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All The Trader Joe’s Pasta Sauces, Ranked — From Alfredo To Bolognese

Pasta is one of the most perfect food items to have ever left the kitchen. It’s insanely tasty, incredibly versatile in shape and size, easy to make, deeply comforting, and totally filling. But pasta is really just a noodle — made from a dough of flour, eggs, and (maybe) a touch of water — rolled and cut (or extruded) into shapes to make linguini, macaroni, lasagna, etc.

It’s the sauce that takes pasta to the next level. The sauce that turns noodles into a complete and satisfying meal.

There is a crux to pasta sauce, though. As much as we love coating, drenching, and smothering our penne and orecchiette with sauce, we don’t always have the time to make it from scratch. Sometimes? Sure! Date night? You bet! But there are plenty of times where we all need to forgo the “delicious homemade pasta-with-sauce experience” for something easy.

No shame there at all. Any port in a storm, as they say. That’s where store-bought sauces come in.

More than other grocers, Trader Joe’s seems to understand the need for easy meals. Their freezer aisle is no joke, their pizzas are (mostly) solid, and they keep a consistent, convenient, and cheap lineup of pasta sauces on deck. You can walk into literally any TJ’s and find, at minimum, 14 (!) in-house pasta sauces ready for you to purchase, heat up, and pour over your noods.

As Uproxx’s resident Trader Joe’s aficionado — check my reccos for these wines, These Wines, and THESE WINES — it was only right that I scoured TJ’s shelves for pasta sauce and ranked every single one I could find. From alfredo to Bolognese, these are the best and worst pasta sauces at Trader Joe’s right now, ranked.

14. Organic Marinara Sauce (No Salt Added)

Via Janice Williams

Price: $3

The Sauce:

Obviously, Trader Joe’s was thinking of the health-conscious people monitoring their sodium intake when they created this marinara sauce. There’s still some sodium—about 45 milligrams–which is almost nothing compared to some of the others on this list. But the lack of salt is telling because this red sauce puts the bla in bland.

Healthy as it may be, this marinara is also tasteless. It’s basically just puréed tomatoes. I get it—No Salt Added—but, like, where’s the basil? Where’s the onion? The garlic, oregano, fennel, and parsley that’s so proudly boasted on the ingredients label? None of those organic herbs show up in the taste, and that’s a real bummer because there are so many other foods and products on the market that still manage to maintain low sodium content while actually being flavorful.

There is at least one good note about this marinara, however. The texture is silky and rich, exactly the consistency you’d want in a marinara for your home-made pizza. But the taste, or lack thereof, completely misses the mark.

Bottom Line:

Don’t bother, even if you are on a health kick. By the time you doctor this sauce up to make it actually edible, you could have made the marinara completely from scratch.

13. Organic Marinara Sauce

Via Janice Williams

Price: $3

The Sauce:

Maybe it’s just this specific line of organic marinara sauce that’s bad — because even with salt added this sauce isn’t anything to phone home about.

Now there are some standout qualities. Pop the lid and you’ll be greeted by an aroma reminiscent of a tomato garden full of juicy red fruits on a sunny day. The taste is also undeniably fresh, as if the tomatoes for this sauce were plucked from the vine the very day that you opened up a jar. All the ingredients—similar to the sauce above but with about 500 mg of sodium—are discernable. The consistency is also picture perfect: not too runny, not too thick, and dotted with chunks of tomatoes.

But that’s as far as the compliments go for this red sauce. The flavor profile is paltry. The best thing to compare this one to is the sauce barely coating the dollar-slices at sub-par New York City pizza joints. It fine when you’re 23 and wasted on a Thursday night on the Lower East Side, but it’s never something you truly crave.

Bottom Line:

Not completely terrible, but not all that good either. Skip it.

12. Bolognese Style Tomato & Beef Pasta Sauce

Via Janice Williams

Price: $4

The Sauce:

So this sauce has a bigger, chunkier tomato base than I was expecting. Yes, the minced beef is there and it’s visible, but it’s not nearly the meat-centric sauce I was hoping for. It does have that roasted meat flavor, but even that seems a little sketchy due to the sauce’s off-putting beef-broth aftertaste.

