The Homemade Trials: Spaghetti Sauce

Comparing homemade spaghetti sauce to store options regarding cost, nutrition, time, and taste. Who will win?!


The Homemade Trials: Spaghetti Sauce

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I was really excited about last week’s poll because The Homemade Trials series is quickly becoming some of my favorite posts to do here on Macheesmo. Judging from the closeness of the vote last week, I may just have to eventually do all the options in it, but the winner, Spaghetti Sauce, is an excellent start.

What are The Homemade Trials? Just as a reminder to those that haven’t read one of these posts before, I take a common thing that people normally buy at the store and compare it to the homemade version. I try to be as objective as possible and split the “trials” into four categories: Time, Cost, Nutrition, and Taste.

It’s not always the case that there’s a clear winner at the end of the day, but hopefully it can help you make informed decisions whether or not to try to make this thing at home!

We have a lot to get through regarding spaghetti sauce, so let’s get to it!

The Store Versions

This might be a shock to you, but there’s a ridiculous amount of options when it comes to store-bought pasta sauce. There’s approximately half an aisle of options at the store. It didn’t really seem fair to just pick one and compare it to a homemade version, so I picked three:

store sauces
The line up!

I tried to pick three that were a wide range of prices.

To keep things simple, I also just picked the traditional version of each sauce meaning that it’s basically just tomatoes, onion, garlic, a bit of sugar (or in some cases corn syrup), and basil.

The Homemade Version

I seriously just made my standard homemade spaghetti sauce for this post. It’s the sauce I make at least once a week.

It’s about as simple as pasta sauce gets.

Simple stuff.

Besides these ingredients, I add some olive oil, about a Tablespoon of sugar and a pinch of salt which, for the purposes of this post, I actually measured for the first time ever at exactly one teaspoon.

So let’s get into the trials and see how this played out!


Here’s the thing to remember about pasta sauce prep time. Regardless of the sauce you use, you have to cook the pasta. Bringing a good amount of water to a boil and cooking spaghetti takes about 20 minutes. You might think you can do it faster, and maybe you can trim a minute or two off of that time, but that’s a good estimate I think for most people.

Obviously it takes less than 20 minutes to pour some sauce out of a jar and heat it up. Heck, you can heat it in the microwave in one minute.

Here’s the thing though. My homemade version takes less than 20 minutes to cook also. I dice the onion and garlic, cook it in a few tablespoons of olive oil, then add the tomatoes and cook them down for 10-15 minutes on medium heat. At the end, I toss in the basil. DONE.

I do this at least once a week and can vouch that the sauce is done at almost the exact same time as the pasta.

So guess what. I’m calling this category a TIE, just because you have to spend time cooking the pasta no matter what. As long as the cook time doesn’t extend past that point, it’s free!

Now, you maybe could argue that the homemade version is a tiny bit more work, but seriously. If you aren’t willing to dice 1/2 an onion, 2 cloves of garlic, and pour stuff into a pan, you maybe shouldn’t be reading this blog…


As always, I was dead convinced that the homemade version would lose this category. It turns out to only be half true. For starters, it should be noted that I used organic canned tomatoes. Even though I got them on sale, they were about $1 more than the cheapest canned tomatoes.

So if you’re really focused on cost, you could beat me.

Here’s the final breakdown though which is closer than I thought it would be.

So I beat Newman’s and just barely lost to Prego. I got killed by Kroger, but so did everybody.

This, of course, makes it incredibly hard to judge because it depends on what version you’re judging it against.

I’m going to go out on a limb and Call it a TIE. I think that’s fair given that if I were solely focused on costs, I could’ve brought mine down even more by not using organic tomatoes.


This might not surprise you but really all of the sauces were very close when it came to nutrition.

I seriously GEEKED out on this for a while.

Everything is almost identical except three categories:

Sodium. Besides Prego, all the store bought versions are basically salt sauces. I mean, 1/2 Cup of Kroger sauce is about 40% of your recommended daily Sodium intake. That’s pretty serious. Luckily, it’s not to hard to beat at home and still season your food reasonably.

