How do you say "I love you" in Italian? Pizza! Italians have been munching on this cheesy, saucy flatbread since the dawn of the Roman Empire. If you've ever indulged in a slice, you know why this culinary phenomenon has stood the test of time.
The first pizzas were just baked flatbreads with simple toppings, and the sauce came much later. Although it's hard to imagine Italy without tomatoes, the fruit only arrived there in the 16th century when it was brought back to Europe from Mexico. The pizza that we know and love today -- the one with tangy tomato sauce holding up a bubbly layer of mozzarella atop a fresh, thinly stretched piece of dough -- was invented in Naples in the 1800s, and since then, the sauce has been an integral part of the pizza-making process.
These days, if you're looking to recreate a slice of Italian history at home, there is no shortage of pizza sauces to choose from. To bring you the definitive list of the best pizza sauces on the market, we cooked up some piping hot, cheesy white pizzas, warmed up each sauce, and spread it out over the top of a fresh slice. We got a group of tasters together and discussed each sauce and ranked them for flavor and texture. So if you're planning on making extra flavorful pizza, keep reading to find out what sauce is going to take it to the next level.
Read more: 15 Popular Pasta Sauce Brands Ranked
11. Trader Joe's Fat Free Pizza Sauce
We know there are some die-hard Trader Joe's fans out there, and don't get us wrong, we count ourselves as one of them. The California-based grocery store offers numerous cheap frozen dinner options, but when it came to pizza sauce, the brand fell short.
Although it's great to have options out there for people who are avoiding oil, the lack of it in this fat-free pizza sauce makes it taste thinner and less robust than many of the other sauces on the list. The sauce also tasted particularly acidic, with tasters noting an astringent quality that they generally found didn't complement the melted mozzarella and fresh dough it was served on. Also, it was evident that the tomatoes used were not fresh but rather a mix of tomato paste and water, which was reflected in the taste of the sauce. The product's saving grace was that it had a great consistency -- not too watery and not too thick. Plus, when it was heated, it clung perfectly to our test pizza. But, we still had to put it last on our list.
10. Happy Belly Pizza Sauce
Happy Belly is available on Amazon and has a reputation for being super affordable. But, it doesn't have a reputation for much else besides its price. At under a dollar a can, you can sauce up a lot of pizzas without worrying that you're going to break the bank. It's about the only thing that we found impressive about this sauce, and the tasters were unenthusiastic about almost every other aspect of it.
Tasters noted that this sauce was a bit too sour and astringent. Although it contains sugar, the sweetness is not enough to balance out the flavor. Unlike many of the other sauces we reviewed that included olive oil to improve its taste, Happy Belly uses soybean oil. This likely means that Happy Belly can sell the cans for much cheaper than other retailers. This oil doesn't come without risks, as illustrated by a recent study that noted a possible link between soybean oil and neurological conditions. If it's in your budget, we'd recommend springing for one of the other sauces on this list.
9. Cucina Antica La Pizza Sauce
We had high hopes for Cucina Antica La Pizza Sauce based on its rustic branding tactic. Cucina Antica makes a variety of Italian sauces, was founded by a chef who grew up in southern Italy, and even uses an "authentic family recipe," but our tasters walked away from this pizza sauce disappointed.
This sauce simply did not deliver in the flavor department. The label notes it contains both white and black pepper, which we noticed overpowered the taste of the other ingredients in the sauce. Its bitter, unpleasant flavor also detracted from the taste of tomatoes in the sauce and from the subtle milkiness of the melted mozzarella. We believe pizza sauce should be there to uplift the other pizza ingredients rather than compete with or detract from them.
There are, however, some admirable aspects of Cucina Antica's premium pizza sauce, like the use of San Marzano tomatoes instead of a mix of tomato paste and water, which adds a hearty chunkiness to the texture, and non-GMO-certified ingredients. That said, overall, tasters were not impressed with this sauce, especially since it was one of the pricier ones on the list.
