The Official Pasta Sauce Power Rankings
Let’s get to it, shall we? I present the indisputable and 1,000% correct Pasta Sauce Power Rankings. The general rules are:
I got jarred sauce (no cans), bought standard marinara or the closest approximation I could find (no vodka sauces, no puttanesca, etc.) and tried to include no more than one jar per brand. There are a lot of sauces here and, just as when looking at a list of Chumbawamba members, it can become overwhelming and difficult to tell them apart. You won’t really go wrong with, say, the top dozen or so sauces on this list.
I ranked these by taste and attractiveness of packaging — let’s face it, when you’re looking for a new pasta sauce, it’s usually the simple/earnestly rustic (but not too rustic) label that gets your attention.
Cost is difficult to pin down and, given there’s a wide variety of prices you might pay depending on the retailer, I didn’t use it as a metric. That said, when something is a particularly good (or not so good) value, I note that in the ranking.
1. Rao’s Marinara
This is a little complicated, so bear with me. In December, I tweeted out a photo of Victoria marinara sauce and declared it the best on the market. That was incorrect, and we regret the error. However.
Victoria does make the best sauce, but it’s the premium White Linen brand, typically found at Costco, that’s superior, not the standard marinara (which is still very good). So: Why not just put Victoria White Linen at the top of the ranking?
Because I can’t find the stuff anywhere. I haven’t seen it on shelves for six months or more. And after a lengthy conversation with a helpful Costco rep, I discovered that Victoria White Linen is virtually unobtainable in Los Angeles and Northern California Costcos. (The sauce can be bought on Amazon for a steep price.) While that might change in the future, it didn’t make a lot of sense to me to put a sauce in the top slot that would be difficult to find.
And so, Rao’s wins by default, the two sweetest words in the English language. Not that Rao’s bows to anyone — it’s a wonderful sauce. Simple, balanced, with strong tomato flavor and generous with the olive oil, it leaves a nice greasy slick on the spoon. The texture is saucy without being pasty and has the occasional big, satisfying tomato chunk. It’s a bulletproof choice for any pasta ... at least until Victoria White Linen is widely available again.
Packaging Attractiveness Rating: 12
2. Mezzetta Marinara
Mezzetta, a California-based company that coined the slogan “Don’t Forgetta Mezzetta,” makes an excellent sauce, in addition to jarred olives and preserved veggies. This one has a bright, strong tomato flavor and is quite onion-forward (I like that but not everyone will). It has a smooth texture and slightly smoky flavor, and it avoids one of the most common pitfalls that afflict jarred marinaras — not being oily enough. This has plenty of that good olive oil flavor.
Very important tip when eating a jarred sauce: Don’t forget to shake well. Sometimes the ingredients can really separate.
Packaging Attractiveness Rating: 25
3. The Silver Palate San Marzano Marinara
Silver Palate is a name you may know from Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosso’s 1982 cookbook or their Upper West Side shop that preceded it. The user-friendly book, with charming illustrations by Lukins, could be found in almost every kitchen I remember growing up in suburban Chicago. “It was the ‘it’ cookbook,” says my mom.
Anyway, this is a good jarred marinara. It hits your palate (ahem) simultaneously tangy and salty, and slightly peppery. The ingredient list interestingly includes carrots and pear concentrate, which give the sauce extra dimension and depth. Jars cost $7.99 on Silver Palate’s website, but you can sometimes find a deal at a supermarket — as I type this, they’re being advertised for $3.99 at Safeway.
Packaging Attractiveness Rating: 14
4. Victoria Marinara
Victoria ticks off the biggest and most important checkbox when judging marinara: Does it taste more or less how a simple homemade sauce tastes? This does, and then some. Victoria tastes of tomatoes and olive oil; it’s not too sweet and has a fantastic texture — superior to that of Rao’s, which I’d say is ever so slightly too thick.
A good sauce shouldn’t just sit there like a big lump on the pasta. It should be loose enough to coat the noodles, and never pasty. As I stated above, Victoria’s standard marinara is good, but not as good as its White Linen brand, which is rich and balanced and as close to perfect as a jarred sauce can get.
Packaging Attractiveness Rating: 9
5. Fody Low FODMAP Marinara
Here’s the big surprise of the top tier. Fody specializes in low FODMAP (which stands for “fermentable oligo-, di-, monosaccharides and polyols” — there will be a quiz later) food items. Without getting too far into it, a low FODMAP diet can help people with IBS.