Carbs. I can’t figure out how these three sauces have about double the carbs my version has. It doesn’t exactly make sense to me, but I’m not sure the exact ratios of ingredients they used and I double-triple checked my math. Not that I really care. I’m actually happy mine has less carbs considering you eat this sauce on a BIG SERVING OF CARBS.

Sugar. Besides salt, these sauces all have way more sugar than I think you need in a sauce. I used a Tablespoon for my version and it was just enough to counteract the acid in the tomatoes.

It’s pretty close, but mainly because of the Sodium, I’m going to say that the homemade version wins this category!


I had a serious problem when it came to taste: I knew what all the sauces were and could, in no way, be objective about it.

SO, I put the sauces in 4 similar bowls, heated them up to the same temperature, and had Betsy do a completely blind taste test of the 4 sauces!

Here were her results!

She knew that one of the top two was my homemade sauce because she eats it every week and the bottom two were too watery. But oh well. It was as objective as I could get on a random Monday night.

Her favorites in order from favorite to least favorite were: Homemade, Newmans, Kroger, Prego.

It wasn’t even close to her. She said the homemade version tasted like “Tomatoes and herbs.”

So I’m giving Taste to HOMEMADE. Woohoo! I was actually nervous about that!

The Results

While all of the categories except taste were very close, I think that the homemade version wins this trial!

As an aside, if you are going to buy your pasta sauce from the store, Newman’s tasted the best to both of us, but was the most expensive by far. The best bang for your buck was actually KROGER version, which we both preferred over the Prego version even though it’s about half the price.

Of course, the Kroger version also has the most sodium by far, so it’s not too surprising that we thought it tasted better. Salt, after all, makes things good.

At the end of the day though, you should try making it at home!

Leave a comment. Let me know how my analysis is flawed. Oh. And please give me more ideas for future trials!

23 Responses to “The Homemade Trials: Spaghetti Sauce” Leave a comment

  1. Thumbs up for homemade, we also eat it once a week and it is just so easy and quick and tasty, in South Africa it is most definitely cheaper than buying the store version!!!
    My recent post Classic moustache

  2. Good for you! I'd also say that those other ones might have been higher in protein, sugar & carbs, if they had corn products in them – corn syrup or thickeners. But corn protein & sugar and not necessary things you want these days!

    Homemade spaghetti sauce has been a staple in our home for over 20 years. I make a meat sauce and slow simmer it for several hours. My husband prefers to cook a quick, bright sauce like yours. They're both wonderful.

    What about doing a a trial from the frozen food section, like french fries, cheese sticks or onion rings?
    My recent post For Katie and Her Girls

  3. Maybe next time you do one of these, a line up of the ingredients would be a good thing to add. I'm curious what actually goes into those sauces!

    1. They were mostly pretty reasonable ingredients. Tomato puree, dried garlic, herbs, sugar or corn syrup and a few preservatives.

  4. I'm not sure what exactly the carbs value on a nutrition label measures, but it seems to me that it can be attributed to the more than doubling of sugar compared with your homemade recipe. Anyways, kudos on beating out the pros.
    My recent post Battle Burgers!

    1. DUH. That makes complete sense. Not sure how I missed that, but yea… doubling the sugar would obviously double the carbs. Thanks rob!

  5. Nick, I think the difference in carb content was also the sugar. Sugar is carbs. They are using sugar and HFCS, both of which are solid carbs.

    My problem with quickie, same-day homemade red sauce is that it doesn't have time to reduce properly. Notoriously, the water in the tomatoes separates from the sauce on the plate, leaving my pasta swimming in an ocean of wetness. Reducing tomato sauce takes me much longer than 20 minutes, but since red sauce can be made in large batches and frozen, I don't see how spending one afternoon with a soup pot simmering on the stove can be seen as an overwhelming time investment.
    My recent post Meal Plan In Action

  6. I make the "Sunday Gravy" every weekend now that was featured in Cook's Illustrated a month or so ago. It doesn't take long to prepare; I don't really count the time simmering on the stove top since I'm not actually doing anything with it (except an occasional stir). I like a very smooth consistency so I stick the immersion blender in it when I'm ready to take it off the stove.

