The Difference Between Homemade and Store-Bought Pasta Sauce

Pasta with tomato sauce

It’s no surprise that Americans love pasta – we eat a lot of it. According to Statista, approximately 55% of Americans reported eating pasta regularly in 2022, just behind Italians, who (unsurprisingly) clock in at 81%. Pasta is one of those easy-to-prepare, endlessly customizable dishes, and given the variety of sauces available at the store, the average cook might think it’s best to just throw a jar of pasta sauce in. the pan and simmer it with some al-dente noodles. But others would consider it sacrilege.

There’s a lot of stuff online speech whether it’s “better” to make your own sauce or not, and the loudest voices all seem to agree that it is. Take this guy, who claims he’s never had pot pasta sauce as good as homemade sauce. Others chimed in, saying their pasta sauce is “so much tastier than jars of the best sauces,” while some moderates say it depends on whether you have the time or not.

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And of course, TikTok, the social platform that has gradually become a go-to destination for culinary inspiration, now has thousands of videos under the hashtag #pasta, totaling over 22 billion views and counting.

In the spirit of fairness and a love of pasta, I experimented with both the best homemade sauce and the best store-bought sauce, placing them side-by-side for direct comparison and contrast. To make the pasta sauce from scratch, I turned to the queen of italian cuisine himself, Marcella Hazanincluding the classic tomato sauce recipe is breathtakingly simple: just four ingredients and plenty of time to simmer on the stovetop.

How to make your own pasta sauce

Hazan’s recipe is so basic that it only calls for a can of whole peeled tomatoes, 5 tablespoons of butter, a pinch of salt and a halved onion. Throw everything in a saucepan and simmer uncovered for 45 minutes.

Admittedly, I was a bit wary of its texture as it began to cook on the stove. After 30 minutes, however, the sauce had reduced to about half the amount and appeared quite thick. The result was a thick sauce that was deeply rich and satisfying, with onion and buttery notes that didn’t overpower the tomato base. The glossy sheen achieved by the butter made the whole lot even more appealing. To finish the job, I cooked spaghetti and mixed the sauce. It turned out to be one of the most delicious pasta dishes I’ve ever had (and it’s also vegetarian).

I am far from the only one to feel this: on Kitchen NYT, there are 976 comments on this recipe alone. Even if she had never developed another recipe in her life, Hazan would have forever cemented her legacy with this pure and simple tomato sauce.

Use store-bought pasta sauce

From a kitchen perspective, making your own pasta sauce is a truly divine, comfortable and comforting experience. Your house is filled with the most delicious smells, which are sure to attract your partner and/or children to the kitchen, asking for a sample of what you are cooking.

Compare that to Bertolli tomato and basil sauce, an option that resembles Hazan’s sauce in terms of ingredients: tomato juice, sea salt, citric acid, calcium chloride, among others, are present in both whole peeled tomatoes and in pre-made products. If you’re looking for tomato thickness, flavor, and flavor, Bertolli’s promises all three for $3.99.

It’s certainly easier to take a jar of pasta sauce and pour it into the pot with some pasta noodles (or maybe just make it the TikTok way). Store bought will sacrifice some flavor and texture, as it won’t have the silky consistency of freshly broken down tomatoes in the pan with butter. Still, there are strains on the market that still manage to taste rich and decadent, even if they’re not indistinguishable from homemade. Bertolli’s thick, chunky, intensely tomato flavor still manages to dominate the plate (and palate) at a reasonable price. However, the more a store-bought brand has a compelling homemade taste, the greater the cost difference will be between pot sauce and sauce you can make yourself.

Make or buy pasta sauce

While the flavor and texture of Hazan’s Simple Tomato Sauce was amazing and certainly better than any potted pasta sauce I’ve ever had, my practicality took over and prompted me to consider its cost and time. To make the sauce, I used a can of Muir Glen Organic Whole Peeled Tomatoes (San Marzano style), available for $3.99 at my local grocery store, a white onion at about $0.45 each, 5 tablespoons of butter, which I calculated at about $0.60, and a pinch salt. Total cost: $5.04.

Whether or not you should make or buy depends on your lifestyle, preferences, and dietary needs. The beauty of making your own pasta sauce is the ability to customize it to your preference, as long as you have the basic ingredients.

For me, as a working mom of two, the math usually tips in favor of a quality, store-bought sauce. But if I have time, Hazan’s recipe is the tomato sauce I will make over and over again, because it’s worth the wait and the price a bit higher.

As stated in his New York Times obituary, Hazan’s tomato sauce recipe was the embodiment of what she believed in: simplicity, precision and balance. We don’t always have the resources to aim for all three at once, but when we do, it’s nice to know that we only need four ingredients to achieve them.

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