I ranked all of the jarred pasta sauces I found at Trader Joe's from worst to best, and I'd eat the winner by the spoonful
I tried and ranked every jarred pasta sauce I could find at Trader Joe's from worst to best.
The classic marinara may be a good starting point but it was my least favorite sauce.
The creamy tomato-basil sauce and the roasted-garlic marinara were my top two picks.
I compared and ranked all of the jarred pasta sauces I could find at Trader Joe's.
No matter what the sauce is, we can probably all agree that pasta is one of life's greatest pleasures. My childhood is filled with memories of eating spaghetti made with jarred marinara but now as an adult, I realize how much of a difference a quality flavorful sauce makes.
Fortunately, Trader Joe's sells an impressive variety of jarred pasta sauces.
During my most recent visit, I counted 12 in all, not including the stuff in the refrigerated section. Though the type of sauce that works for you ultimately comes down to personal preferences, some versions are worth the money more than others.
From classic marinara to three-cheese pomodoro, Alfredo, and everything in between, I tried and ranked every jarred pasta sauce I could find at my Trader Joe's from worst to best.
12. Trader Joe's organic marinara sauce impressed me the least.
Trader Joe's offers several types of marinara but the organic seemed to be the most basic of them all. It had a mellow sweet-tomato flavor and a pretty red color, but other than that, there wasn't much going on.
The consistency, like most marinara sauces, reminded me of salsa because it was simultaneously chunky and watery. It poured easily with minimal effort.
I thought the organic marinara was just too basic.
I wasn't a big fan of this sauce on top of pasta because the meager amount of herbs made it taste ketchup-y. I love tomatoes but if I'm going to slather something on my pasta, I need a little more oomph.
That said, I don't think it's totally useless. It might work as a cocktail sauce with some added horseradish. I also liked that it didn't contain added sugars.
Given that Trader Joe's sells several more flavorful marinaras, I can't see a reason to buy this one.
VERDICT: Unless you're using Trader Joe's organic marinara sauce as a base ingredient you'll customize, I think you can pass on this.
11. The tomato-basil marinara had a little more flavor.
I had to check the tomato-basil sauce's label to make sure I didn't buy the organic marinara twice because I thought the two tasted nearly identical.
To be fair, there wasn't much of a difference between the two marinaras, other than the fact that this one had more basil in it, which made it a touch brighter and more interesting than the sauce I had first.
I think the tomato-basil marinara just needed more flavor.
Unfortunately, I thought the basil that was present in this sauce was very faint so it still tasted like something was missing.
I think the sauce could be vastly improved if you're willing to doctor it up with some extra herbs. But at that point, it might defeat the purpose of using jarred pasta.
VERDICT: Trader Joe's tomato-basil marinara is good enough for dipping breadsticks or pizza crust in but it's not the best pasta sauce.
10. The cacio e pepe was a wild ride.
Aside from the noodles, cacio e pepe ingredients include butter, pepper, pasta water, and Parmesan. That said, having a jarred version of such a simple sauce seems a bit unnecessary to me.
The first thing I noticed about Trader Joe's cacio e pepe sauce was that it didn't look like a pasta topping. Straight out of the jar, the taupe sauce had a thick, creamy consistency, almost like a gravy I'd expect on top of a biscuit breakfast instead of something I'd find on pasta.
The cacio e pepe definitely clung to the pasta.
I saw a lot of love for Trader Joe's cacio e pepe sauce online but I don't get it. For me, this stuff was just too heavy on the salt, pepper, and mouthfeel. I usually love seasonings but this seemed like it's the sauce for people who let their waiter turn the pepper grinder for a full minute before saying "when" to stop.
I didn't like how it lingered on the front of my tongue and the insides of my cheeks even after washing it down with a glass of water. To me, it wasn't buttery, it was oily.
VERDICT: I hate to sound like a snob, but maybe cacio e pepe is one of those things that just needs to be made fresh.
In my opinion, Trader Joe's cacio e pepe sauce tasted like a jarred Alfredo with a ton of black pepper mixed into it. It lacked the yummy, pure cheesiness I get when I make it from scratch so I find it hard to justify buying it again.
But if you really love black pepper and rich foods, the cacio e pepe may be the sauce for you. Even then, I still think a little goes a long way.
9. The spicy chunky tomato-and-pepper pasta sauce seemed like something special.
In a sea of marinaras, Trader Joe's chunky tomato-and-pepper sauce is a ship carrying a special treasure: spice. In my experience, Trader Joe's items that are labeled as spicy can be pretty mild so I was pleasantly surprised as the insides of my cheeks tickled and burned with each successive bite of this sauce.
If you're looking for something that tastes like traditional marinara with a few red pepper flakes, look elsewhere.
Unlike an Arrabbiata, the chunky tomato-and-pepper sauce gets its kick from spices found in harissa, a spicy, tangy North African paste. It contains cumin and coriander, which was a nice surprise.
The spices gave the sauce a mellow burn (I'd classify it as medium-level heat) that lasted the duration of the meal and it even heightened the acidic tomatoes to create a one-of-a-kind bright, zesty, and delicious flavor.
