What Does Vodka Sauce Taste Like?

Vodka sauce is a delicious Italian dish that is made with tomato sauce, vodka, and cream. Heavy cream mixed with the tomato sauce gives it its distinctive orange color. It’s most often served with penne pasta and you’ll often hear it ordered as penne alla vodka.

First off, vodka sauce does not taste like vodka. During the cooking process, the vodka evaporates leaving no alcohol or flavor behind. Vodka sauce ultimately has a creamy rich flavor that’s slightly sweet and smooth on the tongue. 

While vodka sauce appears like an exotic dish, it’s actually simple to make and only requires a handful of ingredients. Let’s talk about them each and see how they contribute to the taste of vodka sauce.

Ingredients in Vodka Sauce

Vodka sauce only has five main ingredients, butter, onion, vodka, crushed tomatoes, and heavy cream. Each of these ingredients contributes to the taste of vodka sauce.


The first ingredient in vodka sauce is butter. Butter is fat with a creamy texture when melted. 

While not often eaten on its own, butter does have a distinct flavor. However, in vodka sauce, it is being used to bring out the sweetness in the onions. 


After the butter is melted, the onions go in next. Onions are not usually thought of as particularly sweet, but when cooked in butter, their sweetness is enhanced. This is important as a slightly sweet flavor is characteristic of vodka sauce.

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You can’t have a vodka sauce without the vodka. It’s the star of the show!

A nice alcoholic bite will help cut down on some of the sweetness of this recipe. It’s the pairing between sweet and heat that works so well together here. However, vodka’s main job in this dish is functional.

Using vodka actually helps keep the cream and tomatoes together and creamy. 

Crushed Tomatoes

Vodka sauce, like many Italian sauces, is a tomato-based sauce. It’s the tomatoes that bring the sweetness to the dish.

Crushed tomatoes have a natural sweetness to them that comes out in the dish. In addition to a sweet taste, crushed tomatoes often have Italian herbs and spices which help balance the sweetness. 

Heavy Cream

If vodka is the star of this show then heavy cream is the co-star. 

Since heavy cream is used to make whipped cream, we often think of it as sweet. However, heavy cream contains almost the same amount of sugar as regular milk. 

What makes heavy cream distinct is its high fat content. This makes it thicker and richer, but not sweeter. 

Other Flavors

Once your vodka sauce is cooked, you should taste a lovely balance of sweetness and creaminess. 

This is a basic, easy vodka sauce recipe. If you’re feeling adventurous you can try out some other flavors in your dish. But if you want to know what vodka sauce tastes like, you might want to stick to the basics the first time.

Minor additions such as spices and cheese won’t affect the dish too much. If you like your food a little spicier add some red pepper flakes. If you want a little more creaminess try grating some cheese on top.

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In Combination

All the ingredients that make up this dish have distinct flavors, But it’s the combination of all of them that really creates the taste of vodka sauce.

It’s a nice slightly sweet, creamy, rich sauce that is sure to please. Try it with some garlic bread!