8. Classico Traditional Pizza Sauce
Classico is a brand with a well-deserved reputation for making Italian ingredients affordable and accessible to American shoppers. In fact, some of our tasters reported fond memories of family dinners made with jars of Classico. But unfortunately, when it came time to munch on a pizza smothered with Classico Traditional Pizza Sauce, we were underwhelmed.
The first issue that we noted was that Classico was way too sweet. It was perhaps the sweetest sauce on this list and the overwhelmingly sugary taste of this sauce took away from the natural flavor of tomato and mozzarella cheese. Our tasters also noted that the amount of herbs and spices was overwhelming, which further obscured the tomato sauce, and left us with a sauce that just didn't give the pizza what it needed. Texture-wise, however, Classico had just enough thickness to coat the dough without making it soggy, which gave it some points over our lower-ranked options.
7. San Marzano Pizza Sauce
If this were a beauty contest, the San Marzano sauce would walk away with a sash and a tiara. But the simple, attractive branding and the reputation for high-quality Italian tomato products, got tasters a little too excited to try the pricey San Marzano tomato pizza sauce. We shouldn't have let the bottle fool us into thinking that this sauce would have ranked the highest.
Our biggest qualm with this sauce was not the price, but rather that it was simply too sweet. It may be that these tomatoes are naturally sugary, but this sauce contains too much added sugar that tipped it past the point of "natural" sweetness. The tasters got lost in sugar, spices, and garlic that otherwise detracted from the tomato flavor and the mild mozzarella. Although the bottle may be pretty, this isn't a sauce we'd want to spread on our pizza anytime soon.
6. Stonewall Kitchen Classic Pizza Sauce
We'll start with the good news. Tasters found that Stonewall Kitchen's Classic Pizza Sauce was unmistakably fresh. We could tell that this manufacturer, which is known for its variety of high-quality products from cocktail garnishes to baking mixes, used quality ingredients when making this sauce. We could see the chunks of tomato and more importantly, we could taste them too. Also, the sauce struck a nice balance between sweetness and acidity, and our tasters were able to discern a hint of balsamic vinegar, which provided a nice kick and complexity.
Unfortunately, it wasn't all good news. This sauce was super chunky and while it was comforting that we could see all the ingredients that made up our sauce, it didn't spread smoothly. Plus the liquid separated from the solids, which put us at risk of a soggy pizza. Flavor-wise, we found that this sauce was too garlic-forward, and although we were sure that we could repel vampires for at least the next few hours, we thought the garlic eclipsed the tomato flavor.
5. 365 Organic Pizza Sauce
Whole Foods might have a reputation for its high prices, but not everything at this upscale grocery chain is exorbitantly expensive. Whole Foods' signature brand, 365, is typically a solid option for shoppers who want to get quality products for a decent price -- which is exactly how we would describe 365's Organic Pizza Sauce. Since organic food is set to become more popular than ever, we felt we had to include this popular organic label in our ranking. Overall, it was a solid, but not exceptional sauce.
First, it impressed our tasters with its perfect consistency, which wasn't too watery or too thick, and the flavor satisfied the basic requirements of a pizza sauce. It had just enough acidity to balance out the subtle taste of mozzarella. That said, the herbs, spices, and aromatics in it overpowered the tomato flavor. 365 also lost points for using a tomato purée made of water and tomato paste instead of fresh tomatoes, which we suspected was why a rich, tomato flavor didn't shine through. We thought this sauce was fine option for a fair price.
4. Mantova Pizza Sauce
Right off the bat, Mantova pizza sauce scored some easy points for being from Italy, and this sauce proved to be worth the thousands of miles that it traveled to get here from the birthplace of pizza. We noted that the flavor of tomatoes shined through in this sauce, and the other ingredients were well-balanced. The olive oil provides a rich undertone and the garlic, oregano, and basil add depth without overpowering other elements.