This sauce has no onions or garlic, which can irritate some digestive tracts. And you know what? It’s pretty delicious. There’s a good tomato flavor and enough unctuousness from the olive oil. Where garlic or onions might have added some depth, Fody makes up for it at least partly with carrot and celery. The result is a less traditional marinara — one that leans a little more into a mirepoix/Bolognese territory — but it’s quite good nonetheless.
Packaging Attractiveness Rating: 27
6. DeLallo Pomodoro Fresco
DeLallo makes a very nice sauce — more unctuous than average and with a pronounced olive flavor that’s quite noticeable. That’s balanced out by the slightly sweet tomato flavor. This strikes me as a good sauce to doctor up with some meat or sausage.
Packaging Attractiveness Rating: 10
7. Michael’s of Brooklyn
If we were judging based on appearance alone, this entry would win. It has a distinctive, wide-shouldered jar and simple gold cap. The label is small and understated, with “Michael’s of Brooklyn” written in cursive. The minimal real estate devoted to the label allows shoppers to see the full glory of bright, intensely red sauce.
Big expectations, in other words. And while Michael’s may not be the best, it’s still a good sauce with bright tomato flavor, if a little on the sweet side. There’s a strong garlicky profile, with big garlic slivers in the sauce, and good texture.
Packaging Attractiveness Rating: 1
8. Organico Bello Marinara
One of the better entries that’s basil-forward. The basil comes across as sweet and floral, not bitter as can sometimes happen, and complements the light, bright tomato. With pasta, the herb flavor takes a backseat and fades like a tight haircut into the background.
Packaging Attractiveness Rating: 15
9. Bianco DiNapoli Organic Sauce
Genuine Northern California tomatoes go into this sauce created by Chris Bianco and Rob DiNapoli. Given Bianco’s pedigree (and the attractive label art), I expected greatness.
I received very goodness. It’s pungent and garlicky, with a natural off-the-vine sweetness that sings the tomatoes’ praises. While I imagine this would work incredibly well with a nice, salty, melted pizza cheese on spaghetti, it was a bit too light and sweet.
Packaging Attractiveness Rating: 3
10. Whole Foods Premium Marinara
As with cooking a good piece of Wagyu beef, sometimes all you need to do is not mess it up. Whole Foods did a good job here — they didn’t mess it up. This has good tomato flavor, is not too sweet and has a fairly loose texture. There are some seeds and skin here, which makes for an active eating experience. Fun fact: Jeff Bezos personally prepares and taste-tests every batch of Whole Foods marinara! (Editor’s note: This is false.)
Packaging Attractiveness Rating: 18
11. Kirkland Signature Organic Marinara
It’s the Costco house brand. And while they may sell only the finest in jeans, dress shirts (one lasted me almost 15 years, true story!) and 72-pound wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano, the marinara doesn’t quite live up to that majesty.
The sauce has a slight bitterness but good tomato flavor and a slightly mealy, uniform consistency. This is the best possible version of Ragu brand sauce, if that makes sense. While not the best, it’s a great deal if you have a Costco membership — $9.49 for three big 32-oz. bottles. It appears that zero effort went into the label design.
Packaging Attractiveness Rating: 30
12. Mia’s Kitchen Bistro Marinara
I don’t love strong herbiness in my marinara, but if you do, this is a good option. Lots of onions and the herbs are noticeable but don’t overpower. This sauce isn’t too sweet and there’s a nice, almost smoky, cooked-down tomato flavor.
Packaging Attractiveness Rating: 19
13. Francis Coppola Mammarella Pomodoro Basilico
I’m a little conflicted with this one. I like the flavor, which is tomato-rich and has a surprising, subtle cayenne kick, but the texture is pretty out there. I like a loose sauce. Coppola, who directed the “Godfather” movies as well as the one where a 10-year-old boy has aged to look like Robin Williams, has a sauce that veers into Slush Puppie territory.
It’s slightly chunky and has juicy pieces of tomato, but the texture resembles that of some tomatoes thrown into a blender — not cooked down over a long period of time. I don’t necessarily mind it — the flavor ultimately overcomes any issues with runniness. Just know that you’re going to have a puddle of liquid at the bottom of the pasta bowl.
This was the most expensive of the jars I purchased — $10.99 at Gelson’s.
