Make cranberry sauce less bitter. If you love homemade cranberry sauce but want to make sure it’s not overly bitter—here are 5 simple tips to help.

Closeup of Cranberry Sauce in Bowl

Cranberry sauce is a holiday classic, but with some homemade recipes the tartness can be a bit overwhelming. Not to worry, we have some simple tricks to mellow out the bitterness and turn your cranberries into a sweet sauce with just the right amount of tartness.

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How to Make Cranberry Sauce Less Bitter

Here are our easy tips for a sweet cranberry sauce with less tartness. We think #5 is essential.

Tip 1 | Sweeten with Sugar

The most direct way to counteract the bitterness is to add sugar. Start by adding around 1 cup of brown and granulated sugar for every 12 ounces of cranberries. Adjust the sweetness to your preference, but be careful not to go overboard. You’re aiming for a harmonious balance, not a sugar bomb.

See recommendations for other sweeteners besides sugar here.

tip 2 | Balance with citrus juice

To enhance the flavor, try including some citrus juice. The zesty notes from orange, lemon, or even lime complement the tartness of cranberries beautifully. You can add juice and zest while cooking. We prefer to use freshly squeezed orange juice.

tip 3 | enhance with a pinch of salt

Salt can balance the taste of the cranberries and improve the overall flavor of the sauce. Start with a small pinch and gradually add more to taste, but be cautious not to overdo it. The salt should be subtle without making the sauce salty. The key is finding that perfect balance, and a touch of salt can be a secret ingredient to achieve it.

tip 4 | Don’t Overcook the sauce

The bitterness in cranberries can intensify if you overcook them. Simmer your cranberry sauce gently, and as soon as most of the cranberries have burst (usually about 8 to 10 minutes on medium-high heat), take it off the stove. The sauce will thicken more as it cools.

Cranberry Sauce on Wooden Spoon with Saucepan in Background

Note: overcooking the sauce can make it too thick and sometimes grainy.

tip 5 | Chill the sauce overnight

Once your cranberry sauce is ready, resist the temptation to serve it immediately. Instead, let it chill in the fridge overnight. This gives the sugar time to work its magic and evenly balance out the tartness of the cranberries.

Try our Homemade Cranberry Sauce – full recipe here.

We’ve tested many variations of cranberry sauce, and each time we test it before it’s chilled—it has quite the bitter aftertaste. But chilled overnight, the sugar in the sauce has a chance to decrease the cranberry tartness.

Make ahead for the holidays: you’ll want to plan ahead for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. Make the cranberry sauce the day before, which will give it time to chill and give you time to focus on the turkey and other dishes the day of.

Cranberry Sauce in Bowl with Spoon Surrounding by Fresh Cranberries

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are answers to commonly asked questions about bitter cranberry sauce.

why are cranberries bitter?

Cranberries are naturally bitter due to their high levels of tannins, which are compounds found in various fruits, particularly in their skin and seeds. While this bitterness can appeal to some, many people prefer their cranberry sauce to have a sweeter and more balanced flavor, which is why techniques like adding sugar, citrus, and proper cooking methods are used to reduce the inherent bitterness of cranberries.

Can I use something other than sugar to sweeten cranberry sauce?

Absolutely! If you want to explore alternatives to sugar, you can use honey, maple syrup, or even agave nectar to sweeten your cranberry sauce. These options can add unique flavors while reducing bitterness.

Is there a specific citrus fruit I should use for Juice or zest in cranberry sauce?

You have some flexibility here. Citrus juice and zest from oranges, lemons, or limes all work well to enhance the flavor of cranberry sauce. You can choose the one you prefer or experiment with different citrus fruits to create different flavors. We prefer freshly squeezed orange juice.

Why is it important to chill cranberry sauce in the fridge overnight?

Chilling cranberry sauce in the fridge overnight allows the sugar to interact with the cranberries, evenly balancing the tartness. This time gives the flavors a chance to meld and develop, resulting in a smoother, less bitter cranberry sauce that’s perfect for your holiday meal.

Closeup of Homemade Cranberry Sauce

Final Thoughts

With these easy tricks, your cranberry sauce will go from bitter to better, ensuring a crowd-pleasing addition to your holiday meal. Enjoy your cranberry sauce, and may your holidays be deliciously delightful!

More Cranberry Recipes

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