14 Pasta Sauce Hacks That Make Spaghetti Better

Jars and cans of pasta sauce are a lifesaver on busy weeknights, allowing you to put a hot, filling meal on the table in the time it takes to cook noodles. But those jars and cans of sauces can be bland, especially if you serve them as often as I did as a young mom with four hungry kids. But there are lots of ways to spice up your spaghetti sauce, and you probably have most of them in your pantry and fridge already!

Photos of adding sour cream to pasta sauce and sprinkling chopped herbs on a plate of spaghetti.

If I could go back in time, I would tell myself about all the ways I’ve learned to make spaghetti taste better easily, just by making a few simple additions to store-bought sauces — and that’s exactly what we’ll be discussing in this post! These add-ins work wonders whether you serve the sauce over noodles or try one of the many different meals you can make with a jar of pasta sauce.

What To Put In Spaghetti Sauce To Make It Taste Better

Below, you’ll learn how to make spaghetti better — or more specifically, 14 super simple ways to dress up a jar of spaghetti sauce. While it’s very nice to be able to rely on a quick and easy pasta dinner on busy evenings, that doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice flavor!

Photo of finger showing that the first ingredient in a jar of pasta sauce is tomatoes.
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 how to spice up a jar of spaghetti sauce, it will always be easier if you start with quality ingredients. That’s why I thought it would be useful to include a few helpful tips about picking out some good jars of pasta sauces 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 browsing your sauce options, and pick one with whole tomatoes as the first ingredient while avoiding sauces that contain added sugars.

Don’t forget that jarred sauce isn’t your only option — canned spaghetti sauce can be great and is often more economical. The tips throughout this post can be applied to both types of sauce.

14 Things You Can Add To Spaghetti Sauce

Is your spaghetti sauce bland? Here are some spaghetti sauce “secret ingredients” you can add to jarred or canned spaghetti sauce to improve it. (These same rules apply to just about any red sauce, by the way — tomato sauce, marinara, spaghetti sauce, etc.)

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

1. Fresh Veggies Add Taste And Nutrition

Adding fresh vegetables to your pasta dish is an easy way to make it more flavorful and 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 Is A Classic Addition To Spaghetti Sauce

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

Mince a few cloves of garlic, toss it in a warm pan with some oil and cook until fragrant. Then add your spaghetti sauce and stir to combine. A bit of garlic goes a long way to spruce up bland spaghetti sauce (it’s one of my favorite spaghetti add-ins)! 

Photo of a bowl of fresh greens
Fresh greens wilt beautifully into pasta sauce, adding freshness and nutrition.

3. Fresh Greens Brighten Pasta Sauce

Toss in a handful of fresh greens while you’re warming up your spaghetti sauce on the stove. 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! (Make sure they are warmed through first.)

4. Adding Meat Makes Pasta Sauce Taste Homemade

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 delicious sauce and simmer for a few minutes, adding salt and pepper as needed. Adding some meat is one of the fastest ways to make a jar of spaghetti sauce taste homemade.

Adding meatballs as an alternative to ground beef 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 if you don’t want ground beef.

Photo of a 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 Adds Brightness To Spaghetti

Ever feel like your pasta sauce taste 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 it a more lively flavor.

While warming up your pasta sauces, 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!

6. Sugar Can Balance An Acidic Sauce

On the flip side, if your sauce is too acidic, sugar will be your best friend. Tomatoes can be quite acidic, and this acidity could overpower the taste of your homemade spaghetti sauce. To balance it out, you can add some sugar. Its sweetness will counter the acidity and make the sauce both savory and sweet. 

When adding sugar to your tomato sauce, start with a small amount and taste regularly to ensure it doesn’t become too sweet. If you don’t have brown or white sugar you can also use honey or maple syrup.

Photo showing a hand sprinkling chopped basil on a plate of spaghetti with pasta sauce.

7. Herbs & Spices Add Complexity To Canned Spaghetti Sauces

Wondering how to spice up spaghetti sauce to make it taste more homemade? 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!