Packaging Attractiveness Rating: 5
14. Yo Mama’s Bellisima Basil
There’s a good texture to this Yo Mama’s sauce that’s juicy and not pasty. The basil flavor is not too grassy, but it’s detectable. There’s a slightly sour aftertaste but it doesn’t overpower. If you want a basil sauce, this could be a good option.
My favorite part of this sauce is the little note written on the label that says, “With Love, Yo Mama.”
Packaging Attractiveness Rating: 21
15. Gino Angelini Pomodorini
A good sauce, but a little sweet. What made this stand out, though, is the preponderance of tomato seeds and skins in the mix (due, I imagine, to the inclusion of cherry tomatoes).
Again, decent flavor, but I found it distracting to have to chew — and chew and chew — my sauce.
Packaging Attractiveness Rating: 13
16. Sugo di Pomodoro Marinara
Next to Michael’s of Brooklyn, this was the label that most attracted my eye: the distinctive drawing of a long, red San Marzano tomato against a white label with a green border, like you’d see on a big 28-oz. can at the store. For that reason, I thought this sauce would be a winner. What can I say? I’m impressionable.
It’s not bad. There’s a nice tomato flavor, but this leans a bit sweet and is followed by a slightly sour finish. The texture is pastier than I’d like.
Packaging Attractiveness Rating: 2
17. Lucini Organic Tuscan Marinara
Not a bad sauce, and a nice texture, but Lucini tastes a bit raw, like it wasn’t cooked long enough, and it could use a little salt. If you like eating tomatoes right out of the garden, this might be for you. There’s also a fairly noticeable carrot flavor — not bad, necessarily.
Packaging Attractiveness Rating: 4
18. Stella Rosa Stella Marinara
Stella Rosa, of the wine fame, also makes a decent marinara. The Stella Marinara, according to the bottle, doesn’t actually contain any wine (though, puzzlingly, the same product is listed on the Ralphs website as containing red wine).
It doesn’t really need it. While there’s nothing exceptional about this sauce, there’s nothing wrong with it, either. There’s the right amount of oiliness, but it’s a bit too on the tart and tangy side.
Packaging Attractiveness Rating: 11
19. Trader Giotto’s Traditional Marinara
This is a funny entry from Trader Joe’s, a.k.a. the place we go to for frozen food and tiny cups of free coffee. This marinara wins a couple of points because of value — a jar, while small (18 oz., instead of the typical 24 or 25), costs only $1.39. And the taste is not bad, if a little herb-heavy. What’s interesting is that while many jarred marinaras commit the sin of being too sweet, this one is nearly too salty.
This is also a very thin and runny sauce, bordering on soupy. As I’ve stated, I like a looser sauce, but this takes it a step or two over the line.
Packaging Attractiveness Rating: 17
20. Muir Glen Organic Italian Herb
Very good packaging on this — the label has a classy, Art Deco-ish feel. I’m not sure what involvement, if any, John Muir’s family had in the development of this company, which started in 1991 and was acquired by General Mills in 2000, but the name holds weight, especially in California. I imagine John Muir walking among the sequoias, opening a jar of marinara, sticking a finger in and tasting it. He then strokes his beard and nods sagely.
The sauce isn’t bad but that’s about all I can say for it. There’s a very sharp, floral note that lingers with this sauce that I think is thyme — it’s distinctive but not what I look for in my favorite sauces.
Packaging Attractiveness Rating: 6
21. O Organics Marinara
O Organics is a Safeway brand and while this sauce certainly isn’t anything to write home about, as Robert Frost might say, one could do worse. This has a medium saucy texture with nice chunks but the overall flavor profile is on the sweet side, with prominent onion and garlic powder leanings.
The graphic design on this bottle is one of the more unappealing things I’ve seen.
Packaging Attractiveness Rating: 29
22. Dave’s Gourmet Organic Red Heirloom
This feels like a lost opportunity. Here we have a good sauce that’s bright and flavorful, with nice, loose texture and good elegant variation between smooth and chunky. It’s just too darned sweet.
Packaging Attractiveness Rating: 20
23. Ragu Old World Style Traditional
Surprise! This wasn’t nearly as bad as I had remembered — the blessings of low expectations. I anticipated Ragu being too sweet and tasting strongly of tomato paste rather than actual tomatoes. It’s still both of those things, just not to the degree I thought.
