How to pick a reliable pasta sauce (2024)

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The healthiest pasta sauces get most of their fat from olive oil (marinara) or olive oil and nuts (pesto), not cream or cheese (alfredo). And the good guys don’t pile too much salt or sugar on top of your spaghetti. Here’s how to find them. Check the photos for some great-tasting Best Bites and Honorable Mentions.

1. Don’t overdo the salt.

It’s the Achilles’ heel of tomato-based sauces. Many have 500-plus milligrams of sodium in every half-cup serving. Why go there, when others taste great with 350 mg or less? Those are our Honorable Mentions.

Watching every milligram? Check out our Best Bites, which don’t top 250 mg per serving. The Victoria Low Sodium line is a standout, sodium- and taste-wise.

For pesto, head to the refrigerator case. That’s where you’ll find the freshest-tasting pestos that also keep sodium in Honorable Mention territory. In contrast, shelf-stable jarred pestos can hit 600 to 700 mg or more in every ¼ cup. Yikes.

2. No added sugar needed.

Most sauces that add sugar toss in only a few grams, but who needs any? Our Best Bites have none, and our Honorable Mentions can have a trivial 1 gram. Slow-cooking tomatoes concentrates their sweetness, so our winning sauces already have at least a teaspoon of naturally occurring sugar anyway.

3. You get what you pay for.

Why do some sauces with less sodium—and no added sugar—taste better than others? They start with premium ingredients like whole tomatoes instead of tomato purée (which is typically tomato paste plus water). But that comes at a cost. A top taste pick like Rao’s will set you back $7 to $9 a jar. Victoria is a couple of bucks cheaper.

Solution: Stock up during sales, and refrigerate or freeze leftovers. You can also freeze jars of fresh pesto. They defrost quickly in a pot of cold water.

4. ”Sensitive” sauce: Do you need it?

Prego, Lucini, and Rao’s all offer “Sensitive” varieties of their marinara. That means no onions or garlic. Ditto for all Fody’s sauces. That can help if you need to limit certain FODMAPs to help ease the gas and bloating of irritable bowel syndrome.

But for other GI issues, nixing garlic and onions isn’t a cure-all. And no garlic or onion means the flavor takes a hit. Most sensitive sauces verge on too-sweet (even though they toss in other veggies like celery). And if you’re also cutting back on sodium, you’re already looking at a sweeter-tasting sauce.

5. Stretch your pesto.

Basil aside, pesto is largely puréed pine nuts and olive oil, plus a bit of parmesan. That’s mostly healthy fats, but it all adds up to 200 to 300 calories in each ¼ cup.

To lower a pesto pasta’s calorie density add vegetables. Sautéed broccoli, asparagus, or bell peppers all pair well with pesto’s nutty, hearty taste.

Or thin the pesto with pasta cooking water (a tablespoon or two for every ¼ cup). Bonus: That will make the pesto coat the pasta even better.

6. Make your own?

Premium jarred marinara might taste like the sauce has been simmering on your stovetop all day. But nothing compares to the basil-y brightness of a pesto that you’ve just whipped up at home.

Click here for The Healthy Cook’s Almost Classic Basil Pesto recipe. (The secret ingredient: baby spinach.) To preserve its punch, don’t combine any pesto with your pasta until you’re ready to eat.

7. Pick a healthy base.

Fiber-rich, nutritious whole wheat pastas taste better than ever. So do gluten-free pastas made from lentils, chickpeas, or other beans, which have more fiber than gluten-free brown rice pasta.

8. Try one of our top taste picks.

How to pick a reliable pasta sauce (1)

From left to right:

  • Rao’s Tomato Herb: Oregano, basil, garlic...the gang’s all here! It’s hard to miss with an Honorable Mention from Rao’s. Mmm.
  • Classico Roasted Garlic: Plenty of flavor to a fraction of the price of premium jarred sauces.
  • Victoria Low Sodium Marinara: Low- or no-salt added sauces can taste too sweet. This low-sodium one (120 mg) is just right.
  • Rao’s Vodka: No cream here. Cheese? Just a tad. Hello, Honorable Mention! For some heat, try Rao’s Vodka Arrabbiata.
  • Trader Joe’s Vegan Kale, Cashew & Basil Pesto: You won’t miss the parmesan in this vegan pesto.
How to pick a reliable pasta sauce (2024)


How to pick a reliable pasta sauce? ›

The best pasta sauces

How will you choose a suitable sauce for your pasta? ›

As a general rule, pair the heartier sauces with the wider noodles: Wide ribbons like pappardelle pair well with rich, meaty sauces while the thinner flat noodles, like fettuccine or linguine, are best paired with simple cream sauces like Alfredo or delicate proteins like seafood.

