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How to Thicken Sauce (How to Make Super-Thick Applesauce!)

We love a good applesauce, but we absolutely hate it when the sauce is weak or watery. Learning how to thicken sauce is the best way to avoid runny applesauce (and the best way to use up all those spare cooking apples, too!).

In fact, it’s super-easy to make a super-thick sauce at home. All you need are a few not-so-secret tips and tricks. To help you out, we’ve put together this guide to thickening sauces, so you can create the perfect applesauce.

First, we’ll look at how to thicken applesauce; then, we’ll see how you can apply the same techniques to a wide variety of popular sauces, including spaghetti sauce, gravy, soups, and more! 

Why is my applesauce watery? 

Watery applesauce is the worst applesauce. But you’ve spent all day putting your apple peeler to great use, slowly stewing your homemade applesauce to your family’s ancient recipe. You’ve done everything right, and at this point, you’re literally crying applesauce tears; why is it watery? 

There are many reasons why your sauce could be watery:

  • The apples you put into the sauce could be extremely juicy, giving you a higher water content than the recipe anticipated.
  • The apples could be larger than usual, or you might not have had the heat on the stovetop high enough or left the sauce to stew for long enough.
  • The same holds true for many other sauces (apples aside), but don’t despair because there are many ways to thicken the sauce. 

How to thicken homemade applesauce 

There are several tried and tested ways to thicken a sauce; however, not all of them are as effective at thickening applesauce as they are other sauces. 

The most commonly used methods to thicken sauces include the following ingredients or techniques:

  • Cornstarch
  • Flour
  • Arrowroot
  • Tapioca 
  • Stock
  • Butter
  • Egg yolks
  • Reducing the liquid 

Cornstarch method. Adding a few spoons of flour or cornstarch is the traditional way to quickly thicken a sauce, although you need to whisk the ingredients into the sauce, or it turns out lumpy - this method doesn’t work if you’re gluten-free, though! Tapioca and arrowroot work in a similar way, offering a gluten-free alternative. 

Butter and egg method. Butter and egg yolks are great if you’re not counting calories or on a vegan diet, while stock is perfect for gravies or soups but adds extra saltiness to the sauce.

Reducing the liquid method. The best method for any sauce is simply reducing the liquid - you leave the sauce to simmer gently on the stovetop until the excess liquid has burned off. It takes time, but you don’t change the flavor by adding extra ingredients!

For applesauce, though, these methods don’t all work. Most of these ingredients seriously change the flavor of the sweet applesauce. Cornstarch and flour react badly with the acidity of the apples, and definitely don’t try egg yolks, butter, or stock!

  1. Our first recommendation is to reduce the apples. Leave them to stew on the stovetop for as long as it takes to thicken the applesauce. It’s well worth the time, and you’ll be left with a thick and flavorsome homemade applesauce. 
  2. If you don’t have time to wait for reduction, then the best method is to mix arrowroot or tapioca (or both) with a little bit of apple juice or apple cider.
  3. Use the resulting mixture as a thickening agent. Add it to the applesauce and let it stew. Before too long, the sauce will have thickened up nicely!

How long does it take for a sauce to thicken? 

The time it takes to thicken a sauce depends on a number of factors, primarily how thin or watery the sauce is!

  • For the majority of sauces, it will take no more than 15 minutes to thicken using a thickening agent.
  • If you’re reducing the sauce by heating it, then this could take 30 minutes or even longer.
  • If you’re reducing the sauce, remember to keep stirring frequently. You don’t want to burn the sauce, either, so don’t be afraid to add some liquid if you’ve reduced it too far!

You can tell if a sauce is thick enough using the spoon test (although it’s not entirely accurate!).

  • Place a spoon into the sauce and pull it across the surface of the sauce.
  • As you move the spoon through the sauce, an indent appears behind the spoon - if the indent fills in immediately, then your sauce is too watery!

How to thicken spaghetti sauce

As we mentioned, thickening applesauce is different from thickening other sauces. At home, one of the most common sauces you’ll make is pasta sauce, spaghetti sauce, or any other tomato-based sauce.

  • These are rich, flavorful sauces, so rather than diluting the taste with flour or cornstarch, we recommend using tomato paste. This works as a thickening agent and also gives you a delicious base for the sauce.
  • You can also try using stock cubes. Add these straight into the spaghetti sauce, and you’ll thicken it quickly. Alternatively, you can let the sauce simmer until it reduces naturally. 

How to thicken gravy

You can thicken a gravy using any of the methods we outlined previously. A thick gravy is the best gravy, so don’t be afraid to use a combination of methods for the best results!

  • If you have time, then it’s always great to reduce the gravy on the stovetop. This keeps in all the best flavors.
  • Gravies are prepared using stock as a base, too (or gravy granules), and you can simply add more stock to thicken the sauce. 
  • Cornstarch works well, too, particularly if you don’t want to change the flavor by concentrating it further. Stir in a few teaspoons of cornstarch and watch as the gravy thickens up nicely. 

How to thicken soup 

Soup is another easy dish to thicken up, and as with gravies, the best way to add to the flavor and thicken the sauce is to use stock.

  • Add an extra stock cube or pour in some liquid stock as you simmer the soup on the stovetop. 
  • Everyone likes their soup in their own way, and if you want a super-thick winter soup, then we suggest adding some serious cornstarch or flour to the soup - and letting it simmer and reduce for a few hours!

What’s your preferred method? 

Now you know the best ways to thicken sauce, but what’s going to be your favorite method? For applesauce, we recommend taking the time to stew the apples for as long as possible - it’s the most natural way to reduce the liquid and thicken the sauce.  

For gravies and soups, a few spoons of flour, cornstarch, or an extra stock cube always does the trick, while the best way to thicken tomato sauce is going to be adding some concentrated tomato paste. 

If you’re looking for the perfect applesauce, then why not bookmark our guide to thickening sauces?

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