The hardest part is choosing which one to put in your shopping cart. So much so, you might be tempted to try them all just like I did. Yep, I tried the most popular Trader Joe’s pasta sauces, and happily ate my way through eight tomato-based pasta sauces, two Alfredo sauces, and a ready-made cacio e pepe sauce, and sized them up according to taste, texture, and nutrition.
The 5 best Trader Joe’s pasta sauces, at a glance:
- Best overall: Trader Joe’s Creamy Tomato Basil Pasta Sauce
- Best marinara: Trader Joe’s Tomato Basil Marinara Sauce
- Best white sauce: Trader Joe’s Alfredo Pasta Sauce
- Best veggie-packed: Trader Joe’s Vegan Bolognese Style Pasta Sauce
- Best low-sodium: Trader Joe’s Spicy Chunky Tomato & Pepper Pasta Sauce
What I looked for when shopping for the best Trader Joe’s pasta sauces
Taste will vary from one person to another, but typically, a good-tasting pasta sauce will have a few things in common. It has to be “well-seasoned with some depth of flavor and a little complexity,” says Richard LaMarita, a chef-instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York. When it comes to cream-based sauces, “you are looking for creaminess and cheesiness,” he says.
If you’re someone who is particular about the nutritional content of your food—or in this case, jarred pasta sauce—you might want an option with a lot of plant-based ingredients. “The more plant-based ingredients it contains, the more nutrient-packed it is,” says registered dietitian nutritionist Gisela Bouvier, RDN. Another tip from Bouvier? “Be mindful of the amount of sodium in jarred pasta sauce.” She typically recommends options with less than 500 milligrams of sodium per half-cup serving—something to keep in mind as you shop.
Below, you’ll find my review of 11 of Trader Joe’s jarred pasta sauces, with my absolute favorite options listed up top.
Best overall: Trader Joe’s Creamy Tomato Basil Pasta Sauce
Taste: I really enjoyed the taste of this pasta sauce. It was well-balanced and just rich enough, thanks to the cream and Parmesan cheese. The flavors of the tomatoes also shone through. I tasted hints of basil, though it wasn’t a prominent flavor in the sauce. Overall, I could enjoy this as is.
Texture: Out of the jar, this pasta sauce is thick but not chunky, and though it doesn’t have the creaminess of a true cream-based pasta sauce, it retained its rich texture when I added in noodles.
Nutritional content (per half-cup serving): 120 calories, 9g total fat, 4g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 20mg cholesterol, 460mg sodium, 8g total carbs, 1g fiber, 4g sugar, 3g protein
Ingredients: Tomatoes, tomato puree, cream, Parmesan cheese, onions, carrots, extra-virgin olive oil, basil, garlic, sea salt, spice, citric acid
Best marinara: Trader Joe’s Tomato Basil Marinara Sauce
Taste: This pasta sauce manages the difficult balance of sweet and savory, and it’s easy how it could lend itself well to a variety of recipes beyond pasta. (Think: pizza or shakshuka.) If anything, the basil flavor doesn’t come through clearly—and it took a few spoonfuls straight out of the jar for it to register on my tongue.
Texture: The sauce is smooth and silky, but not so much that it slid off the pasta noodles. It coated—and clung onto—the noodles surprisingly well.
Nutritional content (per half-cup serving): 90 calories, 5g total fat, 1g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 550mg sodium, 10g total carbs, 2g fiber, 6g sugar, 2g protein
Ingredients: Tomato puree, diced tomatoes in juice, soybean oil, sugar, salt, dried onions, dried garlic, citric acid, extra-virgin olive oil, dried parsley, dried basil, dried oregano, natural flavor
Best white sauce: Trader Joe’s Alfredo Pasta Sauce
Taste: This is cheesy, creamy, and indulgent, which, I think, is what people typically look for in a classic Alfredo sauce. Its simplicity lends itself to experimentation, and you can punch it up with herbs and spices, or use it for everything from pasta to meats.
Texture: This pasta sauce is thick with a smooth consistency. It evenly coated the noodles, and it managed to retain its texture at higher temperatures.
Nutritional content (per half-cup serving): 80 calories, 6g total fat, 4g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 35mg cholesterol, 280mg sodium, 3g total carbs, 0g fiber, 1g sugar, 2g protein
Ingredients: Water, cream Parmesan cheese, Romano cheese, butter, modified egg yolk, modified cornstarch, salt, natural flavor, sugar, xanthan gum, roasted garlic puree, black pepper, onion powder, lactic acid, nutmeg
Best veggie-packed: Trader Joe’s Vegan Bolognese Style Pasta Sauce
Taste: A vegan riff on Trader Joe’s Bolognese Style pasta sauce, this uses plant-based crumbles instead of ground beef. It leans more sweet than savory, but I like that it uses real veggies in the mix, which lends it a homemade flavor.
