Jarred Pasta Sauce
How we tested
If you're going to buy pasta sauce (and Americans spend $1.7 billion a year on jarred sauces), you should know which one tastes best. To find out, we assembled a lineup of nine national brands of marinara (or basic tomato and basil) sauce and called our tasters to the table.
All of the sauces list reconstituted tomato puree (water and tomato paste) and tomatoes as their first two ingredients; we were surprised that the two sauces that list fresher diced tomatoes first finished in the middle of the pack. If fresh tomato flavor wasn't our tasters' top consideration, was it texture? The sauces ranged from perfectly smooth to quite chunky. To measure the relative chunkiness of each sauce, we portioned an equal weight of each into a fine-mesh strainer, rinsed it under running water for 20 seconds, and then weighed the remains. Our tasters' favorite sauce was the chunkiest, with 44 percent of its initial weight remaining after rinsing. But several other chunky sauces didn’t score very high overall. So what drove our rankings?
Just as important as what our tasters did like—good tomato flavor and a chunky texture—was what they didn't like: overpowering dried herb flavor. Even a sauce with a chunky texture and fresh tomato flavor can be ruined by overseasoning with acrid, stale-tasting dried herbs (basil and oregano are the main offenders). While our lowest-rated sauce was actually bland and lacked seasoning, the rest of our lower-scoring sauces were downgraded for their harsh dried herb flavor; our top three sauces were more subtly seasoned, and compare favorably with homemade.