The too-smooth texture is still there but the sauce is just slightly sweet — not as bad as some other offenders. There’s decent tomato flavor and some tanginess. The worst aspect is a finish redolent of wet newspaper. Still — could be worse!
Packaging Attractiveness Rating: 22
24. Newman’s Own Marinara
It takes a cool hand to be one of history’s biggest movie stars and have your own food business. But Paul Newman wasn’t just interested in the color of money. There’s an absence of malice in his wading into pizza, dressings and sauces, and the funds raised for charity prove he’s no hustler.
His sauce, though? This might sting a little but the verdict on the marinara is decidedly mixed. It’s no towering inferno of flavor, to be sure, but Newman is nobody’s fool — the sauce has a distinctive fennel flavor that some will like. At the end of a long hot summer, a jar of Newman’s might be what’s left in the cupboard and trying it could spark a new kind of love. But if you want to keep winning, pick a different sauce — there are other options that will leave you saying, “Somebody up there likes me.”
Packaging Attractiveness Rating: 16
25. Bertolli Traditional Marinara
This sauce is a little too sweet and has a long, citric finish, like orange juice that’s been out a day too long. It hits even sweeter when eaten with pasta. The packaging, with a cute hourglass-shaped bottle, is attractive, however.
Packaging Attractiveness Rating: 7
26. Primal Kitchen Tomato Basil
Primal Kitchen, which sets consumers up to achieve “new heights of wellness and vitality through real-food eating,” according to its website, specializes in that whole keto/paleo thing. I’m tempted to try it, if only because it will certainly make me healthy without needing to exercise.
Pasta seems a bit anathema to the whole concept of ketogenic eating, but that’s not my issue here. It’s that they make it with avocado oil, not olive oil, which gives it a flavor that’s totally off: a little bitter and bordering on the soapy.
Is olive oil not ancient and primal enough, or something? Seems to me that it’s existed at least as long as avocado oil, and it definitely tastes better with pasta.
Packaging Attractiveness Rating: 24
27. Barilla Marinara
Barilla is a huge player in U.S. pasta consumption as well as in Europe, where it’s carved out nearly 17% of the market — more than twice any other single brand. It stands to reason that it would make sauce, as well.
Barilla should stick to pasta. This is a perfunctory attempt at marinara, at best. There’s a slightly pasty texture and what tastes like powdered onion. Together with pasta, the sauce hits unpleasantly herby. The packaging on the marinara resembles that of the company’s pasta boxes — distinctive but blocky and unappealing.
Packaging Attractiveness Rating: 26
28. Simple Truth Organic Marinara
Simple Truth is a Kroger brand and makes a better marinara than Kroger’s fancy brand, Private Selection. I didn’t include Private Selection, as they’re both from Kroger, but here’s a little bonus ranking: Private Selection marinara tastes like sugary tomato paste and is non buono.
Simple Truth starts off right with a good texture — varied and with occasional nice, big tomato chunks. That’s where the goodness stops — the rest of it tastes like someone shoved a fistful of dried herbs into your gullet.
Packaging Attractiveness Rating: 28
29. Classico Tomato & Basil
Classico was the original fancy supermarket pasta sauce — the “nice” alternative to Ragu or Prego. The branding and design continue to evoke cracked frescoes, a young Al Pacino wandering the Sicilian countryside and stone bridges with a cute old man playing “O Sole Mio” on the organetto. You know, what we Americans think Italy is. Heinz acquired the brand in 2001.
It’s worse than I remember. The texture is pasty and too smooth. The taste is herb-heavy to the point of being grassy, nearly bitter. I can’t imagineany doctoring that could make this sauce better.
Packaging Attractiveness Rating: 8
30. Prego Traditional
Calling a product “You’re welcome” — the approximate translation of the Italian word “Prego” — is an extreme act of confidence in whatever it is you’re selling.
This falls short of that mark. It couldn’t fall shorter. If it were more nakedly short, the SEC would have to get involved. It tastes like cloying tomato paste or a bad tomato soup. In fact, that’s probably the best use for this: Water it down a little, and dip a grilled cheese sandwich into it. Even then, it won’t be very good, but you don’t want to let this anywhere near pasta.
If a jar of this sauce cost, say, a dollar, you could justify buying it. But there are enough decent sauces in the general price range of Prego (I paid $3.49 for the jar) that there’s no good reason to allow this in your pantry.
Packaging Attractiveness Rating: 23
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