Texture: Similar to the beef Bolognese Style pasta sauce, the plant-based crumbles are on the smaller side, but the addition of the veggies, like carrots and mushrooms, compensates for this.
Nutritional content (per half-cup serving): 120 calories, 7g total fat, 1g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 320mg sodium, 9g total carbs, 2g fiber, 4g sugar, 4g protein
Ingredients: Crushed tomatoes, plant-based crumbles, carrot, mushroom, extra-virgin olive oil, diced tomatoes and juice, onion, celery, nutritional yeast, garlic, lemon juice concentrate, sea salt, basil, porcini mushroom powder, black pepper, crushed chili peppers, dried oregano
Best low-sodium: Trader Joe’s Spicy Chunky Tomato & Pepper Pasta Sauce
Taste: According to one Trader Joe’s employee I spoke with, this pasta sauce is her favorite, and it was its spicy savoriness that left her with a lasting impression. It has a kick to it, thanks to cayenne pepper, and it is indeed savory. While you’ll find—and taste—a host of seasonings in the jar, the most prominent among them was cumin.
Its flavorful taste makes it versatile too, and it could lend itself well to shakshuka or a hearty soup.
Texture: If there is a word to describe this pasta sauce’s texture, it would be “chunky,” but only because of the addition of whole peeled and diced tomatoes and red bell peppers. The sauce itself is on the soupy side.
Nutritional content (per half-cup serving): 80 calories, 4g total fat, 0.5g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 250mg sodium, 9g total carbs, 2g fiber, 5g sugar, 2g protein
Ingredients: Whole peeled tomatoes, diced tomatoes, red bell peppers, tomato paste, extra-virgin olive oil, garlic, paprika, salt, San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes, cumin powder, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, black pepper, coriander powder, caraway seeds
The other Trader Joe’s pasta sauces I tried
Trader Joe’s Three Cheese Pomodoro Pasta Sauce
Taste: This pasta sauce is made with Parmesan, Romano, and asiago cheese and it’s clear that these are present—in fact, they take center stage. All that cheese makes the sauce fall on the saltier side, but it’s still worth a try if you like the flavor combination of cheese and tangy tomatoes.
Texture: Neither too thick nor too runny, this pasta sauce has a texture that is just right. The tomato pieces hold their shape, and the hefty onion chunks don’t get lost in the sauce when mixed with noodles.
Nutritional content (per half-cup serving): 130 calories, 6g total fat, 2g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 5mg cholesterol, 540mg sodium, 10g total carbs, 2g fiber, 5g sugar, 4g protein
Ingredients: Italian tomatoes, tomato puree, olive oil, onion, Parmesan cheese, Romano cheese, asiago cheese, salt, garlic puree, citric acid, dried basil, dried oregano
Trader Joe’s Organic Vodka Sauce
Taste: This contains heavy cream, cheese, and yes, vodka—all components that a classic vodka sauce might call for. I think it works as more of a starting point, though, and I was inclined to add more cream and cheese, which is how I prefer pasta alla vodka.
Texture: This pasta sauce is on the thinner side. It isn’t, however, runny. If you like vodka pasta sauce on the thicker side, adding cream and cheese can make it more substantial.
Nutritional content (per half-cup serving): 80 calories, 3g total fat, 1.5g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 5mg cholesterol, 540mg sodium, 11g total carbs, 2g fiber, 7g sugar, 2g protein
Ingredients: Organic diced tomatoes in organic tomato juice, organic tomato puree, organic pasteurized heavy cream, organic sweet whey, organic onion, salt, organic Parmesan cheese, organic extra-virgin olive oil, organic garlic puree, organic lemon juice concentrate, organic dried basil, organic vodka, organic dried oregano
Trader Joe’s Roasted Garlic Marinara Sauce
Taste: This pasta sauce, as the name implies, has the discernible taste of garlic, which might be a turnoff for those who aren’t fans of the allium. The garlic is roasted, however, which tames its flavor so it doesn’t overpower the whole thing but rather works to offset the sauce, which is on the sweeter side.
Texture: This pasta sauce is on the thinner side, but this might be expected of a marinara sauce. When I added it to noodles, though, it slid off the pasta, rather than clinging onto it.
Nutritional content (per half-cup serving): 90 calories, 5g total fat, 1g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 550mg sodium, 10g total carbs, 3g fiber, 6g sugar, 2g protein
Ingredients: Tomato puree, diced tomatoes in juice, soybean oil, sugar, salt, dried roasted garlic, dried onions, citric acid, extra-virgin olive oil, dried parsley, dried basil, dried oregano
Trader Joe’s Bolognese Style Tomato & Beef Pasta Sauce
Taste: This pasta sauce is made after a traditional Bolognese sauce, with beef chunks, carrots, onions, and garlic, as well as basil, oregano, and rosemary in the mix. It manages to capture the flavor, making it ideal when you’re in a pinch and you neither have the time nor the patience to slow-cook the classic sauce for hours from scratch.