How can you tell if pasta sauce is good? ›

If the sauce has been opened for less than five days, give it a small taste; if it tastes off or sour in any way, it's time to throw it out. Always look out for mold as well; it can happen in an instant with jarred pasta sauce, sometimes even before the five-day mark.

What should be considered before buying sauce? ›

Always research the production methods of your chosen sauce manufacturer. At Quattro Foods our traditional home style cooking processes result in delicious food. – And finally – the most important factors of all – quality and taste. Every sauce should be delicious and should not betray convenience or value for money.

How do you pick a healthy pasta sauce? ›

The healthiest pasta sauces get most of their fat from olive oil (marinara) or olive oil and nuts (pesto), not cream or cheese (alfredo). And the good guys don't pile too much salt or sugar on top of your spaghetti.

What makes store bought spaghetti sauce better? ›

13 Ways to Make Any Jarred Pasta Sauce Better
  1. Start with the right pasta and sauce. ...
  2. Season with dried herbs. ...
  3. Or flavor with fresh herb sprigs. ...
  4. Double up on tomato goodness. ...
  5. Add more garlic and/or onions. ...
  6. Sweeten and thicken with squash purée. ...
  7. Punch things up with a pinch of chili flakes. ...
  8. Try this secret ingredient.
Dec 9, 2022

How can you tell the quality of a sauce? ›

The quality standards of a good sauce are measured by the following characteristics: 1. Thickness Consistency is given by partially thickening with roux or starch. Viscosity is the resistance of the sauce to movement, and is then achieved by reducing the sauce over a period of time.

Can you eat pasta sauce 2 years out of date? ›

According to FoodSafety.Gov, unopened jars of pasta sauce should be stored at room temperature in a cupboard or pantry. They can be kept for up to 18 months from the date of purchase.

What to avoid in pasta sauce? ›

Another surprising ingredient that shouldn't be making an appearance in pasta sauce is sugar, and this Homestyle Marinara contains a considerable 9 grams per half-cup serving. Mirroring the sodium, this is 20% of what's advisable to consume in an entire day, and it's all coming in a single serving of pasta sauce.

What are the five qualities of a good sauce? ›

According to Larousse (Larousse, 1993), the most important sensory qualities of sauces are “color, luster, aroma, taste, texture and viscosity”, thus underlining the importance of the sauce in a dish.

What are the 3 tips for making a good sauce? ›

Condimaniac's Top 5 tips for making sauce at home
  1. Overdo it. You're trying to make something that carries not only itself but also other food that goes with it. ...
  2. Chill it. ...
  3. Time changes flavour. ...
  4. Scaling up doesn't always work. ...
  5. Good quality ingredients make all the difference.
Sep 13, 2022

How do I choose pasta sauce? ›

Serve twist pasta shapes such as fusilli, trofie, strozzapreti, caserecce and gemelli with lighter, smoother sauces which will cling to the twists, such as pesto. Serve tube pasta shapes such as penne, rigatoni, macaroni and paccheri with hearty vegetable sauces, or baked cheese dishes.

What tomato makes the best pasta sauce? ›

Though you could use any tomato, Roma and other paste tomatoes — with meaty texture with little to no seeds — are said to develop the best flavor when cooked down into a delicious sauce.

How will you choose an appropriate sauce for a particular dish? ›

Choosing a sauce with a similar base flavor tends to complement and intensify the flavor of the main item. On the other hand, you can choose a sauce that adds a contrasting flavor. A good example would be a red wine sauce that introduces some bright and acidic flavors to a dish that features beef.

What sauces should be used for each type of pasta? ›

Wide, flat pastas like pappardelle are ideal for sopping up creamy sauces. Generally, the wider the noodle, the heavier the sauce. Long, round pastas like spaghetti are best with olive oil- and tomato-based sauces, which coat each strand evenly. Go thinner for delicate preparations.

Do you take the sauce to the pasta or pasta to the sauce? ›

First, in authentic Italian cuisine, the sauce is always tossed with the pasta before it ever hits the plate. Just before the sauce is done cooking, the hot pasta is added to the saucepan. Generally speaking, we recommend cooking the pasta in the sauce together for about 1-2 minutes.

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