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    I Blind Taste-Tested The Top 8 Grocery Store Marinara Sauces, And Now I Finally Know The Winner (And The Brands I'll Never Buy Again)

    Some of these tasted WAY different than I remembered.

    I grew up eating a whole lotta pasta with jarred sauce. Like, straight-up penne doused in jarred Ragú (IYKYK), and I can't lie...there's still something so nostalgic about that very, very specific taste that can only be created with the jarred stuff. Am I right?

    Author holding a bowl of pasta with marinara sauce with drawn-on heart eyes
    Ross Yoder

    The 90s were a ~simpler~ time for jarred marinara sauce — now, grocery store shelves are lined with just about every kind of jarred sauce under the sun: You've got your Ragús and Pregos, of course, but you also have access to a wide array of "artisanal, homemade" varieties.

    When it comes to The Marinara Wars, I've always had a loose hypothesis: Yeah, the pricier, "homemade" versions 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. 👀

    Ragu and Cucina Antica marinara sauces set on a window sill for comparison, the former with one dollar sign, the latter with three (to indicate price)
    Ross Yoder

    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.

    Bowl of steaming pasta with marinara sauce
    Ross Yoder

    THE SAUCES

    Eight jarred pasta sauces, laid out on a cutting board
    Ross Yoder

    For the purposes of this experient, I wanted to make sure the following categories were represented: the "fancy" stuff, the jars you can get just about anywhere, and the house-brand versions churned out by stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. All in all, I landed on eight total varieties to try out:

    Fancy Stuff:

    • Cucina Antica Marinara

    • Rao's Homemade Marinara

    Common Standards:

    • Prego Traditional

    • Ragú Traditional

    • Classico Marinara

    • Tuttorosso Marinara

    House Brands:

    • Trader Joe's Tomato Basil Marinara

    • Whole Foods 365 Organic Marinara

    THE EXPERIMENT

    Package of fusilli pasta next to a pot of water on the stove
    Ross Yoder

    Here's how this went: In an effort to confirm my sneaking suspicion that we're all just deciding the most expensive jarred sauce is indeed the best — marketing is powerful stuff, people — I knew I had to make this a blind taste test. Luckily, my very willing (and hungry) boyfriend was more than happy to mix up some saucy pastas for me.

    Some other notes:

    • I tasted the sauce over cooked fusilli pasta, with lots of ridges to catch sauce, and cooked it in a pot of salted water. To keep the cooked pasta from sticking, I also tossed it in the tiniest splash of olive oil, but that was it in terms of additional "seasoning."

    • I sat in a different room while my BF diligently mixed up eight equally-proportioned bites of pasta for me.

    • Because of, ya know, science, I wrote down my initial impressions of each marinara sauce on a piece of paper, and immediately scored each one using the VERY, very scientifically-accurate smiley face rating system.

    Small bowl of sauced pasta on top of a piece of paper with notes: "#1: literally tastes like SpaghettiOs sauce??? kinda bitter aftertaste...there are genuinely no real tomatoes in this lol" and a frown face drawn next to it
    Ross Yoder

    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, bitter aftertastes, and some tasted like they contained an entire jar of Italian seasoning.

    Handwritten note saying: "sort of sweet? too sweet. honestly this one tasted like Italian herb bread @ subway which feels...wrong for sauce." and a frowning face.
    Ross Yoder

    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 mean, it wasn't remarkable, but whatever. I tried.

    Piece of paper with numerous handwritten notes and smiley face rankings for all eight pasta sauces, the first two (Ragu and Tuttorosso) have check marks next to them
    Ross Yoder

    Before my boyfriend finally revealed the order in which I tasted the sauces, I sorted them. No going back on my initial thoughts in the event that my tastebuds were, like, WAY out of whack or something.

    Screenshot of iPhone note with text: "BEST MARINARA SAUCES" listing the order, best to worst, 7, 8, 5, 3, 2, 6, 4, 1
    Ross Yoder

    Following the big reveal, the following was my definitive ranking — from the absolute worst, to the inarguable best. (Now, knowing each corresponding brand, I still stand by this.)

    Warner Bros. / Via giphy.com

    8. Ragú Traditional — tasted like SpaghettiOs, but distinctly bitter.

    Ragú Traditional
    Ross Yoder

    For a sauce that pretty much defined my childhood, this one genuinely shocked me. Simply put, this was nothing like I remembered.

    After tasting this one, I noted that "there are genuinely no real tomatoes in this LOL," and it "literally tasted like SpaghettiOs sauce," which might not be a bad thing depending on your tastebuds. For mine, however, it was not. Nope, nope, nope.

    However, the total dealbreaker here was the distinctly bitter aftertaste. I'm not kidding, it was genuinely offensive, and considering there were no weird ingredients or preservatives listed on the jar itself (???), I'm unsure where it even came from.

    RATING: 3.5/10

    (Back to the trash where you belong, Ragú.)

    Author putting Ragú sauce into the trash
    Ross Yoder

    7. Prego Traditional — basically syrupy garlic.

    Prego Traditional
    Ross Yoder

    Let me just say, the garlicky flavor in this sauce was INTENSE. And if I'm saying that, most people would probably find it straight-up offensive. I'm truly obsessed with garlic, but woah, this was a lot...and it wasn't even good garlic flavor — it tasted like someone dumped an entire jar of garlic powder into this. I will say the flavors of Prego were a bit deeper than Ragú, which is why it's not dead last on my list, but man, this stuff was also syrupy sweet. Hard pass.