There’s probably a reason why true Bolognese is meant to be slow-cooked. This tastes rushed, and it doesn’t have the savory depth of a homemade sauce. It’s a bit astringent, which likely could have been rectified with a little bit more celery and onion and more time on the stove.

Bottom Line:

You’ll probably enjoy your Bolognese more if you make it yourself.

11. Three Cheese Pomodoro Pasta Sauce

Via Janice Williams

Price: $3

The Sauce:

Made with Romano, parmesan, and asiago cheeses, this sauce smells like tomatoes baked with a layer of cheese hot out the oven. It’s thick and smooth, rich and buttery all at the same time, flushed out with bright notes of ripe tomato and fresh basil.

But that’s about as far as it goes for this sauce. It’s pretty simple in taste and doesn’t quite display the nutty, salty cheesy flavors associated with the blend that makes up the recipe. (It’s also always hard to buy any “cheese blend” product and not imagine that the Parmigianno — the most expensive part of almost any cheese combo — has only been added in trace amounts.)

Bottom Line:

It’s not fair to expect much more from a sauce this cheap. Is it mind-blowing good? No. Is it passable? Yes.

10. Organic Spaghetti Sauce with Mushrooms

Via Janice Williams

Price: $3

The Sauce:

The mushroom aroma is loud on this sauce, but fragrances of basil and Italian spices also permeate the air as it heats up. The consistency is as thick as barbecue sauce and it displays a pretty, brick-red color.

The sauce is chock full of hearty mushroom bits. However, it’s definitely a sweeter-leaning tomato sauce, and the natural citric acidity of the tomatoes has been reduced to “barely noticeable.” The label claims there are only 3 grams of sugar in a jar of this stuff, but it tastes like a lot more.

Bottom Line:

There are people in this world who like sugar in their spaghetti. Those people usually like sugar in their grits too. Those are the folks who would appreciate this Trader Joe’s red sauce. I am not one of those folks.

9. Organic Vodka Sauce

Via Janice Williams

Price: $3

The Sauce:

I am really critical of vodka sauce because it’s one of the pasta sauces (okay who am I kidding, it is the only pasta sauce) that I actually know how to make. But Trader Joe’s version is not a bad option when you’re in a crunch for time.

The sauce is hearty with briny tomatoes, and the texture is rich and smooth. Could it use a bit more cream? For sure. A sprinkle of chili flakes? Yeah, that would give the sauce a nice little kick. But overall, the vodka sauce is silky, bright, and flavorful with a bit of noticeable acid from the tomato.

Bottom Line:

It’s not homemade. But for just three bucks a pop, it’s not not worth it.

8. Limone Alfredo Sauce

Via Janice Williams

Price: $4

The Sauce:

The best way to describe this pasta sauce is tangy.

It’s super pasty—more like a ricotta cheese than an Alfredo sauce made with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. It smells like the Olive Garden with a hint of lemon, and zest is the most prominent flavor in play. The nutty, buttery cheesiness of the alfredo is there but it’s nearly overshadowed by the pucker of lemon.

This is a pasta sauce that is better suited for an out-of-the-box lasagna or baked ziti, and it’s certainly one that you need to be in the mood for to actually enjoy. When you’re up for it, it certainly delivers a unique, citrusy quality.

Bottom Line:

When you’re tired of the standard pasta sauce iterations, this offers a fun, cheap, easy, and surprisingly tasty option.

7. Traditional Marinara Sauce

Via Janice Williams

Price: $2

The Sauce:

Now here’s a flavorful marinara. This sauce is fresh with tomatoes, bursting with balanced acidity, features distinctive garlic and basil notes, and reveals nice hints of rosemary and pepper. There’s also a nice layer of onion and big onion chunks floating in the sauce.

The biggest complaint against this sauce is the consistency. Although marinaras tend to be on the runnier side, this one is almost watery. You need to reduce it down on the stove. But the flavor profile is solid for a quick pasta or on a pizza.

Bottom Line:

This sauce loses points for its too-loose texture, but what it lacks in consistency it makes up for with flavor.

