8 Little-Known Secrets About Olive Garden's Alfredo Sauce

Fettuccine Alfredo in bowl
Fettuccine Alfredo in bowl - Olive Garden

If you've eaten at Olive Garden before, you've probably tried the restaurant chain's Alfredo sauce. This simple sauce is one of the most popular accompaniments to pasta on the menu, bringing customers back to it time and time again to enjoy its creamy flavors and smooth texture. But for such a basic sauce, Olive Garden's Alfredo has more than a few secrets to its name. Whether it's how it's made, how it can be used, or how you can hack it, this famous sauce is full of mystery.

Alfredo is, of course, not exclusive to Olive Garden, but it's worth remembering that the form the restaurant uses isn't a traditional Alfredo sauce. The sauce was originally created by Alfredo di Lelio, who sought to help his wife back to good health after the birth of their child with healthy, hearty food. Di Lelio's sauce (a basic combination of butter and parmesan) took off around the world, and Alfredo was born. When Olive Garden offers it, however, it includes a few additional ingredients that make it even more delicious and distinctive to the restaurant. We're going to reveal some of those ingredients, and more, right here. Grab your fork, and let's get started. ‌

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It Has Been Around For A While

Olive Garden sign
Olive Garden sign - Scott Olson/Getty Images

Like many restaurant chains, Olive Garden knows the value of keeping beloved items on the menu long-term. And, although Olive Garden's menu has evolved over the years, its Alfredo sauce has been a staple of the menu since 1982, when the store first opened its doors. The restaurant has also managed to avoid tweaking the recipe (keeping it unchanged for over 40 years) which is arguably what adds to its timelessness and consistent popularity.

Alfredo sauce is, of course, not the sole reason behind Olive Garden's popularity, but we wouldn't be surprised if its addictive flavor helped its rapid growth. The chain grew from a single store in 1982 to almost 150 by the end of the 1980s, and today it has well over 850 locations across the country. After all this time and expansion, Alfredo sauce has avoided being one of those discontinued Olive Garden menu items you probably forgot about. However, interestingly, it's an ingredient in a few of these forgotten items, including the chain's Spaghetti Pie and the Steak Gorgonzola Alfredo.

The Sauce Is Not Made To Order

fettuccine Alfredo in pan
fettuccine Alfredo in pan - Gmvozd/Getty Images

People appreciate Olive Garden's Alfredo sauce for its satisfying-yet-light taste. Curiously enough, though, its freshness doesn't come from it being made to order. Instead, the sauce is made daily and in large batches -- as revealed by former Olive Garden servers who gave a keen insight into the chain's kitchen processes (via Quora).

Olive Garden chefs will start each day by making the chain's various sauces. The sauces are made from a canned sauce base, which is then cooked with additional ingredients or seasonings that need to be added to boost its flavor. Once the Alfredo is ready, it's decanted into gallon bags and dropped into ice baths, taking its temperature right down so it can be placed in the fridge quickly. This temperature drop also stops it from developing potentially dangerous bacteria.

When service approaches, the chefs pull the bags of sauce out of the fridge one-by-one. They heat the bags up in boiling water, and then portion the sauce out to wherever it needs to go (usually, on top of pasta). This whole process is repeated each day to ensure that the sauce isn't old and that it doesn't lose its punchy flavor by hanging around for days in the fridge. Its pasta is also cooked using a similar method each day, with the noodles and sauce brought together just before a dish is plated up and served.

Unlike Authentic Italian Alfredo Sauce, It Contains Cream

cup of heavy cream
cup of heavy cream - Alex Bayev/Shutterstock

Olive Garden Alfredo sauce is well-known for its serious creaminess. That creaminess -- it will be no surprise to hear -- comes from the presence of cream. Both cream and milk are added to the sauce, helping to thicken it and give it a smoother consistency, as well as deep dairy notes. These dairy flavors are bolstered by the butter and parmesan cheese in the sauce (the two traditional ingredients for Alfredo).

Why is the fact that it's got cream notable? Because Alfredo sauce shouldn't really have it. Okay, that's not true, but using heavy cream in Alfredo sauce is definitely an American thing, added primarily for the aforementioned thickness. In Italy, where the sauce originates from, this thickness is achieved by combining the parmesan with your leftover pasta water. This creates an emulsion and a smooth, creamy sauce. Naturally, it's somewhat easier to just pour heavy cream in, and doing this also adds a boost of flavor that you may not get with pasta water, so we can see why this practice developed. It's probably no surprise, either, that other ways of making it have evolved. Some people even use mayonnaise to make Alfredo sauce.

One Of The Chain's Most Popular Dishes Contains It

plate of shrimp Alfredo
plate of shrimp Alfredo - Olive Garden

Olive Garden has a lot of fan favorites, and given how much people love its Alfredo sauce, it's hardly shocking that this ingredient shows up in some popular dishes. In fact, its flavors are part of Olive Garden diners' favorite dish out there, according to a survey conducted by Mashed. Almost 22% of people (out of 637 participants) stated that the chain's Tour of Italy -- a dish that combines servings of Lasagna, Chicken Parmigiana, and Fettuccine Alfredo on one plate -- is their favorite meal at the restaurant. We can see the appeal of the Tour of Italy, which allows you to try three of its dishes at once, with the Alfredo pasta being a big draw.