    RATING: 4/10

    6. Trader Joe's Tomato Basil Marinara — tasted "like Italian Herb bread at Subway."

    Trader Joe's Tomato Basil Marinara
    Ross Yoder

    Trader Joe's tends to nail the condiment game pretty hard, so I was pretty shocked that this wasn't one of my favorites. Yep, this sauce tasted like the marinara version of that Italian Herb roll at Subway. That seasoning blend on a roll? Amazing. In literal pasta sauce? Not so much.

    Like the Prego sauce, I found the TJ's version to be on the sweeter side, but not in that "mmm, these tomatoes are so sweet!" way. It tasted like sugar. Not as intensely sugary as the Prego, but definitely too sweet for pasta sauce, IMO. And while I appreciated the earthiness supplied by the herbs, it was super overpowering here.

    RATING: 4.5/10

    5. Tuttorosso Marinara — for the price, a pretty solid option.

    Tuttorosso Marinara
    Ross Yoder

    Considering this was the least expensive of the easy-to-find brands that I tried — a big 'ol jar of it was actually on sale for $1.50 at my local grocery store, marked down from $2.79 (still the cheapest!) — I was more or less impressed with this one.

    I certainly wasn't tricked into thinking these tomatoes were, ya know, fresh off the vine, but it was a budget-friendly, blank slate sauce that I'd totally buy again. For something like a lasagna (where the marinara sauce isn't really the ~star of the show~), this would be a very acceptable sauce to choose.

    RATING: 6/10

    4. Classico Marinara — not the cheapest option, but certainly bold.

    Classico Marinara
    Ross Yoder

    While my vague note of "an...interesting flavor" was, well, vague...I'd like to clarify that the flavor of this sauce was genuinely just that. Interesting, but in the good way. This sauce had way more depth of flavor than I would've imagined, so considering it was the priciest of the "easy-to-find" sauces I tested (the one rang in at $4.19), that came as a relief.

    Like some of the other sauces, this one definitely suffered from a bit of Italian Seasoning Syndrome, but not in any sort of aggressive way. I appreciated the round, bold flavors, and also found the tomato flavor to be bright and naturally sweet. The only actual downside here? I found Classico's marinara to be the most acidic of all the sauces I tried. That said, the acidity could easily be remedied with a bit of olive oil (or butter), so I wouldn't let that deter you from buying this brand. That said, the next brand on my ranking was better and cheaper, so $4.19 for Classico might not be worth it, anyway.

    RATING: 7/10

    3. Whole Foods 365 Organic Marinara — as far as your wallet is concerned, this is THE sauce for you.

    Whole Foods 365 Organic Marinara
    Ross Yoder

    I'm a massive fan of Whole Foods' 365 products (next to Trader Joe's, they're the best, cheapest generic products out there), so I was thrilled that this one ranked as high as it did for me. I found the flavors to be nearly identical to the Classico marinara — it just lacked the sharp acidity of the former (a good thing!) and cost half as much.

    At $2.29 a jar, I would go ahead and call this the best jar of marinara you could buy for your money, especially considering it also just so happens to be organic. Next time you're at your local Whole Foods, you should absolutely stock up on this stuff.

    RATING: 7.5/10

    2. Cucina Antica Marinara — a perfect blank-slate sauce at a higher price point.

    Cucina Antica Marinara
    Ross Yoder

    Here we are — the fancy stuff. Turns out my hypothesis on the budget brands being "just as good as the fancy ones" was totally, 100% wrong. But, at least I finally tried it for myself.

    As noted, it's "giving blank slate," which I think is a great thing. The fresh, tomatoey flavor was the only thing I tasted here. No over-the-top herbs, and the sweetness, acidity, and salt levels were all expertly balanced. This one was absolutely delish, though not quite as delish as my #1 pick. Cucina Antica was also the second most expensive brand I tried, coming in at $6.39 for a 16 oz. jar. Can you guess the most expensive?

    RATING: 8.5/10

    1. Rao's Homemade Marinara — I don't know how else to say this...this stuff is 🔥.

    Rao's homemade Marinara Sauce
    Ross Yoder

    Honestly, I'm rolling my eyes, too. I wanted SO BADLY for one of the other marinara sauces to beat Rao's, and even in a totally blind taste test, this one reigned supreme. I don't know how they do it...but it's truly a perfect sauce. It's the only jarred sauce that Ina Garten will use, and now I can totally see why.

    I've had Rao's before, but tasting this one in tandem with all the others was nothing short of life-changing. The taste itself is a bit hard to describe, but its bold tomato flavor (without a jar-full of herbs to mask the tomato flavors) went far and beyond any of the other flavors I tried. Texturally, it's magnificent. Rao's really strikes the right balance here for a marinara sauce that's hearty and substantial without being aggressively chunky, and smooth enough without being watery.

    Rao's sauce will definitely set you back more than the others — at $7.49, this was certainly the most expensive jar of marinara I tried. That said, I promise you, it's just so worth it. People loooooooove saying that it's the "closest you can get to homemade," and now I know that honestly, people are right.

    RATING: 10/10

    Any sauces that you totally disagree with? Or, any of your absolute faves that we left out entirely? Let us know in the comments. Happy pasta-eating! 🍝