6. Alfredo Pasta Sauce

Via Janice Williams

Price: $4

The Sauce:

This is a luscious and buttery sauce. While it’s heavier than the Alfredo sauce that coats pasta noodles at restaurants and what you’d probably make at home, it’s not nearly as dense as its Limon Alfredo counterpart.

Every bit of this sauce tastes like what you’d get out of a jar for just $4, but it’s still pretty good. This Alfredo is rich and it exudes the creamy, parmesan flavors typically associated with alfredo sauce. It has a complex decadence and nutty cheesiness that makes this a better option than some other grocery-store Alfredo sauce brands. It could use another turn of fresh black pepper, but overall this sauce is fulfilling and completely satisfying.

Bottom Line:

Are you in the mood for fettuccini but don’t feel like grating parm? This will get the job done.

5. 5. Tomato Basil Marinara

Via Janice Williams

Price: $2

The Sauce:

Now here’s a good pizza sauce if I ever tasted one. Aromatic, sweet, and savory with visible chopped flat basil leaves, the sauce sings a perfectly balanced melody of sweet meets acid. It’s exactly what you want when you’re thinking of marinara, whether it’s to sauce up your pizza or for dunking your mozzarella sticks.

This sauce also has a great consistency. Not too thick, not too runny either. Good for spreading, dipping, and any other way you see fit to eat.

Bottom Line:

Making a Margherita pizza or penne marinara? This is the inexpensive sauce you need.

4. Roasted Garlic Marinara

Via Janice Williams

Price: $2

The Sauce:

Here’s another good Trader Joe’s baseline marinara. It packs a powerful garlicky punch but it’s not too pungent where you’ll be sweating garlic through your pores later. It rounds out with hints of black pepper that only heightens the flavor.

The sauce is as rich and creamy as tomato soup, and it tastes like it should cost a lot more than what it actually does.

Bottom Line:

This sauce is an actual garlic flavor bomb. Use it for everything.

3. Creamy Tomato Basil Pasta Sauce

Via Janice Williams

Price: $3

The Sauce:

So this sauce looks and tastes like vodka sauce more than the actual Trader Joe’s-branded vodka sauce. It has a beautiful orange hue that’s just begging for a sprinkle of grated parm on top. It’s creamy, just as its name suggests, but there are slithery slivers of tomatoes in every bite.

What I like about this sauce is the basil. You can see it. You can taste it. Leaves of it float amid chunks of tomatoes in a nourishing bath of garlicky cream sauce that is buttery smooth.

Bottom Line:

Pick this one up instead of the TJ’s vodka sauce. It’s got more depth and flavor for the same price.

2. Arrabbiata Sauce

Via Janice Williams

Price: $4

The Sauce:

Swirling aromas of garlic, basil, and chili peppers permeate the air from the saucepan and it becomes so very clear that this is going to be some good, quick pasta. Little tomato nuggets floating in the sauce offer a fresh-picked-from-the-garden taste. The sauce features a feathery light hint of spice while maintaining a nice consistency that can coat and fill rigatoni without making it feel too hearty.

This sauce is fully flavorful and delicious—no real doctoring up required.

Bottom Line:

Just a sprinkle more of chili peppers and this could have been an A+ Trader Joe’s Arrabbiata sauce.

1. Spicy Chunky Tomato & Pepper Sauce

Via Janice Williams

Price: $4

The Sauce:

You can smell the pepper on this sauce. Red peppers, green peppers, chili peppers, black pepper. It’s all there in the fragrance, and it all shows up in the taste too, along with a burst of ripe tomatoes. There’s a touch of sweetness in the sauce but that’s not a bad thing. It tempers down the heat, which is like that good type of spicy chili that will make your nose run if you eat enough of it.

This is a robust sauce that’s appropriately balanced with spice, sweetness, and acidity. It’s also a sauce that can easily amp up the flavor on any kind of pasta dish.

Bottom Line:

If you’re bored with that same-old-same, last-minute pasta you like to make on a Tuesday night, this is something that’s is wholly flavorful and gourmet quality. Spice up your pasta night with a jar of this stuff.

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