Plain pasta isn't exactly full of flavor, so it helps to pair it with a decent sauce. Consumer Reports' trained tasters found three Excellent choices among the 20 they tried.
Among the best is Giada De Laurentiis (from Target), just 60 cents per half-cup. It's balanced and fresh-tasting, with a buttery richness. Also Excellent are Victoria and Mario Batali, though the Batali costs more than twice as much as the De Laurentiis, ounce for ounce. Three sauces are Very Good, and most of the rest are merely OK; Hunt's Traditional is only Fair. It tastes a bit like tomato paste and is slightly sour, with a soapy, perfumey off-taste.
What's in a famous name? Although the tested De Laurentiis and Batali sauces score high, Paul Newman's rates far lower. Well-known store brands including Great Value (Walmart), Trader Giotto's (Trader Joe's), Kirkland Signature (Costco), and 365 Everyday Value (Whole Foods) are also middling, with the best of that group, Great Value, also the cheapest, at 22 cents per half-cup.
Brandmates aren't equally tasty. Although Barilla and Bertolli tomato and basil sauces are Very Good, the marinara versions are Good. Don't assume that all sauces by a particular manufacturer will be of similar quality.
Judged on calories, fats, sodium, sugars, fiber, calcium, and iron, most products earned a score of Good. (Newman's Own includes some iron and fiber, so it squeaks into the Very Good category for nutrition.) Still, the numbers differ: Calories per half-cup range from 40 to 100; fat from 1 to 7 grams; sodium from 340 to 560 milligrams; and sugars from 2 to 12 grams.
Giada De Laurentiis Tomato Basil is a CR Best Buy. Victoria and Mario Batali, runners-up, are pricier but also somewhat lower in calories, fat, and sugars. All three taste as if made with fresh ingredients. Cost is based on approximate retail prices of the containers we bought. Costco's came in the biggest jar, 32 ounces; Trader Joe's in the smallest, 18 ounces.
Our tasters also tried Classico Signature Recipes Creamy Alfredo and the same product in a Light version. Regular has 100 calories and 9 grams of fat per serving (a quarter-cup for these sauces); Light shaves off about 40 calories and 4 grams of fat. Both taste mediocre, and neither comes close to a traditional Alfredo sauce. They taste so similar on fettuccine that if you must eat jarred Alfredo sauce, you might as well choose Light and save calories and fat.