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9 Sneaky Pasta Sauce Hacks That Make Spaghetti Taste Amazing

A person is pouring pasta sauce on spaghetti.

Here’s What To Add To Spaghetti Sauce To Make It More Delicious

Considering how often I made spaghetti for dinner back when I had four young kids to feed, I sure wish I’d known back then what to add to spaghetti sauce to give it more flavor. Spaghetti can be a life raft when you’re adrift in the seas of parenting, so dried pasta and jars of pasta sauce have always held a special place in my heart for that reason!

I didn’t have nearly as much experience or creativity in the kitchen back then, so most of those plates of spaghetti probably tasted pretty bland. If I could go back in time, I would tell myself how easy it is to make spaghetti better by making a few simple additions to store-bought sauces, and that’s exactly what we’ll be discussing in this post!

Related: 7 Of The Most Common Mistakes People Make With Pasta

Below, you’ll learn what to add to spaghetti sauce to make it taste better, or more specifically, 9 super simple ways to dress up a jar of spaghetti sauce. Because while it’s very nice to be able to rely on a simple pasta dinner on busy evenings, that doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice flavor! :-)

finger pointing at ingredients on label of marinara sauce
When it comes to tomato sauces like marinara and spaghetti sauce, tomatoes should be the star!

How To Choose A Good Jar Of Pasta Sauce

Even though this post is all about “dressing up” a jar of spaghetti sauce, it’s always going to be easier if you start out with quality ingredients. That’s why I thought it would be useful to include a few helpful tips about picking out a good jar of pasta sauce at the grocery store!

A single jar of spaghetti sauce can cost anywhere between $1 and $10, depending on the brand, but you don’t have to shell out the full $10 for a decent sauce! Check out the ingredient lists while you’re browsing through your sauce options, and pick one that has whole tomatoes as the first ingredient, and avoid sauces that contain added sugars.

And jarred sauce isn’t your only option — canned spaghetti sauce can be great too, and it’s often more economical too. The tips throughout this post can be applied to canned spaghetti sauce as well as jarred sauces.

Once you’ve picked out your sauce, it’s time to start cooking! :-)

Related: How To Open A Jar Of Pasta Sauce

close up of red and yellow pepper rings cooking in a white skillet
Sauté some veggies to add a little homemade flair!

9 Things You Can Add To Spaghetti Sauce

Is your pasta sauce bland? Here’s what to add to spaghetti sauce to improve it. (These same rules apply to just about any red sauce, by the way — tomato sauce, marinara, spaghetti sauce, etc.)

1. Fresh Veggies

Adding fresh vegetables to your pasta dish is an easy way to make it more flavorful and more nutritious! Start by sautéing diced onion, tomatoes, peppers, and carrots in a pan until soft. Then add your spaghetti sauce and simmer for a few minutes to finish it off!

2. Garlic

Adding fresh garlic to a pre-made pasta sauce makes a world of difference. You can either use roasted garlic (Minimalist Baker has a great guide on how to roast your own garlic) or use fresh garlic — both are great options!

Mince a few cloves of garlic, toss it in a warm pan with a bit of oil, and cook until fragrant. Then add your pasta sauce and stir to combine. A bit of garlic goes a long way if you want to spruce up bland spaghetti sauce!

Related: 11 Reasons Why Garlic Is The Most Useful Food In Your Pantry

closeup of a bowl of fresh greens

3. Fresh Greens

While you’re warming up your pasta sauce on the stove, toss in a handful of fresh greens. Tender baby greens, like baby kale and baby spinach, will wilt beautifully into your sauce. You could also get creative and add some chopped broccoli or peas! (Just make sure they are warmed through first.)

Related: 8 Brilliant Things You Can Make With A Bag Of Salad

4. Meat

Adding meat to your sauce helps add flavor and can make your meal more filling. Brown some ground beef, ground turkey, or Italian sausage in a pan, then drain off any fat. Add the drained meat to your sauce and simmer for a few minutes, adding salt and pepper as needed.

Adding meatballs is a classic way to serve pasta, and if you’re in a hurry, you can get frozen meatballs ready to toss into the sauce to warm up. You can even find plant-based meatballs!

hand squeezing a lemon into a saucepan of marinara sauce
Wondering what to add to spaghetti sauce? Acidity is a great secret ingredient!