  7. Have you tried homemade trials for girl scout cookies? Chris and I love tagalongs, but 2 of those tiny things have 25% of your daily fat, which seems insane. Tagalongs are my vote for the next homemade trial.

  8. Loved this trial :) It's actually an even wider cost comparison for me because I have to buy sauce without onions in it. My husband is allergic (although he loves the taste… poor guy.) It's so difficult to find a sauce that doesn't use onions, not to mention actually tastes good. We end up spending $4 or $5 per jar. Craziness.

    One question – any suggestions for something else I could add to homemade sauce that would mimic onion flavor or add the same general thing to the sauce as onions do?

    1. My daughter's husband is allergic to onions, also. She substitutes celery in her recipes that call for onions. Not the same flavor as onion, but a good flavor substitute.

  9. Even with canned tomatoes :) Tomato sauce – or gravy, as those of us raised by Italians like to call – needs to simmer. And you need a tall soup pot or you end up with the stove covered in little red splatters.

    If you make a big batch and freeze it though, I bet the time would come out the same and the cost would come out even better!

  10. I prepare my red sauce similar to yours. The difference is I use more garlic, a small can of tomato paste and simmer much longer to reduce it. Anyway, We prefer homemade sauce to any purchased sauce. I like to make a big batch of sauce and freeze in a suck-o-matic bag. The only store bought sauce I will use is Trader Joe's 3-cheese pomodoro pasta sauce. I even alter that by putting a little bit of vodka in it toward the end of the warming period.
    With summer coming on, why don't you test homemade vanilla or chocolate ice cream against the mid-priced store varieties. In my area we are able to buy Mayfield, Blue Bell, Edy's/Dreyer, Breyers, and Kroger and Publix store brands. I don't what brands you have where you live. I think our homemade ice cream is better than the brands mentioned above, but, we don't make the multitude of flavors those brands offer.

  11. I love this series! Also, I've got to say that if there was a category for aesthetics, yours would win hands down. I'd definitely put that on my pasta. The bottom two almost look like bowls of ketchup.

  12. I love your homemade trials! I think a couple good ideas for the next one could be chicken noodle soup (I can never find a store bought kind that measures up to a homemade version), biscuits, or perhaps frozen waffles or pancakes.

  13. Agreed. The extra carbs are coming directly from the high level of sugar used in those sauces.

    I've alway been really picky about pasta sauce. I have almost never tried a store-bought version that I liked straight from the jar (I have found a few passable deli versions, but they were very pricey!). Even back in high school, before I started making my own sauce, I always heated jarred sauces on the stovetop with extra garlic, onions, lemon juice and herbs to 'fix' them and make them palatable.
    My recent post shinjuku gyoen in spring

  14. Kudos for homemade version. I have to made my pasta sauce all the time because there aren't any jar sauce here in Bergen.

  15. Do you make homemade sauce from fresh tomatoes ever? This may sound like a silly question, but I'm planning on growing tomatoes for the first time. I'd like to turn them into sauces.
    Do you just blanch and then strain them to get rid of the skins/seed?

    1. Heya, Sorry I missed this question. I've done it once or twice. I do exactly what you say… blanch them to remove the skins then slice them open and get rid of most the seeds. Then chop them up.

      You'll probably have to cook the sauce down for quite awhile. Be sure to taste it as you go also. I've found that a pinch of sugar helps with the acidity in the tomatoes.

    1. It's pretty easy and written throughout the post.

      – 1/2 onion, diced
      – 2 cloves garlic, minced
      Sautee on medium heat with 2 Tablespoon olive oil until veggies are soft. Add a pinch of salt.
      Add 1 28 ounce can diced tomatoes.
      – Bring to a simmer and cook down for 5 minutes.
      Add a pinch of sugar.
      Add about 1/4 cup of fresh basil minced.
      Serve it up.

      Thanks for reading this trash site!

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