Why We Started Adding Coffee To Our Pasta Sauce

When it comes to quick and easy meals that everyone in the family loves, pasta with sauce is near the top of the list. Simply boil some water, throw the pasta in the pot, and heat up some sauce. Maybe toss in some ground beef if you’re feeling fancy. We’ve got a secret ingredient we add to our pasta sauce – whether it’s homemade or from a jar. Coffee! Yes, that’s right. Keep reading to find out why!

Coffee… Says Who?

While chefs have been adding things like coffee and cocoa powder to tomato-based sauces for a while now, the little trick got a lot of attention when British grocery store, Sainsbury’s, had a commercial that suggested adding instant coffee to spaghetti bolognese. Specifically, the ad said, “Let’s give that spag bol a little twist. Add coffee granules to the stock.” The recommended method of adding coffee is to dissolve a teaspoon of instant coffee in chicken or beef stock, then mix it into the sauce. You can also brew a fresh cup of coffee and add that directly to the sauce if instant coffee is offensive to you.

Why It Works

The Head of Consumer PR for Sainsbury’s said, “It may sound unlikely, but it really works. The coffee adds an underlying depth of flavor that helps to balance the sweetness of the tomato sauce.” So, why does the contrast of bitter coffee and sweet tomato sauce add such complexity? It all has to do with the process of harvesting, aging, and processing the coffee. The main flavors that coffee professionals look for in the beans are: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and savory. Each of these flavors reacts with the sauce, enhancing certain components. According to Serious Eats, the sweetness of coffee helps tame acidic and salty recipes, while the savory compounds enhance the unami of the dish.

Watch the video below for more info on coffee and pasta sauce!

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