* If you click a link on this page and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Learn more.

How To Thicken Enchilada Sauce – I Test 10 Methods [Pics]

If you’ve got a watery bowl of enchilada sauce staring at you right now, fear not, It’s quick and easy to get it to just the right consistency.

In this article, I share 10 different methods to thicken up your enchilada sauce, no matter what ingredients you have in your kitchen cupboard.

In a rush? Here’s the short answer.

The best way to thicken enchilada sauce is using a cornstarch slurry. Other methods for thickening enchilada sauce include using a flour slurry, reducing the sauce, using xanthan gum, using a puree, adding rice or grated potatoes, and by mixing in instant potato flakes.

The experiment

10 different thickening agents

I prepared a big batch of enchilada sauce and purposely left it too thin for my liking.

Then I portioned it out and thickened each sample with something different.

I took notes on how effective the thickener was, and how it affected the taste and texture of my enchilada sauce (a thick, lumpy sauce isn’t much better than a thin one!).

Ways to thicken enchilada sauce

  • Using cornstarch or other starches – mix with water and use 1 tablespoon per cup of liquid
  • Using flour – mix with water or butter and use 2 tablespoons per cup of liquid
  • Reducing the sauce – simmer the sauce with the lid off
  • Using xanthan gum – use 1/8th of a teaspoon per cup of sauce
  • Use a puree – puree some vegetables or beans and add these to the sauce
  • Use rice or potatoes – grate some raw potato into the sauce
  • Using dairy – use a few tablespoons of dairy to add body
  • Using tomato paste – add a tablespoon of tomato paste
  • Using instant potato flakes – use 1-2 tablespoons per cup of sauce

Results summary

ThickenerEffectivenessTaste and texture notes
Cornstarchgreatno change in taste or texture
Flourgreatno change in taste or texture
Reductiongreatreduced the volume too much
Xanthan gumgreatno change in taste or texture
A puree (kidney beans)goodadded a deeper flavor
Rice or potato (grated potato)goodslightly dulled the flavors
Dairy (sour cream)not greatresulted in a milder sauce
Tomato pastenot greatmore tomatoey
Instant potato flakesgoodslightly dulled the flavors
Breadcrumbsgoodthe sauce was lumpy

See below for detailed notes on each thickening option.

11 different bowls of thickened enchilada sauce

Adding cornstarch (or an alternative starch)

Starches, especially cornstarch, are popular thickeners.

Cornstarch is more effective than flour. It’s also cheap, mostly tasteless, easy to use, gluten-free, and doesn’t turn the sauce cloudy.

But cornstarch isn’t the only starch on the block.

Arrowroot powder, tapioca starch, and potato starch are all great alternatives that will work for enchilada sauce. 

In fact, cornstarch isn’t the best choice if your enchilada sauce is particularly acidic (i.e lots of tomatoes and vinegar or lemon juice).

Acids can reduce the effectiveness of cornstarch, although it worked fine for my sauce!

You should also avoid using cornstarch if you want to freeze the sauce because it can develop a spongy texture.

Arrowroot powder isn’t affected by acid and freezes well.

Method

  1. Use one tablespoon of cornstarch per cup of sauce. 
  2. Make a slurry from one tablespoon of cornstarch and one tablespoon of cold water. Mix well and add the slurry into the enchilada sauce. 
  3. Heat the enchilada sauce on medium heat until it starts to thicken.
  4. Stir the sauce for 2 minutes to give the cornstarch time to take effect. 
  5. Add more cornstarch slurry if the enchilada sauce still isn’t thick enough.

Cornstarch activates just below boiling temperatures, so you need to heat the enchilada sauce for it to work.

Don’t continue to heat the enchilada sauce for too long after adding the cornstarch. 

Prolonged heating or stirring can cause cornstarch to break down, and the sauce will thin again.

If you want to use another starch, follow the instructions above. I sub all of them in a 1:1 ratio.

Verdict

Thickening power: great, very effective and worked quickly once the sauce was hot.

Taste and texture: the sauce was glossy, shiny, and smooth. I didn’t notice any flavor changes.

