There are lots of ways to waste money in the grocery store, but I’ve always thought that jarred pasta sauces were one of the biggest ripoffs of all time. Of course most things are cheaper if you make them yourself but pasta sauce is a no-brainer because it only takes about 15 minutes start to finish to do it yourself.
Grocery stores carry dozens of brands of jarred marinara sauces and they all contain the same basic ingredients: some form of tomato (paste, puree, juice etc.), dehydrated onions, basil, oils (olive oil or canola oil), citric acid, calcium chloride, and spices.
I decided to calculate the cost for 24 oz. of the most basic marinara sauces from some of the most popular brands in my local grocery store: Classico, Prego, Bertolli, and Rao’s. Then I made my version of basic marinara (no cheese, no meat, just like the store bought) and calculated the cost for 24 oz.
The proof is in the numbers and the taste. Mine is not only cheaper than even the least expensive brands of store bought but it tastes better and it’s not loaded with sodium. Scroll past the recipe for the grand totals!
15 Minute Marinara
This recipe makes 24 oz. of sauce. It’s easy to double or quadruple and you can play with the ratios endlessly. I don’t think I’ve ever made it exactly the same way twice but this will give you a basic and reliable tomato sauce if you’re not sure where to start. Add in whatever you like to customize the sauce for different dishes (cheese, cream, capers, wine, roasted red peppers, meat, etc.).
1 can of plain tomato puree or tomato sauce (14 oz.) ($1.00)
1 can of plain diced tomatoes (14 oz.) ($0.75)
3 cloves of garlic ($0.02)
1 tsp. olive oil ($0.02)
1 Tbsp. basil ($0.05)
1 tsp. oregano ($0.03)
1/2 tsp. onion powder ($0.02)
1 tsp. brown sugar ($0.10)
salt to taste
Step by Step
1. Mince garlic & herbs.
2. Heat oil in pot and then toss in garlic. Saute about 1 minute.
3. Pour in diced tomatoes and keep on medium-high heat for 5 minutes.
4. Turn heat low and add in sauce/puree. Stir in all the spices and keep cooking on low for 5 minutes.
5. Slowly add in brown sugar and combine fully. Turn off heat.
Now let’s talk money
Prego is one of the cheaper brands of canned sauces but it still isn’t as cheap as mine! Jar sauces like Prego are also absolutely loaded with sodium so making your own sauce is healthy as well as frugal!
Classico has a fancier looking jar and a more expensive price tag to match (since packaging is really what you’re paying for with products like this). However, the artisanal looking label is about the only difference between this and Prego. Classico has a whopping 480 mg of sodium per serving and the same basic ingredients as the cheaper sauce.
Bertolli is even more expensive and contains the same ingredients as the other two brands plus calcium chloride, “natural flavor”, soy lecithin, sugar, and 340 mg. of sodium per serving. Yum?
Rao’s is very popular and has gotten a huge amount of press for being the best jarred marinara sauce on the market. This is what I call THE GREAT FOOD PARADOX.
People are willing to pay an insane $8.52 for 24 oz. of this stuff because (drumroll please) it’s closer to being homemade than the rest of the brands in the grocery store. You’re literally paying for the privilege of purchasing something BECAUSE it has the same general ingredients as my 15 Minute Marinara that costs:
15 Minute Marinara- $1.99
That’s right, my sauce costs $1.99 for 24 oz.
My sauce is cheaper than Prego by $0.41.
My sauce is cheaper than Classico by $0.89.
My sauce is cheaper than Bertolli by $1.61.
My sauce is cheaper than Rao’s by $6.53.
It’s one thing to spend a little more money for a superior product, I usually buy fresh eggs that are more expensive than their more mass produced counterparts, but when you spend money on something like jar pasta sauce you’re paying more for an inferior product!
Of course you can get as fancy as you like with marinara sauce. You could roast your own peppers, use fresh whole tomatoes, and simmer your sauce on the stove for hours and hours. I love making a nice long tomato sauce when I have the time, but I think my basic 15 Minute Marinara shows that even those short on time or culinary skills never have to rely on store bought pasta sauce again!