Taste Test: Jarred Spaghetti Sauce

by in Taste Test, October 19, 2009

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With the hustle and bustle of work, kids and everyday life, sometimes there’s no time to whip up a batch of homemade tomato sauce. We checked out some of the popular supermarket brands and asked our Facebook fans for their faves. Here is how the top five measured up.

For this taste test, we stuck with straight-up marinara sauces without any fancy add-ins. We sampled the sauces on their own and with a plain cracker. To determine our 1 to 5 rating (5 being the highest), we paid close attention to flavor, texture, and nutrition content. With jarred sauces, our biggest concerns are calories, sugar and sodium. We also looked at the average cost — these babies don’t come cheap!

And for you purists, we know nothing tops homemade. These ratings aren’t jarred sauces versus from-scratch sauces. We pitted jarred versus jarred.

Prego Marinara
Rating: 4
Price: $3.39 per 23-ounce jar ($0.14 per ounce)
Nutrition Info (per 1/2 cup): 80 calories, 480 milligrams sodium, 7 grams sugar
Our Take: Prego’s sauce has an overwhelming tomato flavor with a touch of sweetness. You can taste the tiny pieces of tomato in every bite. Though the label claims its “100% natural,” Prego uses citric acid to preserve its sauce (the term “natural” is loosely regulated by the FDA).

Rao’s Homemade Marinara Sauce
Rating: 5
Price: $8.99 per 32-ounce jar ($0.28 per ounce)
Nutrition Info (per 1/2 cup): 70 calories, 350 milligrams sodium, 4 grams sugar
Our Take: Our Facebook fans gushed about the delicious flavor of Rao’s. Once I tasted it, I understood why. Full of chunky pieces of tomatoes and flavorful basil, it was my favorite of the bunch. Even better: There are only eight simple, fresh ingredients listed on the jar. The only downfall: It was by far the priciest of them all (but worth it!).

Newman’s Own Marinara
Rating: 3.5
Price: $3.59 per 24-ounce jar ($0.14 per ounce)
Nutrition Info (per 1/2 cup): 70 calories, 510 milligrams sodium, 11 grams sugar
Our Take: Newman’s Own had a nice blend of tomatoes, basil and onions with a touch of sweetness. This one was the highest in sodium (22% of your daily recommended amount) and had the most sugar per serving — probably because the sugar is added and is listed as the third ingredient. The plus side: it also had the most vitamin A (30%) thanks to all the tomatoes and tomato products used.

Barilla Marinara
Rating: 4
Price: $3.39 per 24-ounce jar ($0.14 per ounce)
Nutrition Info (per 1/2 cup): 70 calories, 460 milligrams sodium, 6 grams sugar
Our Take: You can taste the basil, tomatoes, onions and pepper in every spoonful of Barilla’s sauce. A slightly sweet aftertaste lingered on my tongue — perhaps due to the small amount of sugar added. “Natural flavors” are listed in the ingredients, but who knows what that really means?

Trader Giotto’s Organic Tomato Basic Marinara (Trader Joe’s Brand)
Rating: 5
Price: $2.29 per 25-ounce jar ($0.09 per ounce)
Nutrition Info (per 1/2 cup): 60 calories, 440 milligrams sodium, 3 grams sugar
Our Take: Take a peek in the jar and you can see the chunks of tomatoes and pieces of basil. The sauce has a pleasant tomato flavor that’s not overwhelming or too acidic. This was the only organic brand of the bunch (and the cheapest per ounce!) with no additives or sugar added. It also contains 25% of your daily vitamin C, which tied with Rao’s for the highest in the group.

TELL US: What’s your favorite go-to jarred sauce?

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Comments (140)

  1. Website says:

    Spot on with this write-up, I truly think this website needs much more consideration. I’ll probably be again to read much more, thanks for that info.

  2. Anthony says:

    Did you know that Jon Bon Jovi's Dad has a line of pasta sauces? It's called Bongiovi Brand and let me tell you it is amazing. I love the slogan, This ain't your Mom's sauce…It's my Dad's. They are hard to find in stores, I think they're only on the east coast but worth it if you can find it. Otherwise their website is http://www.BongioviBrand.com/video/ you can always order it there.

  3. Anthony says:

    I would only eat a jarred sauce out of desperation. I make my own and no jarred sauce can hold a candle to that. Well, at least that's what I used to say. Bongiovi Brand is the closest thing I have ever tasted to homemade. The tomatoes taste like they came out of my garden, super fresh, beefy, a real hearty flavor. Then I found out Jon Bon Jovi's dad makes it. The name is spelled differently but apparently Jon changed it so people would pronounce it correctly. Who'd a thought. Amazing family!

  4. lpatterson says:

    I agree. I love the Bertolli;in all there sauces!!

  5. Lisa says:

    Right On! I always add my own spices and veggies to make a great semi-homemade sauce.

  6. Monika says:

    Tom, I do the same thing. My friends all think it is home made. I have been showing my son Thomas some of these tips. They are time saving and delicious, and I always add the wine.
    God Bless, Monika

  7. Marcia says:

    Tom…..that is exactly how I jazz up a jar of sauce…! And, I do believe you can take any jar of pasta sauce and make it into something unique and wonderful…!

  8. Bajangirl says:

    I'm with you Diane. Ragu chunky is my favorite.

  9. Susan says:

    I agree. My favorite is Ragu Light Tomato Basil

  10. DJM says:

    Me, too! Lots of flavor, sweet enough, and not a lot of fat.

  11. MAC says:

    Yep…Ragu is my go to sauce expecially when making lasagna. No other sauce tastes right. I believe they say it is preservative free as well. Never looked for Citric Acid though…hmmm?

  12. DM says:

    I KNOW THIS IS ABOUT JAR SAUCE…….BUT FRESH IS SOOOOOO SIMPLE AND FAST. THANKS. BY THE WAY I'M ITALIAN.

  13. Ellen says:

    I agree. I admit I don't make my own…but Prego is the ONLY brand my kids and husband will eat!

  14. Joe says:

    My son purchased several jars of Simply Enjoy Marinara Pasta Sauce at a Giant (which we do not have in my area) and it was one of the best jar sauces I have ever tasted. I am asking him to purchase a case the next time he visits us. I'll gladly pay. Thanks for agreeing with me.

  15. SHIRLEY says:

    i LIKE PAUL'S SOCKITOME SP?

  16. Sheila says:

    Victoria's is absolutely the best in my opinion. It really tastes like homemade.

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