Texture: The beef chunks lend this pasta sauce more texture, but they are on the smaller side, which might be a tradeoff for those who prefer the bite of a particularly meat-heavy Bolognese.
Nutritional content (per half-cup serving): 70 calories, 4g total fat, 1g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 10mg cholesterol, 500mg sodium, 6g total carbs, 1g fiber, 3g sugar, 4g protein
Ingredients: Peeled tomatoes in puree, cooked ground beef, water, tomato paste, onion, extra virgin olive oil, carrot puree, garlic puree, sea salt, basil, citric acid, black pepper, ground fennel seed, dried oregano, ground thyme, ground rosemary
Trader Joe’s Limone Alfredo Sauce
Taste: The zesty lemon flavor cuts through the cheesiness of this Alfredo sauce, which lends the classic sauce more interest. The lemon, however, might be quite potent for some, myself included, and I find that it overpowers the sauce altogether, though this should be no problem for lemon lovers.
Texture: This is among the thickest pasta sauces I tried from Trader Joe’s, and with this in mind, a little goes a long way.
Nutritional content (per half-cup serving): 190 calories, 15g total fat, 8g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 30mg cholesterol, 540mg sodium, 9g total carbs, 2g fiber, 3g sugar, 4g protein
Ingredients: Whole milk, water, whipping cream, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, sunflower seed oil, modified cornstarch, butter, lemon juice concentrate, salt, natural flavors, spices, xanthan gum, citric acid
Trader Joe’s Cacio E Pepe Pasta Sauce
Taste: This sauce can serve as a starting point for cacio e pepe. In my opinion, it could use a few more cranks of ground black pepper, but this is a small tradeoff for the time (and elbow grease) required to make this Italian dish from scratch.
Texture: Much like the Limone Alfredo Sauce, this sauce is among the thickest ones on the list. You’ll only need a few of the stuff to coat your noodles.
Nutritional content (per half-cup serving): 110 calories, 10g total fat, 3.5g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 10mg cholesterol, 510mg sodium, 2g total carbs, 0g fiber, 0g sugar, 3g protein
Ingredients: Water, Pecorino Romano cheese, sunflower seed oil, modified cornstarch, ground black pepper, sodium citrate, xanthan gum, sea salt
How to upgrade store-bought pasta sauce
While you can certainly enjoy jarred pasta sauce as is, zhuzhing it up can make it taste even better. Take it from LaMarita, who shares five ways to enhance the flavor of your favorite store-bought pasta sauce.
1. Onions and garlic
Onions and garlic can take a pasta sauce from good to great, says LaMarita. Just sauté the onions and garlic in olive oil, add the pasta sauce, and then let them cook with the sauce. Keep in mind that you’ll want to avoid cooking cream-based sauces for too long as it’ll thicken the sauce—and “you won’t know what to do with it,” says LaMarita.
2. Herbs, spices, and seasonings
The usual bench of herbs, spices, and seasonings can transform the flavor of your pasta sauce. Basil, oregano, and parsley, are among the options that LaMarita recommends for pasta sauce. You can opt to use dried seasonings, which you’ll want to add in along with the onions and garlic, or fresh herbs, which LaMarita recommends adding in after heating the sauce in a pan.
If you like spice, LaMarita says that crushed chili pepper flakes can add a kick to your sauce, while seasonings like salt and pepper can bring out the flavors. However, you’ll want to refrain from adding salt if the pasta sauce contains over 500 of sodium, he says.
3. Chopped vegetables
Chopped vegetables like carrots and bell peppers can be added to tomato-based pasta sauces, too. Carrots and bell peppers can sweeten the sauce, which in turn, lend it more complexity. If using veggies, you’ll want to add them in with your onions and garlic, says LaMarita.
4. Red wine
Tomato-based pasta sauces can also benefit from a few glugs of red wine. “It adds a little acidity,” says LaMarita. Pour in the red wine—but not too much—when cooking the onions and garlic. This will allow it to cook down and prevent the “wine-y taste.”
5. Heavy cream
For more richness, you can add heavy cream to tomato or cream-based pasta sauces. You’ll want to pour in the heavy cream after sautéing your onions and garlic. “The cream will take on the flavor of the onions and garlic,” says LaMarita.
Other ways to cook with store-bought pasta sauce
Jarred pasta sauce isn’t just for… well, pasta. Many jarred pasta sauces, particularly tomato-based varieties, can serve as a canvas for culinary experimentation. For instance, you can use it as a base for seafood and meat stews, says LaMarita, rather than using chicken or vegetable stock. It could also work as a sauce for roasted meats and veggies, like bell peppers and eggplant. He also says that tomato-based sauces pair pleasantly with goat cheese, the combination of which you can serve on a platter with toasted bread or crackers. What’s more, you can use it in place of regular tomato sauce for pizza and I personally like to use it to make shakshuka. As LaMarita will tell you, the uses for jarred pasta sauce are many. “It’s an infinite world,” he says.
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