Is tomato sauce bad for your stomach?

In this blog post, we will answer the following question: Is tomato sauce bad for your stomach? We will talk about the acidity of tomatoes and how to counteract it. We will also mention the benefits of tomato sauce in our alimentation.

Is tomato sauce bad for your stomach?

Tomato sauce, even if it is homemade, can be bad for your stomach and cause heartburns. The feeling of a burned esophagus is not a myth, it is a reality, if the person already has reflux issues, one does not recommend eating spaghetti in sauce, lasagna, or the Aztec soup.

In the two-year period 2010-2011 world production of tomato for direct consumption and for processing amounted to almost 156 million tons, showing a growth of about 5.3% against the previous two-year period (1).

How acidic is tomato sauce?

Tomato sauce is acidic enough to cause heartburn in some people. If you like the acidity in tomatoes, go for round tomatoes or cherry tomatoes, the latter being both sour and sweet. On the contrary, if you are running away from the acidic flavor, choose heart tomatoes instead.

Dry matter in tomatoes consists mainly of sugars and organic acids, making concentration levels of these molecules crucial in the assessment of fruit palatability, as they act as the main compounds responsible for the sweet and sour/acid tastes of these fruits, respectively. The main organic acids of tomatoes are citric, malic and succinic, with citric acid prevailing. Other organic acids can arise from the processing of tomatoes: among these molecules, low levels of aconitic acids are formed as a result of the dehydration of citric acid. According to the requirements of the canning industry, tomato fruits suitable for processing into concentrated tomato products (ketchup, tomato paste) must have biochemical parameters: dry matter content under irrigation conditions – at least 5%, sugars – 3%, total acidity – no more than 0.44 %.  

When cooking, a pinch of sugar will soften the acidity of the tomatoes. But why are tomatoes acidic?

Studies show that tomato varieties used for processing are less acidic than table tomatoes. This is because large sized tomato fruits have higher acidity. In addition, the acidity of stored tomatoes decreases with the storage time. The higher loss of acidity during the storage time could be related to higher respiration rate as ripening advances where organic acids are used as substrate in respiration process (3).

Another factor influencing the level of tomato acidity is the temperature. According to studies, increased fruit temperature does not affect final sugar content, but when increased from 21 to 26°C, it reduces acidity up to 25%. This could be linked to decreased vacuolar malic acid accumulation, as 50% decrease in malate accumulation is expected when temperatures increase from 15 to 25°C. Consequently, increasing temperature may improve fruit gustative quality because it increases the fruit sugar acid ratio (4).

If this winter-spring has been warmer in the growing area, and varieties that are not adapted to the area have been used, and irrigation has also been increased, this could be the cause. 

How to remove acidity from tomato sauce?

Tomato sauce is widely used in many cooking recipes. But when you prepare it at home, it can be too acidic. Here are our tips for removing acidity from the tomato sauce.

For pizzas, pasta, rice, meat, fish … tomato sauce is undoubtedly one of the most used sauces to accompany dishes in the kitchen. And it’s even better homemade. But did you know that if you crush your tomatoes, your sauce is likely to be sour? Indeed, once broken, the seeds of the tomato release all their acidity. If that happens, don’t panic! 

Use sugar, carrots, or dates to reduce the acidity from the tomato sauce.

Suppression or partial masking of sourness regularly occurs in complex food systems. It is well known that sweeteners constitute one of the most effective masking agents for sourness. Sweeteners are combined in the formulations of acidified foods to achieve optimum taste, while maintaining the desired pH (6).

You are preparing a tomato sauce for your arrabbiata penne or your margarita pizza, and like any good cook, you taste your work. But there, woe! You wince because your tomato sauce is too sour. Don’t worry, it happens even to the best. To rectify this inconvenience, add sugar to your tomato and too acidic preparations. Indeed, the sugar takes over the acidity and neutralizes it. 

But be careful not to use too much, at the risk of having a tomato sauce with a taste too sweet. Depending on the amount of your sauce, add a piece of sugar, or two to your preparation.

If you are not consuming sugar, there are other, more healthy alternatives. If it is too acidic, add a whole carrot (or two, depending on the amount of sauce) to your tomato sauce preparation. The carrot is sweet, so letting it boil with the preparation will release this sugar which will neutralize the acidity of the tomato. 

Note that a straight, hard, orange-colored carrot will be sweeter than a slightly older carrot. Likewise, the sugar level will be higher if the carrot comes from a bunch that has retained its greenery.

You can also add half a date (or a whole date, depending on the amount of sauce). It is also sweet, it will have the same role as the carrot in your preparation.

Baking soda to remove the acidity from the tomato sauce

Practical in the kitchen, in the garden, for the maintenance of the house, it also has health benefits and it contributes to animal hygiene. Baking soda is our best friend!

When an alkaline ingredient, such as sodium bicarbonate is dissolved in water, it ionizes and forms HCO3− ions which then react with H+ ions from the acids. Its use in food is because of their nature to react with acids such as vinegar, lemon juice, cream of tartar, and bacterial acids forming carbon dioxide (5).

This handyman powder neutralizes the acidity of foods with an overly acidic pH that your stomach might not take well, and which is not very palatable. Whether it’s tomato sauce, fruit coulis, or jams, you can reduce the acidity with a little baking soda. Just add a pinch or two to the tomatoes while cooking or while reducing the sauce, and voila!

However, not all is bad news!

Other FAQs about Sauces which you may be interested in.

Is Rao’s marinara sauce good?

Is there a difference between tomato sauce and tomato paste?

The benefits of tomato sauce

Recent research has shown that cooked tomato sauce helps enhance probiotic activity in the gut. Many people have wanted to know if the foods that are normally consumed are ‘functional’. 

Food is now being intensively examined for additional physiological benefits, which can reduce the risk of chronic disease and optimize health. Those foods that provide health benefits will be functional foods … And tomato sauce is one of them.

Probiotic foods, such as certain types of yogurt, fall into this category, as they increase the population of good bacteria in our bodies, which contributes to overall good health in many ways. 

Recent studies have indicated that fruit and vegetable juices are suitable carriers for probiotics. This is primarily due to the fact that fruit juice contains high amounts of sugars (providing energy sources for probiotics), relatively low pH (suitable environmental medium) and relatively high total antioxidant content prolonging product shelf life. In a study, probiotic bacteria were inoculated in tomato juice and stored for 4 weeks. Results indicated that the probiotics viability of the juice met the recommended level for probiotic food (>106–107 cfu/mL) at the end of storage (7).

Tomatoes are considered a healthy food because, among other things, they contain a pigment called lycopene which is an antioxidant that helps protect human cells from harmful factors. 

The researchers used pear tomatoes for their studies since they have a higher lycopene content. They evaluated the viability of the probiotic strain throughout the digestive process individually and the presence of antioxidants from plant sources, as well as the impact of the probiotic strain on the changes suffered by the antioxidant compounds and the resulting bioaccessibility.

Final tips 

Cooked tomato sauce appears to be more effective than the raw equivalent, since by cooking the sauce you allow the transformation of the lycopene present in the tomato, a process known as cis-trans isomerization, which actually helped preserve the integrity of this antioxidant throughout the digestive process, allowing more of it to be absorbed (9).

Therefore, serving probiotic-rich meals with fried tomato sauce increases its probiotic effect, as well as causes a progressive isomerization of tomato lycopene, from cis to trans during digestion, which positively results in an increase in the ultimate bioavailability of this carotenoid.

So, if you want to enjoy a good tomato sauce, it is best not to buy it already made, and to cook it yourself. Besides tasting better, it will be better for your health.

If you have any questions or comments on the content, please let me know!


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