pasta sauce taste test 4
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Target, Walmart, Aldi: Which Cheap Pasta Sauce Is a Winner?

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pasta sauce taste test 4
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Pasta Sauce on the Cheap

When it comes to the best jarred pasta sauce, Rao's Homemade wins plenty of taste tests. It also costs upward of $10 per jar. So what about store-brand offerings from Walmart, Target, or Aldi? Can any of their pasta sauces — which cost about one-third as much — come anywhere close to matching Rao's? We sampled six brands of tomato-basil sauces, tasting them plain and with pasta and bread to see how they stacked up. The results follow, ranked worst to first.

Related: Use Your Noodle: 20 Creative Recipes That Highlight Pasta's Many Shapes

Simply Balanced Organic Tomato Basil Pasta Sauce (Target)
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Simply Balanced Organic Tomato Basil (Target)

The thickest of the bunch and one of the chunkier sauces we sampled, Simply Balanced was anything but: The only thing we could taste in the unpleasantly tangy and salty Simply Balanced was tomato, tomato, tomato ... and maybe an underpinning of stale dried basil. Yuck.

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Priano Tomato Basil Sauce (Aldi)
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Priano Tomato Basil (Aldi)

Hope you like your sauce really chunky. Priano had the consistency and texture of ketchup with chewy bits of tomato and crunchy slivers of onion and celery. Flavor-wise, the mild sweetness was overwhelmed by stale dried basil. Underwhelming, but if you like chunks, this is the one for you. (The first ingredient is tomatoes, not tomato puree or juice like most of the other brands.)

Related: 14 Things Not to Buy at Aldi

Sam's Choice Italia Tomato Basil Pasta Sauce (Walmart)
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Sam's Choice Italia Tomato Basil (Walmart)

With the cleanest slate of ingredients among store brands and tomatoes first on the list, it's no surprise that this pasta sauce tasted more like homemade than others we sampled. But there was way too much tomato for our taste, overly bright and tangy — which we attribute to lemon juice concentrate, another ingredient. Salty without being savory, this sauce had an edge that pasta couldn't mellow.

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Great Value Tomato Basil Garlic Pasta Sauce (Walmart)
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Great Value Tomato Basil Garlic (Walmart)

Walmart's house-brand sauce was better-tasting than the Sam's Choice offering, but that's about all we can say. This was the runniest of the bunch, tasting more like a plain canned tomato sauce than a true pasta sauce. Flavor was on the thin side too: a salty, sharp tomato tang on top of dried herbs.

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Simply Nature Organic Tomato and Basil Pasta Sauce (Aldi)
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Runner-Up: Simply Nature Organic Tomato and Basil (Aldi)

Aldi's organic pasta sauce didn't have a lot of personality, either, apart from a strong kick of dried basil and a healthy dash of salt. But it possessed a pleasant texture and lacked the tomato tang that overwhelmed other sauces. Pasta mellowed the herbal sharpness, and we could see this making a good base for a beefed-up sauce with some added ingredients or in a quick weeknight lasagna or pizza.

Related: Aldi Products That Taste Like Name Brands — and Some That Definitely Don't

Market Pantry Tomato, Basil, and Garlic Pasta Sauce (Target)
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Winner: Market Pantry Tomato, Basil, and Garlic (Target)

This jarred sauce came closest to the kind we remember from childhood family spaghetti dinners. Although it had no more sugar per serving than most of the other sauces in our taste test, Target's sauce had a tasty touch of sweetness the others lacked, which countered the bright, herbal flavors reasonably well. The texture was a bit thinner than we prefer, but that can be remedied with the addition of dried parmesan cheese and maybe a sprinkling of red pepper flakes.

Related: 28 Surprisingly Good Costco, Walmart, and Target Products

Rao's Homemade Tomato Basil
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The Gold Standard: Rao's Homemade Tomato Basil

Rao's has earned accolades from America's Test Kitchen, Martha Stewart, and Bon Appétit, and has made enough best-of lists to convince us of its worth. But tasting is believing. Rao's has a deep, rich color right out of the jar, with just enough savory depth to balance the brightness. The perfect blend of texture and thickness, the sauce clings to pasta without being pasty or watery. It tastes like what you'd expect to get in a good American-Italian restaurant in New York — which is exactly how Rao's started out. Its Bronx restaurant is still in business, but good luck getting a table.

Related: Where to Find Good, Cheap Pasta in Every State

The Way the Cookie Crumbles
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