Ease of use: easy, best if the sauce is already hot.

Using flour 

Everyone has some flour in their cupboard, making this a popular option. All-purpose flour works best.

There are three different ways you can use flour to thicken enchilada sauce.

  1. A flour and water slurry (mix equal parts flour and water and add it to your sauce)
  2. A roux (works best if you use it at the beginning of the sauce making process)
  3. A beurre manie (mix flour with butter and add it to your sauce)

The main issue with using flour is that you need to cook off the raw flour flavor, otherwise it imparts quite an unpleasant taste.

Flour can also mute the flavors of your sauce and dull its color (turning it opaque).

Method

I’ve gone through each option, so you can pick whichever one suits you best.

To use a flour/water slurry 

Mix 2 tablespoons of flour with a ¼ cup of water to thicken one cup of sauce. 

Ensure there are no lumps in the slurry before adding it to the sauce.

Heat the enchilada sauce, stirring constantly, until it thickens. Then simmer until you can no longer taste the flour (5-10 minutes). 

To use a beurre manié 

Mix an equal volume of flour and softened butter (2 tablespoons of each per cup of sauce) until well combined.

Add the mixture to your enchilada sauce and stir until melted. Heat the sauce to a simmer, then continue to heat until thickened and you can no longer taste any flour. 

The butter can add a rich taste to the sauce,and give it a thicker mouthfeel.

To use a roux 

  1. Melt 1 part butter or fat in a skillet or saucepan over medium-low heat.
  2. Add in 1 part flour. Use 2 tablespoons of each to thicken one cup of sauce.
  3. Stir the mixture constantly while heating for 3-5 minutes.
  4. Add your enchilada sauce to the roux and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer the mixture until it’s thick.

The roux is the most complicated option and imparts a slightly toasted/nutty taste to the sauce, which some people enjoy. 

Verdict

Thickening power: good (but not excellent).

Taste and texture: the sauce was visibly cloudy. No taste, but you need to ensure you simmer the sauce for long enough.

Ease of use: easy but not the easiest.

Use a puree

You can puree all sorts of things to thicken a sauce.

Popular options are vegetables, beans, nuts, or lentils.

For enchilada sauce, something like beans or vegetables makes the most sense.

You may even have some beans or veggies leftover from making the enchiladas filling. Just avoid super watery vegetables like zucchini – these won’t make a thick enough puree.

Once you have your puree, stir it into the sauce, where it will add body and substance.

An added bonus of this method? You end up with more sauce!

Method

Take your cooked beans or vegetables (I used kidney beans) and put them in a blender along with just enough water to create a smooth (thick) paste.

Add the paste a spoonful at a time to your enchilada sauce. Wait 5 minutes for the puree to take full effect before adding more.

If you don’t have a blender, you can mash the ingredients, but you might end up with a few lumps.

Verdict

Thickening power: kidney beans worked well but results will vary depending on what you puree.

Taste and texture: will differ based on what you puree. Kidney beans added a nice earthiness to the sauce and a slightly less smooth mouthfeel.

Ease of use: best if you have a blender, otherwise a lot of effort.

Use rice or potatoes

You could use cooked rice or potatoes and puree them as above.

But you can also add them raw to the sauce.

Grate raw potato in, or grind dry rice in a food processor (to make rice flour) and add that to the sauce.

The carbohydrates will cook very quickly and release their starch, naturally thickening the sauce.

The only thing to be mindful of here is making the enchilada sauce too bland – it may need some extra spice or seasoning.

Method

Grate some raw potatoes directly into simmering enchilada sauce, or grind some rice up in a food processor or coffee grinder and add the powder a tablespoon at a time.

Stir the mixture and wait 5-10 minutes for the potato or rice to cook and thicken the sauce.

Add more as needed, and taste the sauce before serving to see if it needs more seasoning.

Verdict

Thickening power: medium.

Taste and texture: not much difference with a small amount, but the mouthfeel wasn’t as smooth.

Ease of use: pretty easy.