5. Acid

Ever feel like your pasta sauce needs a little extra something, but you aren’t sure what? Try adding something acidic! Acidity is a great “secret ingredient” that will add brightness to your pasta dish and give a more lively flavor.

While you’re warming up your pasta sauce, add a splash of red wine vinegar, lemon juice, or balsamic vinegar, or add some chopped olives or capers. You’ll be surprised by how good your sauce tastes with a little extra acidity!

Related: 22 Useful Things To Do With Lemons

6. Herbs & Spices

Wondering how to spice up spaghetti sauce? Add a dash of red pepper flakes for a kick of heat, a teaspoon of Italian seasoning for flavor, or a sprinkle of fragrant fresh oregano or thyme. And once your pasta dish is ready to serve, you can’t go wrong with using fresh herbs like basil or parsley as a garnish!

Related: The Most Important Herbs & Spices For Home Cooks

hand with measuring cup adding ricotta cheese to a white saucepan filled with marinara sauce

7. Dairy

Adding a bit of dairy can take any pasta dinner from “ho-hum” to “oh, yum!” Once your sauce is warm, add a pat of butter, ricotta cheese, cream cheese, Greek yogurt, or goat cheese. You could also add a splash of cream, or a handful of grated Parmesan cheese!

Important Note: When adding dairy to a pasta dish, wait until the last minute or two to add it to your pot or pan. It’s enough time for the ingredient to melt into your sauce, yet not so long that it will lose its fresh flavor or silky texture.

8. Pasta Water

While you’re warming up your pasta sauce and boiling your noodles, add a splash of the pasta water to your sauce. Pasta water picks up starches from the pasta while it cooks, and adding those starches to your sauce will help it stick to the noodles, instead of sliding right off!

covered saucepan on stove with condensation in lid
A final simmer and no one will know your sauce came from a jar.

BONUS: Simmer Your Spaghetti Sauce

Simmering your store-bought pasta sauce on the stove while your pasta cooks is an easy way to make it richer, more developed flavor. You can get similar results from adding a small amount of tomato paste to your sauce while heating it.

Need more ideas and inspiration? Find it here!

Do you have other suggestions for what to add to pasta or spaghetti sauce?

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Jill Nystul (aka Jillee)

Jill Nystul is an accomplished writer and author who founded the blog One Good Thing by Jillee in 2011. With over 30 years of experience in homemaking, she has become a trusted resource for contemporary homemakers by offering practical solutions to everyday household challenges.I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

About Jillee

Jill Nystul

Jill’s 30 years of homemaking experience, make her the trusted source for practical household solutions.

About Jillee


Food & Recipes

  • I use my favorite pasta sauce as a base and dress it up with a few different spices and just let it simmer in the crockpot on low. And sometimes I’ll add meatballs if I have those in the freezer.

  • The one ingredient I always add to a jar of pasta sauce is carrots. Grind them up in a mini-processor or you can chop very fine. Toss them in the pan with a little olive oil and
    a few slices of sweet peppers. After a minute or so add onions and garlic, let cook til
    transparent and add the sauce. The carrots make the sauce naturally sweet!

  • My sweet MIL taught me this trick years ago…add about 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar and 1/3 brown sugar to the empty jar, shake it around to mix (and get the remaining sauce out too) pour into the simmering sauce (I add ground turkey to our sauce too). Let simmer a few more minutes to let the flavors meld together…My boys asked for this often in their years still at home, they still do many years later.

  • A pound of ground beef and a few pinches of sugar and I’m in heaven! I eat sauce with garlic bread (no pasta for me). I always make enough to freeze some for later.

  • Tomato paste. Add a small can to a large can or jar of pasta sauce to give it that long simmered flavor. A teaspoon of olive oil or basalmic vinegar will enhance that I-slaved-over-the-stove taste. I also like to add extra garlic and herbs as mentioned in your post.

  • I love these hacks, thank you Jillee. I could eat pasta till it comes out of my ears (almost ) but finding decent sauces to go with it has been difficult, I did find a tomato and mascarpone sauce that I enjoy, but I do like variety now and again . I’d never actually checked the ingredients, so I had a look on the website of the local supermarket I use, none of the ingredients state any more than tomatoes, so not even a chance of knowing whether they’re San Marzano tomatoes! I can buy cans of San Marzano tomatoes on Amazon, but that defeats the purpose of buying a pasta sauce

  • I don’t know if this qualifies for a tip for jarred sauce or from-scratch sauce, but I like to add a can of crushed tomatoes to the jar sauce & add a pinch of Italian seasonings. It gives it such a fresher taste. I once made sauce completely from scratch w/ tomatoes from my garden & once with half garden tomatoes & half canned tomatoes & the one w/ the canned tomatoes had a fresher tomato taste. So either my cooking skills are terrible (certainly possible) or there’s something special about canned tomatoes & since I have no ambition to do it completely from scratch again, I’ll never know.