8. Nutmeg Adds An Earthy Note To Your Pasta Sauce

A pinch or two of nutmeg can add an earthy, aromatic note to your spaghetti sauce. It can also improve the taste of the other ingredients in the sauce while adding a slightly sweet flavor. Nutmeg pairs especially well with creamy or meat-based sauces. 

Photo of a person adding sour cream to a pot of pasta sauce

9. Dairy Can Level Up Any Pasta Sauce

Adding a bit of dairy can take any pasta dinner to the next level. 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!

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

10. Use Pasta Water To Keep Your Sauce On The Noodles

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!

Photo of a bowl of shredded carrots

11. Carrots Can Reduce Acidity Without Sugar

I know I mentioned fresh veggies already, but carrots deserve their own section. Carrots, whether blended, shredded, sauteed, or whole, are another way to add sweetness to your spaghetti sauce. They are rich in alkaline, which can reduce the acidity of the tomato paste without adding sugar. Plus, carrots are packed with nutrients, making them a healthy addition to your sauce.

12. Instant Coffee Adds Depth To Sauce

This might come as a surprise, but instant coffee can add a rich and deep flavor to your spaghetti sauce. Its bitter, earthy taste may just be what you need to balance the sweet ingredients in your sauce. However, the trick with coffee is that it must be used in small amounts. 

To deepen the flavor of your sauce, take a teaspoon of instant coffee, dilute it in warm water or stock, and add it to the sauce.

Photo of a woman holding a box of baking soda.

13. Baking Soda Also Counters Acid Without Sugar

If your spaghetti sauce tastes too acidic, another remedy besides sugar is adding a pinch of baking soda. Thanks to its alkaline nature, baking soda will neutralize the acidity of your sauce without affecting the flavor. However, be cautious not to overdo it, as too much baking soda can alter the taste and texture of your sauce.

14. Red Wine Adds Complexity To Pasta Sauces

Red wine is a classic ingredient in many Italian sauces, and you would be surprised at how much good it can do in spaghetti sauce. Its fruity notes complement the tomatoes beautifully, adding a complex and deep flavor that bangs hard. And don’t worry — the alcohol burns off, so it’s safe for your kids to eat!

If you prefer not to use alcohol, a smaller amount of red wine vinegar can be substituted for red wine. You can also use pomegranate or cranberry juice, as long as you use the unsweetened kind. These substitutions can add a similar depth of flavor without the alcohol.

Jillee’s Take:

In my opinion, the best spaghetti sauces and marinara sauces balance the flavors of tomato, garlic, onion, and herbs in perfect harmony, and that’s always what I shoot for, no matter what meal I’m planning to make with my sauce. Experiment with a variety of additions and you’re sure to land on the perfect sauce for your family’s taste!
Photo of a covered saucepan of pasta sauce being heated on a stove.
A final simmer and no one will know your sauce came from a jar.

BONUS: Simmer Your Spaghetti Sauce For Deeper Flavor

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

Frequently Asked Questions

What Can I Add To Spaghetti Sauce To Give It More Flavor?

To enhance the flavor of your spaghetti sauce, you can add fresh vegetables, greens, and fresh herbs like basil and parsley. You can also add diced onions, fresh garlic, and red/green pepper. A splash of red wine or some dairy, such as cheese, also works great. Lastly, don’t forget salt.

Does Cooking Spaghetti Sauce Longer Make It Taste Better?

Yes, cooking spaghetti sauce longer can improve its taste by developing its flavor. Simmering the spaghetti sauce over low heat breaks down the carbohydrates, allowing its ingredients to release their flavors fully. It also allows excess liquid to evaporate, thus concentrating the flavors.

How Do You Sweeten Spaghetti Sauce Without Sugar?

Use sweet vegetables like carrots, onions, or bell peppers to sweeten spaghetti sauce without sugar. If the sauce tastes too acidic, add some baking soda to counter the acidity. A splash of balsamic vinegar can also give the sauce a natural sweetness without sugar.


Pasta only gets tiring when you don’t switch things up. With 14 options at your disposal to make your sauce taste better, you can look forward to having pasta again and again. You’re sure to discover several add-ins that your family loves, so have fun spicing things up (while keeping it simple)!

“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.”

– OGT reader Vicki

What’s your favorite spaghetti sauce add-in?

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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


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