acidity and sweetness. Too much of either can leave you with asauce that tastes one-dimensional. Many sources recommend adding a pinch of baking soda to a sauce that’s overly tart, which raises the pH and makes it less acidic. We’ve always preferred adding a bit of sugar. It can’t neutralize acidity in the same way that baking soda can, but sugar does change our perception of other tastes.
To determine which method is more effective, we made a giant batch of ourQuick Tomato Sauce, divided it into 3-cup samples, and spiked some with either sugar or baking soda, then tasted each side by side. The sample enhanced with just ¼ teaspoon of sugar tasted bright, balanced, and more intense in tomato flavor, while the sample with an equal amount of baking soda was deemed flat and solely sweet.
Next we tried scaling back the baking soda to 1/8 teaspoon. While tasters found this sauce closer to the sugar-adjusted version, it was still not as complex.
To balance flavor and enhance complexity, we will continue to reach for sugar (add ¼ teaspoon at a time until the desired flavor is reached) when we need to make tomato sauce less acidic.