  • I usually buy the sauce with 3g of sugar(that is the least amount of sugar I have found in any sauce) and enhance the sauce in a very simple way. In little bit of olive oil, cook half onion, half carrot, 2 cloves of garlic and pasta sauce from jar(small). Crush them partially(or completely) in blender. For variation add herbs or even better Gram Masala. Sauce has so much depth and it’s no longer a store bought, typical sauce.

  • Several years ago when my son was still living at home I made pasta using the bottled sauce from a well-known chef. My son HATED it. I’d never seen him have such a negative reaction to what I served. I had two bottles of that sauce left. What to do? I found a recipe adding cream cheese to sauce. What did I have to lose? I added the cream cheese to the famous chef’s terrible sauce and it was a big hit with my son and husband both! It made a delicious white sauce.

  • One of the things I aways add at the end of cooking my sauce, from a jar or homemade, is coffee. I either add a half cup of left over coffee or a teaspoon of instant coffee to my sauce. It seems to really make my sauce better and I am not sure how, but seems to mellow it out in some way. I know that is not a great description of taste, but all I could come up with. Just try it once and see if you can notice the difference. Thanks.

  • Once in a while I will add some cooked chorizo to my sauce. It doesn’t add any noticeable heat (like pepper flakes) but it does add flavor! (: You can also add some chopped cooked bacon to your meat sauce & you can make spaghetti with shredded chicken instead of ground sausage or ground beef. Another ingredient for my sauce that I always add when I am sauteing my garlic & onions is…bell pepper. (: Yum!

  • I like to add one pound of raw shrimp to a jar of simmering marinara sauce. The shrimp cooks in about 5 minutes and adds great flavor to the sauce. I also add some red pepper flakes and sometimes I add some cream or half-and-half at the end. It makes a nice sauce.

  • Thanks for the great tips! I’m all about taking “convenience” foods and kicking them up a notch. Yes, homemade is nice, but sometimes our sanity and just getting a meal on the table for our families is more important, and it’s nice to have these ideas in our arsenal. Great way to get creative with what you have on hand in your kitchen❤️

  • If you’re going to heat up a whole jar of sauce, pour about 1/4 cup of sweet vermouth into the jar after you’ve emptied it, shake well to clean up the last remnants of sauce, and add that to the sauce. Even people like me who don’t drink alcohol because it tastes bad will approve.

  • Mid’s sauce, made in OH, has romano cheese made from sheep’s milk in the sauce, so now I know the secret is the cheese! I like Rao’s but it can be pricey. My favorite thing to do when making pasta is to add a large pinch of salt. I want to say it was either Mario Batali or Scott Conant (or both) who gave that tip. I know some people can’t have much salt, but making the water like sea water first makes quite a difference in taste and probably sauce adherence to pasta. Also, mixing the pasta with the sauce in the pan and not on individual plates makes for a better dish. I used to add sauce to pasta on each plate until Scott Conant did a little video on making pasta. I didn’t think it made a difference until I had pasta at a chain Italian restaurant and they didn’t “marry” the sauce to the pasta. (It was watery. Yuck.) Thank you for some more great tips to take store-bought sauce to another level!

      • I’ve got 21 heart stents, and just occasionally i really feel the need for a little salt. As long as it’s not all the time. You only have one life, enjoy x

  • I start from scratch but my ‘secret’ ingredient is a teaspoon of Fry’s cocoa powder…It makes the sauce darker and richer tasting but not like chocolate…yummy

  • I also always found that when I make sauce that if it is refrigerated overnight it tastes a whole lot better..Not sure why…But anything tomato tastes better the next day..

  • I plant a large garden so I make my own sauce yearly. Usually around 20 qts. My mother and I , rest her soul, used to make at least 120 qts or more yearly but with just my husband and me, I no longer see the need for such ambition. When we first got married my husband bought jarred sauce. I went ballistic. He told my mother and she had a very good laugh. 30 years later (please don’t be grossed out folks) I still have that store bought jar as a friendly reminder to my husband. No it hasn’t exploded and it is marked DO NOT TOUCH.