Reducing the enchilada sauce

This method is the most time-consuming, but you don’t need to add anything extra to your sauce.

All you need to do is leave it cooking for a bit longer.

Evaporating the extra liquid will concentrate the flavors in the sauce, so make sure to taste the sauce as it reduces.

If one flavor becomes overwhelming, try to counteract it with something else.

One downside to this method is that if your enchilada sauce lacks body (i.e it’s mostly stock), it can reduce to almost nothing before it thickens significantly.

Method

Bring the enchilada sauce to a gentle simmer and leave it to heat with the lid off, stirring occasionally. 

Check on the sauce every 15 minutes to see if it has thickened enough.

Don’t boil the sauce because this can end in a scorched bottom and burnt ingredients.

Tip: use a wide pan with a larger surface area to speed up the process.

Verdict

Thickening power: not that effective for enchilada sauce and slow, lost too much volume for my liking.

Taste and texture: concentrated the flavors of the sauce.

Ease of use: super easy.

Use dairy

Dairy will definitely change the taste and appearance of your sauce, so it won’t be an option for some people.

But I’m a fan of mild and creamy sauces (I can’t handle my spice), so I was excited to give this one a go.

There are lots of options you can pick from here.

Cream cheese, grated cheese, sour cream, yogurt, cream, creme fraiche, and even butter are all options.

For a vegan option, you could try coconut cream.

Dairy isn’t going to thicken the sauce drastically, but it will help add some body and richness.

Method

Pick your dairy of choice (I used sour cream) and stir in a small tablespoon to your sauce.

Stir the sauce until the dairy is thoroughly mixed in, and add more if needed (but don’t go overboard or you’ll lose the tomato flavor).

If the sauce tastes a bit bland, add in some extra chili, tomato paste, or even just some salt and pepper to liven it up again.

Verdict

Thickening power: not great.

Taste and texture: a creamier sauce with a lighter color.

Ease of use: very easy.

Use tomato paste

This option is similar to the dairy option in that it’s not going to take a watery sauce to a caramel texture.

But it will provide some much-needed oomph and help the sauce bind, so it’s more sticky and less runny.

Since enchilada sauce is tomato-based, the flavor won’t change much. It will just become slightly stronger.

Method

Squeeze a small amount of tomato paste into hot enchilada sauce and stir until thoroughly combined.

Taste the sauce before adding any more to check it’s not becoming too bitter (a risk when adding extra tomato paste).

Verdict

Thickening power: low.

Taste and texture: didn’t affect the taste too much – resulted in a deeper tomato flavor.

Ease of use: very easy.

Use instant potato flakes

Otherwise known as instant mash.

Dehydrated potato flakes are normally mixed with water to make mash, but the flakes will soak up any liquid you put them in.

Sprinkle a few into the enchilada sauce and they’ll soak up some of the extra liquid, thickening the sauce in the process.

Potato flakes have good thickening power, but you need to be careful not to add too many, or you’ll end up with a grainy mouthfeel and a bland sauce.

Method

Add a tablespoon of instant mashed potato flakes into your sauce and stir to distribute the flakes evenly.

Keep stirring as the sauce thickens. 

The potato flakes won’t work instantly, so wait at least 5 minutes before deciding if you need to add more.

Verdict

Thickening power: good (but not as effective as something like cornstarch).

Taste and texture: fine until you add too much, then taste dull and feels like soupy mashed potato.

Ease of use: easy.

Use xanthan gum

Xanthan gum is a super effective thickener, and it’s totally flavorless so it won’t alter the taste of your sauce.

It’s also gluten-free and keto-friendly.

But you have to be very careful using it because you could potentially ruin your enchilada sauce.

Add too much, and you’ll end up with a gloopy sauce with a slimy mouthfeel. 

Alternatives to xanthan gum:

Guar gum is very similar to xanthan gum and can be subbed in a 1:1 ratio. It’s good for those with a corn allergy because xanthan gum is a derivative of corn. 

Another alternative is agar agar. You can also sub this in a 1:1 ratio, but you need to dissolve it in water before adding it to the enchilada sauce.