I also loved the texture of the sauce, which had San Marzano tomatoes mashed into good-sized pieces to get the liquid out of them.
When I researched the sauce, I saw some customers believe it's best as a shakshuka base. Though I have the urge to dump it over black beans and rice, I'm not sure I'd get that rich comfort-food feeling with it over farfalle, rigatoni, or penne.
VERDICT: Trader Joe's spicy, chunky tomato-and-pepper sauce is a true standout with its layers of complex, spicy seasonings, bright-tomato flavor, and textured consistency. I'd buy it again, I just wouldn't pair it with pasta.
8. The bolognese sauce was herby and meaty.
I probably shouldn't feel this way since I had my share of beef ravioli as a kid but I'm not a huge fan of jarred meats. But once I got over my fears and finally tasted Trader Joe's bolognese, I was pleasantly surprised.
For a premade bolognese — especially one without wine or added sugar — it was quite good. Like most bolognese sauces, it was made with crushed tomatoes but also had an extra boost of flavor from tomato paste.
The sauce contained a nice mix of dried herbs including thyme, oregano, fennel, and basil.
Texture-wise, Trader Joe's bolognese was thick but not as chunky as I expected. The beef is minced into such fine pieces that it felt inseparable from the sauce. Though it wasn't necessarily bad, it reminded me that it's probably machine-cut beef, not something hand-ground.
In my opinion, it didn't have quite the same slow-cooked, full-bodied flavor as fresh bolognese made with wine but it was still good enough. I'd pour this over spaghetti with a generous handful of Parmesan.
VERDICT: A good bolognese can be time-consuming to make from scratch, so Trader Joe's jarred version is a great substitute to make meaty pasta in record time.
7. Trader Joe's Alfredo sauce was pretty good.
Because Alfredo is so basic, I've seen jarred versions of the sauce have a bad rap.
To me, jarred versions of the sauce either taste like under-seasoned cream, or overly processed goo with no real cheese so in this case, I tip my hat to Trader Joe's Alfredo.
Trader Joe's Alfredo was pretty rich.
Trader Joe's sauce was good for a jarred Alfredo. It wasn't overly seasoned and got most of its saltiness from the cheese so it didn't have a weird stick-to-the-roof-of-my-mouth quality that comes with other premade sauces laden with additives.
The Alfredo was a bit too rich for my liking but fans of extra creamy, cheesy flavors would probably dig it.
VERDICT: I'm not a huge fan of Alfredo but Trader Joe's has one of the better premade versions. It's a nice blend of creamy and cheesy without an icky aftertaste.
Anyone who tried Trader Joe's cacio e pepe sauce and found the pepper to be overwhelming would likely appreciate this as a mellower alternative.
6. The vegan bolognese-style sauce surprised me.
Trader Joe's vegan bolognese combines plant-based protein crumbles with tomatoes, vegetables, and other dried Italian herbs to form a concoction that captures the iconic beefy sauce without animal products.
In my opinion, this is a really well-made, delicious sauce. It packed a pleasantly bright tomato flavor with basil and oregano. The pea-protein crumbles did a nice job replicating that ground-beef texture and the subtle porcini-mushroom powder in the seasoning added a tasty layer of savory, meaty flavor.
I was still missing that red-wine taste typical of a bolognese sauce but then again, this flavor was also absent in Trader Joe's beefy bolognese.
I usually wouldn't seek out a vegan sauce, but this version of bolognese hit the spot.
Trader Joe's vegan bolognese worked well for me flavor-wise.
However, it was very thin and watery — almost soup-like — so it didn't cling to the pasta as well as the other sauces. It's not enough to make me not buy it again but it does merit a slightly lower ranking because of this.
VERDICT: Props to Trader Joe's for making it possible for meat-free eaters to enjoy the sweet and savory goodness of bolognese. However, I'd reach for one of the chain's other vegan choices before this one.
5. The pesto rosso was more like a paste to me.
Pesto rosso, a variation of the typically green sauce, is typically made with tomatoes, cashews, basil, Parmesan, and balsamic vinegar.
The consistency of Trader Joe's pesto rosso was thick, like tomato paste, so it seemed better suited for spreading on sandwiches than mixed into pasta. But with extra olive oil, I could see it nicely mixing into spaghetti or bow ties.
I could see myself trying the pesto rosso again.
The pesto rosso had a smooth, sweet-tomato flavor with a strong cheesy overtone. The balsamic gave the pesto rosso a sharp bite that made it distinct from other tomato-cheese sauces.
Trader Joe's pesto rosso seems like one of those sauces where you need a just dollop to get the flavor you're looking for. This is great if you're craving pasta that isn't super saucy but still loaded with tomato taste. I recommend topping pesto-rosso pasta with fresh herbs to give it some balance or pairing the sauce with a milder cheese, like mozzarella, on a sandwich.