    Jillee your suggestions as always were wonderful. I make a baked ziti pasta with marinara, brown gravy, heavy cream, ground beef, cheeses and spices. Quite tasty. It is one of my husbands favorite dishes.

    • When I took on my step children, they had only ever had convenience foid. So I would start with a jar and gradually changed their taste buds by adding more of my own stuff.

  • I would have been disowned by family if I ever used a bottled tomato sauce so I have never. If I don’t want to cook for hours, I open canned puree or tomato sauce and doctor it up. It is less expensive and has less ingredients/preservatives. As a first generation Sicilian, we do not add a plethora of things to our gravy. Yes, we still call it gravy!! LOL! We start with olive oil/minced garlic and perhaps diced onions. We also just add cooked sausage/meatballs or if you are making lasagna, cooked ground chop meat. Or no meat for a marinara sauce. We add spices – fresh if possible and I add some crushed pepper flakes to mine as I like a little “heat”. You can add a pinch of sugar instead of tomato paste. The sauce mentioned sounds healthy but we get our intake of veggy’s elsewhere. Just as pineapple, bacon etc over the years has been added to pizza (an American thing) we keep it simple and enjoy the original. Also, you have never had a truly good pizza unless you have had a NY original Little Italy pizza!!

  • I LOL when I think of this. My son hated mushrooms when he was younger. But I love the taste in pasta sauce. So I blended the mushrooms and add them to the sauce. There was one piece that didn’t get totally blended and of course, he got that piece. He pulled it out and looked at it and said “crab lungs”??? The underside kind of looks like that. Then he realized it was a piece of mushroom and he said “mushrooms”! and just pushed that plate of spaghetti away and got up from the table. I still think he probably would have eaten it as “crab lungs” but not as mushrooms. So if you really want to hide a veggie someone “says” they don’t like, make sure it is totally blended beyond any recognition!

  • Why not just start with plain tomato sauce and use all these wonderful ideas to make it better? Do you have one recipe that incorporates all this into one? THANKS much.

    • I use a large can of crushed tomatoes, a small can of tomato paste (sorry, I don’t know the sizes off hand), sweetener(stevia, honey, or sugar) to taste, grated cheese, and salt and pepper. That is my basic recipe, and then I add whatever extras I have on hand!

    • Making sauce from scratch is so easy and so much better tasting than tweaking jar sauce. Start with an onion and garlic, saute in olive oil, add ground beef or whatever meat you wish, brown, add Italian seasonings (oregano,parsley,basil,etc., pepper, salt). Add a large can of tomato sauce and a large can of diced/crushed/stewed tomatoes and a splash of red wine and simmer. If the tomato’s acidic nature is too much add a splash of milk near the end of cooking time. You can also add veggies if you want.

  • Thanks for all the great ideas. Here is another: pasta with red clam sauce. I much prefer the taste of red clam sauce over the white, but I don’t like the taste that results when the shells are added to the sauce. Since it sometimes is hard to find that combo in a restaurant, I was delighted to find how easy it is to make a delicious, quick and easy red clam sauce using jarred spaghetti sauce. I prefer using a marinara sauce or the sauce that comes with extra with basil and garlic, but any jarred sauce without meat will work fine.

    Start by sautéing a little onion and a couple of cloves of garlic in a little olive oil. Sauté until the onion is soft and translucent. Then, add a can or two of canned clams with their liquid and heat the combination for a minute before adding the sauce. The number of cans I use depends on how intense I want the clam flavor and on whether I am having guests and need more protein. If I want to intensify the taste, I sometimes add a dash or two of Asian fish sauce, but it is optional and delicious even if you don’t add it. If you want your sauce to have a little more mellow taste, add a dollop of butter by the end (good general tip for any sauce when you feel your sauce ends up tasting a little too sharp/harsh).

    It is more authentic to use linguini as your pasta, but plain thin spaghetti also works well too. Note: since canned clams come from the sea, you do not need as much salt when you cook your pasta, and resist adding any extra salt when cooking the sauce.

  • To zip up pasta sauce I usually add a generous Tanlespoon of our favorite salsa. Works great on tomato soup from a can as well. Thanks for the great ideas!

  • One thing that wasn’t added to this is treat yourself to a decent piece of cheese and a grater. That stuff in a can it plastic bottle isn’t great. That alone can make your jarred sauce tastes so much better.

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