Let's Get Sauced!
So, full disclosure... I'm really not a fan of jarred pasta sauces. Well, not straight from the jar anyway. They're just so sweet. I know it's an old Italian grandmother's trick to put a pinch of sugar in the sauce to balance the acidity, but I don't think it should be the same amount of sugar that you put in snickerdoodles.
That being said, I will use it (or even Del Monte canned ) after I doctor it up, usually with tomato paste, fresh garlic, pepper flakes, and a dry pasta sauce packet. The dry packet has a different problem...always so salty. I find mixing them gives me a way better-balanced sauce.
But let's find out which of these is the best buy for spaghetti night at your house, and if any of them are good enough straight from the jar.
Tale of the Tape
For my testing, I used the traditional style of each sauce.
Ragu.............240z $1.77 /7.3 per oz
Prego............24oz $1.88 /7.8 per oz
Barilla...........24oz $2.18 /9.1 per oz
GreatValue...24oz $1.28 /5.3 per oz
What I saw...
All four look pretty similar in the jar, kinda a dark brick red, with Ragu and Great Value showing the most dark flecks of seasoning.
I also notice Ragu is the only one of the four not labeled gluten-free.
The Big Ragu!
The first sauce I tasted is also the best-selling pasta sauce in the US, with Prego and Barilla nearly tied for a close second.
When I opened the jar, I saw that the sauce was about the same thickness as ketchup. The thickness was uniform, not thick with watery puddles. I first smelled tomato paste, followed by the faint smell of the usual Italian seasoning suspects.
Taking a bite, there was bits of soft garlic giving the sauce a good garlicky flavor. I did not taste a lot of Italian seasoning, but some. A-a-a-nd of course, it's sweet.
After I heated it and added it to spaghetti, it seemed to stick to the pasta pretty good and uniformly.
Great Value Takes a Swing...
The next one I tested was Walmart's Great Value brand.
At first glance, I could tell it was not nearly as thick as the Ragu. And even though I shook it before I opened it, there were watery edges in the jar. I did not smell garlic, nor did I find any pieces in the bites that I took. Other than tomato sauce, I tasted the usual seasonings, a tad bit of garlic, A-a-a-nd of course the sweet. The flavors did not meld well with each other, making it taste like it was sweet tomato sauce with some seasonings stirred in.
In my pasta adhesion test, it didn't do so well either. If you ever have need to repel spaghetti, use this one.
Basically, I had a bowl of inconsistent, watery tomato sauce soup with noodles.
I'm not liking GV's chances of winning this thing.
Is"Prego" Italian for Pudding?
I think we see where this is going.
I was optimistic when I opened the jar. The sauce had a really nicely balanced garlic and seasoning smell, probably the best smelling of the four.
When I tasted the sauce, I was briefly greeted with flavor that matched the smell, but that was quickly overwhelmed by SWEET.
I mean really sweet. Like it shoulda been in my pancake syrup review sweet.
I looked at the label, and sure enough, more sugar than the other three. I really don't get it.
When I mixed the spaghetti in, it stuck to the pasta well. It coated the spaghetti a bit better than Ragu, but maybe that's what extra sugar will do for you.
The Thrilla in Barilla ...
Barilla is the most expensive sauce in today's battle, which may be why it trails the other two in sales.
Twisting the lid off, I could see immediately it was easily the thickest sauce in today's grapple. So thick, I wondered if it would pour out. It did.
It smelled good. ( its spaghetti sauce, duh ) At first bite, it has more garlic flavor than the others, and I was impressed by the pieces of vegetables in the sauce. Little pieces of garlic, chopped basil leaves, and some other unidentifiable cooked down vegetables were very present.
The garlic mixed well with the seasonings for a pretty good flavor.
...wait..what? It's not super sweet?
Oh, it's still sweet...but not nearly in the same snickerdoodle category as the others. And yes, a look at the ingredients shows far less sugar involved. And surprise..less calories than the others.
My biggest complaint with this sauce is the flavor kinda has a tomato paste-y lull in it. A pinch of red pepper flakes would do wonders for this one. (dialing Barilla...)
And Todays Winner issss...
So, I wouldn't even consider eating or serving Ragu, GV, or Prego without some serious doctoring. For me, just way too sweet. And believe me, I do love sweets. Just not in my spaghetti sauce. Maybe we need a dessert spaghetti sauce category, like wines.
Barilla wins, just by being the sauce that would need the least amount of work to reach decency.
Don't get all big-headed, Barilla. You only won cuz someone had to. And don't think for 41 cents that I wouldn't drop down to Ragu, since I have to fix either of you.
ps. So there's a jarred sauce called Rao that seems to be a pasta lover's favorite. It's like 7 or 8 dollars a jar tho. It would have to taste like homemade for me to spend that. Have any of you tried it?
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