VERDICT: Despite some flaws here and there, Trader Joe's pesto rosso is a great ingredient to have on hand when you need an extra boost of tomato flavor without using a full liquid sauce. I'd definitely buy it again.
4. The pesto alla genovese seems like it would be good in a variety of dishes.
There's a lot to love about Trader Joe's pesto alla genovese but my favorite part is how I could actually taste every ingredient that's supposed to be there. In my experience, some store-bought pesto is overwhelmingly oily or drowning in so much salt you can barely taste the basil.
On the contrary, Trader Joe's pesto alla genovese had a pleasant basil flavor with a nice balance of nuttiness and salt. It was also surprisingly potent so I think a little goes a long way.
The only thing about it that might give people some pause is the ingredients list, which includes potatoes and sunflower oil. I'm sure each of these has a purpose, like shelf stability, but it still warranted an eyebrow raise from me.
The pesto alla genovese sauce was solid.
The ultra-blended consistency and tiny jar make me think it's a condiment more than a sauce but it's still worth putting on pasta or anything else for a pop of flavor. Beyond pasta, I think it'd be great on top of chicken, grilled vegetables, paninis, and soups.
Other than that, I thought Trader Joe's pesto alla genovese was a great-quality sauce.
VERDICT: Though it's not as fresh tasting as the stuff in the refrigerated section, this sauce gets the job done when you're craving pesto. Plus, with the added convenience of a longer shelf life, you really get your bang for your buck here.
3. The three-cheese pomodoro sauce was my personal favorite.
"Pomodoro" translates to "tomato," which should serve as a reminder that, despite the name-dropping of three kinds of cheese, let's not forget who the real star is here. Though pomodoro and marinara sauce are both tomato-based, the former uses crushed tomatoes to result in a thicker, more decadent pool of ruby-red goodness.
Trader Joe's three-cheese pomodoro sauce, which included Romano, Asiago, and Parmesan, was splendid. For me, the most notable quality was the delicate, yummy sweetness of the tomatoes that weren't in any of the other sauces. I also loved that there were large chunks of tomato and that the sauce had a rustic, home-cooked, slow-cooked feel to it.
However, I'm not sure I really got a taste of cheese and wondered how much there actually was in the sauce. In my opinion, the cheese mostly acted as a salty component to play up the tomatoes.
If you want a sauce with a luxuriously creamy mouthfeel, go for the tomato basil instead. But if you want something that tastes like it was hand-crafted with ingredients from a garden in the Italian countryside, go with Trader Joe's three-cheese pomodoro.
VERDICT: Trader Joe's three-cheese pomodoro is an absolute gem of a jarred sauce. I'd buy this again to ladle over stuffed shells with even more cheese.
The pomodoro sauce is probably my personal favorite of the roundup but its intensity isn't always the right choice. Because it might not be as versatile as Trader Joe's other options, I can't say this is the best sauce from the chain.
2. Trader Joe's creamy tomato-basil sauce was impressive.
Where the classic tomato-basil marinara left a lot to be desired, Trader Joe's creamy tomato-basil sauce had me wanting to lick the bottom of my plate (but don't worry, I restrained myself).
Trader Joe's creamy tomato-basil sauce was incredibly rich, flavorful, and delicious. I found it to be similar in consistency and taste to a tomato bisque because it was lusciously creamy with bits of the fruit popping up here and there that made it feel homemade.
The creamy tomato-basil sauce was rich and flavorful.
Though the sauce was creamy, amazingly, it didn't feel heavy. It definitely tasted more decadent than your usual marinara but it didn't stick to the sides of my mouth like other cream sauces.
The Parmesan was more prominent than I anticipated, but I thought it added a much-needed layer of salt to round out the sauce. Add a sprig of fresh basil to bring out the herbs even more, and this stuff is pure gold straight out of the jar.
VERDICT: Trader Joe's creamy tomato-basil creation is a great-tasting sauce. I've made cream sauces at home that weren't as good as this one so I'll definitely buy this again.
1. The roasted-garlic marinara was the best sauce I tried.
I feel like marinaras made with roasted garlic instead of the regular stuff are automatically upgraded and this sauce is proof of that
Trader Joe's roasted-garlic sauce had the same consistency and for the most part, the same ingredients as the other marinaras I tried. However, the roasted garlic truly elevated this into a league of its own by adding an extra dimension of irresistible flavor that made me want to gobble it up by the spoonful. Even the smell of it warming up on the stove made my nostrils flare in anticipation.
Though the flavor was prominent, it didn't overshadow the tomatoes or other herbs so it tasted quite well-rounded.
The roasted-garlic marinara is a great pour-and-go sauce.
Although you could definitely throw some cheese on top, Trader Joe's roasted-garlic marinara is an excellent sauce as is. It's not too sweet or salty so unless you really hate garlic, I think this would be palatable to pretty much anyone.
This marinara earns high marks in my book for versatility. Sometimes you need a sauce that goes with everything to make your pasta nights easier and that's plenty enough for me.
VERDICT: I think Trader Joe's roasted-garlic sauce is a great-value, good-quality marinara you'll use over and over again.
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