Red sauce is a staple in my home.
I know how to make marinara sauce from scratch, but it’s nice to have a jarred option for a quick and easy dinner.
I’m not loyal to any one brand — I tend to gravitate toward whatever major brand is on sale. But I wanted to see if there was really that big of a difference between the cheaper and more expensive varieties.
I decided to test three red sauces at different price points — Kroger for $1.99, Bertolli d’Italia for $5.49, and San Marzano Tomato (SMT) for $10.99 — to compare the differences.
I tried each variety in a bowl of penne pasta.
The Kroger brand appeared to have the most consistent texture.
The cheapest sauce was the generic option from Kroger for $1.99.
This marinara appeared to have a really consistent texture. When I opened the jar and poured it into a dish, there were no large tomato chunks, nor was it super watery.
I liked that it had a consistent texture — it helped it incorporate well into the noodles.
This sauce was by far the sweetest and could use some more seasoning.
Although the texture of this sauce was great, I wasn’t a huge fan of the flavor.
It wasn’t bad by any means, but it was the sweetest of any of the sauces I tested, and I thought it definitely could’ve used more salt.
Aside from the sweetness, it had a good tomato flavor, but no other distinct elements (like garlic or onion) were present.
Bertolli’s d’Italia product had a chunky texture.
Bertolli’s d’Italia products boast “made in Italy” labels and claim to be made with premium ingredients.
At $5.49, the midrange sauce was more expensive than some other name brands, like Prego or Ragu. But it was still far less pricey than options from SMT, Rao’s, or Pizza Girl.
It appeared to have a chunkier texture and looked a little bit oily or greasy when I poured it into a dish.
The name-brand sauce was good, but both the texture and flavor had room for improvement.
Because this was a thicker, chunkier sauce, it didn’t coat the noodles as well as the others I tried.
As for flavor, it had a good balance of sweetness and saltiness, and I liked that I could taste some garlic as well. But the tomato flavor had a slight bitterness to it — almost as if the tomatoes were cooked a touch too long.
I had to go to a “fancier” grocery store to find an especially pricey sauce.
I do a lot of my grocery shopping at Ralphs (a Kroger-owned store). But the most expensive options it had either weren’t classic red sauces or were only a couple of dollars more than the midrange product.
Instead, I ventured to a different LA store, Gelson’s, that tends to carry premium (and higher priced) items.
There, I found an SMT sauce that rang up for $10.99.
The SMT marinara had amazing flavor, but I wish it wasn’t so runny.
I noticed right away that the SMT marinara was both chunky and runny. When I poured it into a dish, there was a little mound of tomatoes in the center and more watery parts along the edges of the dish.
Because of this slightly runny but also chunky texture, the sauce didn’t coat the noodles very evenly.
Although the texture wasn’t quite what I was hoping for, the flavor was amazing. It had more depth and richness that resembled the flavor of caramelized onions to complement the sweet tomatoes.
I also liked that I could taste the garlic and basil in this sauce, but I wouldn’t have minded a little bit more salt.
Ultimately, my favorite was the most expensive one.
Although the texture wasn’t perfect, I loved the taste of the SMT red sauce the most. It had the most complex blend of flavors, which made it stand out from any jarred sauce I’ve ever tried.
None of these sauces were terrible. They each had pros and cons, and I wouldn’t mind using any of them for quick dinners in the future.
But if there’s room in my wallet to splurge, I’ll be reaching for the SMT sauce as much as possible.