The Alfredo sauce shows up in customers' second favorite dish, too. Participants voted Chicken Alfredo their next favorite dish to order at Olive Garden, with nearly 21% of people stating that they prefer to order it over anything else. The Fettuccine Alfredo, meanwhile, garnered around 13% of the vote for the top dish. Elsewhere on the list, the Shrimp Scampi and Giant Cheese Stuffed Shells were ranked pretty highly. These folks just can't get enough pasta, huh?

The Sauce Is Heavy On The Garlic

handful of garlic bulbs
handful of garlic bulbs - Robert Daly/Getty Images

With so many different dairy flavors going on in Olive Garden's Alfredo sauce, it really needs something to cut through them. Luckily, it has it in the form of garlic. Yes, folks, you may not have realized that garlic is a key ingredient in the sauce, but its savory, tangy pop is the key to stopping Olive Garden Alfredo from becoming overly heavy and rich, and giving it an extra dimension of flavor.

What might surprise you, too, is how much garlic goes into its Alfredo sauce. Approximately a tablespoon goes into the sauce that ends up on your plate. Before mincing, this equates to roughly three to four cloves, depending on how big they are. Although that might seem like a lot, garlic develops a mellowness when it's cooked, and diffuses into the flavor profile of the sauce effortlessly. If you're going to make your own version of Olive Garden Alfredo at home, make sure that you mince it fresh and use it quickly to best capture its pungent flavor. The longer it sits after being sliced, the duller it gets.

You Can Get Alfredo Sauce As A To-Go Side

bowl of Alfredo sauce
bowl of Alfredo sauce - olivegarden/Instagram

If you can't get enough of the Alfredo sauce at Olive Garden, we've got some good news for you: You don't have to visit the restaurant every time you want it. One of Olive Garden's best-kept secrets is that you can order to-go pots of Alfredo sauce. These pots come in a pint size, and are pretty reasonably priced -- especially if you're spreading it out over a few meals. It's also super simple to combine it with some grilled chicken or shrimp to make a homemade Chicken Alfredo or Shrimp Alfredo.

Bear in mind, though, that you may not be able to get it wherever you go. Olive Garden only sells pots of its Alfredo sauce in certain stores, which you can find listed on its website. If Alfredo sauce isn't your thing, you can also get pots of its marinara or meat sauce, which you can add to pasta at your heart's content. You can also get smaller serving sizes of Alfredo sauce which are designed for dipping breadsticks into.

Adding Spinach Brightens Up Olive Garden Alfredo Dishes

green spinach leaves in bowl
green spinach leaves in bowl - Rouzes/Getty Images

Alfredo's creamy, velvety consistency may be incredibly addictive, but let's face it, it's not exactly healthy. This sauce is made from a combination of dairy products and fats, and as such, it can quickly become heavy and overly rich, and leave you feeling a little bogged down afterward. One of the best ways to avoid this is by hacking your Olive Garden order to get your Alfredo dishes to include spinach. You just need one code word to do so: Florentine.

Next time you're in Olive Garden, instead of ordering a regular Chicken Alfredo, ask for a Chicken Alfredo Florentine. "Florentine" refers to the Italian city of Florence, with the combination of spinach and cheese being a culinary tradition in the area. When you order Chicken Alfredo Florentine, the kitchen will add spinach to the chicken dish, giving it immediate vibrancy and a pleasing green appearance. It will also give your Alfredo dish a brighter, slightly more vegetal flavor, and boost the vitamin and mineral content of your meal somewhat.

Alfredo Sauce Can Be Added To Your Chicken Parmigiana

plate of chicken parmigiana
plate of chicken parmigiana - olivegarden/Instagram

If you're not sure what to order at Olive Garden, Chicken Parmigiana is a winner. Consisting of two parmesan-crusted chicken breasts covered in marinara sauce and cheese, it's the perfect choice if you want something substantial and meaty. Thankfully, too, if you're missing the taste of Alfredo by ordering it, you can have your cake and eat it. Hack your Chicken Parmigiana order by including Alfredo, and you can have the best of both worlds.

To do this, just order a Fettuccine Alfredo and ask for Chicken Parmigiana on top. The beauty of this is that the Chicken Parmigiana already comes with pasta, so you'll just be swapping one for another. This shouldn't result in a higher price, either, given that you're just substituting the pastas for each other. While this combination might sound overwhelming, the creamy Alfredo is a great accompaniment with the tangy tomato sauce on the chicken breast, and its smoothness pairs well with the parmesan crust. Try it, and thank us later.

Static Media owns and operates Mashed.

Read the original article on The Daily Meal