I grew up eating a whole lotta pasta with jarred marinara sauce, and I can't lie...there's still something so nostalgic about that very specific taste of the jarred stuff in particular. I love a homemade pot of sauce as much as everyone does, but for the convenience factor alone, sometimes store-bought can't be beaten.
When it comes to jarred marinara sauce, I've always wondered: The pricier, artisanal varieties definitely taste great, but side-by-side with their budget-friendly counterparts, I can't imagine they're that much better...right? I mean, it's tomatoes.
So to find out once and for all, I decided to conduct a blind taste test of the most popular marinara brands out there — from the Ragú that I grew up with to the proclaimed "holy grails" of jarred sauce. And I gotta say...the results surprised me.
For the purposes of this experiment, I separated the sauces into three main categories: the "fancy" stuff, the common standards, and the house-brand versions you'll find at stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. All in all, I landed on eight total sauces:
Here's how this went: To find out whether or not the fancier stuff really is better,I knew I had to make this a blind taste test. Luckily, my very willing (and hungry) partner was more than happy to mix up some saucy pastas for me.
I quickly made my way through the eight different sauces, and it didn't take long to realize that, yep, NOT ALL JARRED MARINARAS ARE CREATED EQUALLY. Some tasted like actual tomatoes, others left weird aftertastes, and some tasted like they contained an entire jar of Italian seasoning, which might just be the biggest offense of all.
After jotting down every single one of my thoughts, I tried to guess which sauce was which. Ultimately, I got 2/8 correct, which wasn't bad. I tried.
Before my boyfriend finally revealed the order in which I tasted the sauces, I sorted them to finalize my thoughts.
The following is my definitive ranking — from the absolute worst to the inarguable best.
8. Ragú Traditional — It tasted like SpaghettiOs, but distinctly bitter.
🍝 Overall score for Ragú — 3.5/10
Given the SpaghettiOs-like flavor and the bitter aftertaste, I was deeply disappointed by my childhood fave and I can't exactly recommend buying this one, either.
7. Prego Traditional — Basically just syrupy garlic.
🍝 Overall score for Prego — 4/10
Vampires, beware. This sauce is unnecessarily garlicky, IMO, and I also didn't love how sweet it was. All in all: pass.
6. Trader Joe's Tomato Basil Marinara — If you've ever had the Italian Herb and Cheese bread at Subway, that's what this sauce tastes like...and I don't mean that in a good way.
🍝 Overall score for Trader Joe's — 4.5/10
While I appreciate the fact that they went for flavor here, I think it was ultimately overkill. Their fine-tasting tomato sauce was completely overshadowed by the distinct, polarizing Italian seasoning taste.
5. Tuttorosso Marinara — For the price, it's honestly a pretty solid option.
🍝 Overall score for Tuttorosso — 6/10
If you need a cheap, budget-friendly tomato sauce that's by no means offensive — even if it's not exactly jam-packed with flavor — Tuttorosso is a solid option.
4. Classico Marinara — While it's certainly not the most budget-friendly option, it does pack in some bold, impressive flavor.
🍝 Overall score for Classico — 7/10
For a middle-of-the-road pasta sauce (in terms of taste and price point) that you can find at just about any grocery store, Classico's cabernet marinara definitely impressed.
3. Whole Foods 365 Organic Marinara — As far as your wallet is concerned, this is THE sauce for you.
🍝 Overall score for Whole Foods — 7.5/10
If you live near a Whole Foods, run to stock up on this budget-friendly, delicious-tasting marinara sauce. It's cheap, undeniably tasty, and just so happens to be organic, too.
2. Cucina Antica Marinara — It's a near-perfect, blank-slate sauce at a higher price point.
🍝 Overall score for Cucina Antica — 8.5/10
While I didn't love the flavor as much as my #1 pick, I did appreciate that it was incredibly tomato-forward without any excessive herby notes to cover up all that freshness. You'll pay a little more for this one, but if you need a sauce that's truly fresh-tasting, Cucina Antica is a great pick.
1. Rao's Homemade Marinara — I don't know how else to say this...this stuff is 🔥.
🍝 Overall score for Rao's — 10/10
Rarely do I taste "premium" products that are worth every penny. Rao's is the exception. If you can find it on sale at your local grocery store or at a wholesale club, like Costco, stock up.