Method

A little goes a really long way with xanthan gum.

  1. Transfer your sauce into a deep pot or a blender. You need to be able to create a ‘whirlpool’ in the sauce, so a wide skillet won’t work.
  2. Measure out ⅛ of a teaspoon of xanthan gum.
  3. Start blending the sauce or whisk it in the pot, creating a ‘whirlpool motion’.
  4. Sprinkle the xanthan gum into the whirlpool and continue to whisk or blend for 30 seconds.
  5. Check the consistency of the sauce and add more xanthan gum if needed.

Xanthan gum will gel instantly once it contacts liquid. If you sprinkle it into a stationary sauce, you’ll end up with tiny lumps of gelled powder.

Another option is to mix the xanthan gum with some oil before adding it to the liquid.

The oil coats the particles, and means they won’t gel as quickly.

Verdict

Thickening power: very high.

Taste and texture: no change in taste and a smooth texture – as long as you don’t overdo it.

Ease of use: hard to use (especially if you’ve never worked with a gum before).

Breadcrumbs

I saw breadcrumbs suggested online, so I tried it. 

But honestly, it was a disaster.

The sauce was thicker, but it was lumpy and very obvious that it had tiny bits of soggy bread in it. 

I wouldn’t recommend using breadcrumbs to thicken enchilada sauce.

Other thickening methods

The above isn’t an exhaustive list of thickeners, but the ones I thought were most suited to enchilada sauce.

Two other thickeners worth mentioning are ground flax seeds of chia seeds. 

These are nutritional powerhouses, so good for things like smoothies.

However, they can give thinner sauces a grittier mouthfeel and significantly alter the flavor, so I don’t recommend them for enchilada sauce. 

You can also use eggs to thicken some sauces, but I don’t think enchilada sauce goes well with the eggy taste it can impart!

My enchilada sauce is too thick

To thin out an enchilada sauce that’s too thick, simply mix in a few tablespoons of extra liquid. 

Chicken or vegetable stock is best (low sodium) because it won’t dilute the sauce’s flavor, but water will do if it’s all you have.

How to thicken enchilada sauce without flour

Cornstarch (or another starch like arrowroot) is an easy swap. Simply mix the cornstarch with water and add it to a simmering sauce. If you want to avoid cornstarch too, try cooking the sauce a bit longer to reduce it. Or adding in some pureed vegetables or potatoes to add some body.

How to thicken enchilada sauce without cornstarch

If you don’t have cornstarch, the most common swap is flour. Mix the flour with some water so it doesn’t lump. Then simmer the sauce for 5 minutes while it thickens, and to cook the flour taste off. If you don’t have flour, you can use instant mash, pureed vegetables, or even xanthan gum.

10 enchilada sauce thickening methods side by side

How To Thicken Enchilada Sauce

In this short recipe, I show you the best way to thicken your enchilada sauce.
5 from 1 vote
Print Pin Rate
Course: Sauce
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: enchilada sauce, thicken enchilada sauce
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 0 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes
Servings: 1 person
Calories: 40kcal

Ingredients

  • 1 portion enchilada sauce
  • 1 portion cornstarch

Instructions

  • Use one tablespoon of cornstarch per cup of sauce. 
  • Make a slurry from one tablespoon of cornstarch and one tablespoon of cold water. Mix well and add the slurry into the enchilada sauce. 
  • Heat the enchilada sauce on medium heat until it starts to thicken. Stir the sauce for 2 minutes to give the cornstarch time to take effect. 
  • Add more cornstarch slurry if the enchilada sauce still isn’t thick enough.

Notes

Cornstarch activates just below boiling temperatures, so you need to heat the enchilada sauce for it to work.
Don’t continue to heat the enchilada sauce for too long after adding the cornstarch. 
Prolonged heating or stirring can cause cornstarch to break down, and the sauce will thin again.
If you want to use another starch, follow the instructions above. I sub all of them in a 1:1 ratio.

Nutrition

Serving: 100g | Calories: 40kcal

Leave a Comment

Recipe Rating