We also love that Mantova doesn't use preservatives and unlike most of the other sauces on this list, it contains no added sugar. That said, the lack of sugar does make the sauce taste more astringent. Mantova is right at the top of the list for its consistency, since it has a texture that's thick enough to spread on dough without the water separating and making the crust soggy during the cooking process.
3. Paesana New York's Classic Pizza Sauce
The word "paesana" translates to "countryman" in Italian, so it made sense that one bite of Paesana's pizza sauce transported us back to the old country. This family-owned company has been making Italian sauces for almost 30 years, and has branded itself as being a reflection of New York's pizza culture. And after tasting Paesana on our pizza, we're convinced that it deserves the distinction.
Instead of using a mixture of tomato paste and water, Paesana sauce uses Italian tomatoes for its recipe. Our tasters felt like they could really find the tomato flavor and although there are also no added sugars, the fresh tomatoes gave the sauce a perfect balance of sweetness and acidity. There's also just the right amount of garlic, onions, and basil in the sauce to complement the taste of fresh tomato without stealing the show. Although this brand is pricey and the bottle is quite small, the quality of this sauce is undeniable and well-worth it.
2. Muir Glen Pizza Sauce
The Muir Glen brand has a reputation for knowing tomatoes. Beyond their attention to the flavor, every Muir Glen product is organic, and the company makes an effort to support sustainable agricultural practices and cultivate relationships with its farmers.This extends beyond pizza sauce, too; the California-based company makes a variety of jarred and canned tomato products from simple salsa to spicy arrabbiata.
Muir Glen scored considerable points for being one of the cheapest options on the list at just under two dollars which, when you take into account that all its ingredients are organic, is a steal. On top of that, our tasters found that Muir Glen had a great texture that was easy to spread and not too watery, accompanied by a flavor that celebrated the mighty tomato. Although Muir Glen doesn't use whole tomatoes, instead opting for a mixture of water and organic tomato paste, tasters found that the flavor was well balanced, had just the right amount of acidic undertone, and paired perfectly with fresh, melted mozzarella.
1. Rao's Pizza Sauce
Rao's enjoys celebrity status in its hometown of New York City, where a tiny, Italian restaurant in East Harlem bearing the Rao's name still serves up some of the city's most storied Italian dishes. The brand sells several of its acclaimed sauces at grocery stores, including its pizza sauce, which our tasters found was so impressive that it landed itself in the number one spot on our list.
The first thing we noticed when we poured the pizza sauce was that there were chunks of tomato that fell out of the jar. What did this mean to us? Freshness. And when we bit into our slices smothered with Rao's we could taste the unmistakable flavor of punchy tomatoes, which elevated the bubbly mozzarella and chewy dough to new heights and provided a perfect balance of acidity and sweetness. Our tasters were surprised to find that Rao's pizza sauce contains no added sugar because the sauce didn't have the astringent, slightly bitter flavor of the other sugarless sauces. We suspect it's because the robust ingredients in Rao's didn't need to be covered up by sugar. Rao's was the perfect sauce, and although the price was slightly higher than the average sauce, it's clearly worth the investment.
Things got very cheesy during this Italian tasting. We chose relatively well-known pizza sauces that were available at our grocery store across a range of price points. Although unconventional, we made a white, toppingless pizza to cover with each of our sauces. This allowed us to get a sense of just how these sauces mingle with the flavor of melted mozzarella and fresh-baked dough. We gathered a group of four tasters with backgrounds in food, gathered around the pizza, and dug in. Our tasters rated the sauces based on taste and texture and we compiled the rankings among the tasters to create our final list.
Our tasters noted that the range in flavors in these pizza sauces were massive. Some were sweet and herbaceous, while others just stuck to the natural flavor of the tomato. Some sauces outshined others, but there is one undeniable truth that none of us disputed: There's nothing like a fresh slice of pizza.
Read the original article on Tasting Table.