Every Trader Joe's Pasta Sauce, Ranked Worst To Best

Say what you will about Trader Joe's, but at the very least, we must admit that this national grocery chain keeps things fresh. TJ's swaps out products often, with a goal of trying out new flavor combos for the more adventurous eaters; in 2023, some of the store's Frankenstein-esque new products included Hot Cocoa Cream Cheese and Pizza Sprinkles. For that reason, it's hard to pin down the exact list of TJ's pasta sauces, which rotate seasonally and sometimes at complete random — Olive and Basil Pesto Sauce is on its way back soon, according to our local TJ's shelves.

Right now, though, there are 17 different TJ's sauces on the shelves. You've got your marinaras, which are purely tomato-based, then you've got cream-based sauces, like alfredos. There are also a few fancier jars that combine cream and tomato. Then, of course, you also have the more ambitious stragglers, flavors that may not even be classified as a pasta sauce.

The sauces on this list have been evaluated according to three criteria: taste, originality, and how much we would want to actually eat a bowl of pasta covered in it. You'd be surprised — because TJ's plays it fast and loose with the flavor combos, several of these "pasta" sauces would actually go better with some other starchy good, like on pizza, bruschetta, or crackers. Regardless, here's what we found out when testing all 17 jars; act quickly and snag these flavors before they're rotated!

17. Cajun-Style Alfredo Pasta Sauce

The worst ranking on the list has to go to the Cajun-Style Alfredo Pasta Sauce, a quirky bit of madness that first dropped in 2021. The Cajun Alfredo is made with a creamy Alfredo base, a combination of heavy cream, Grana Padano, Pecorino Romano, and butter. Then the Louisiana-inspired seasoning comes in: garlic, oregano, paprika, and fennel seed combine to turn the mixture orange and infuse it with flavor.

Lots of people were very excited when the Cajun-Style Alfredo first arrived since it's such an original concept — but sadly, the hype wasn't warranted. To be honest, we're not really sure what TJ's was thinking with this sauce: It's got all the grossness of a preserved cream-based sauce, with none of the appealing flavor. The thing that really turned us off was that the Cajun spice mix didn't actually have much heat to it. All those exciting spices ended up tasting chalky.

16. Organic Low-Fat Tomato Basil Marinara

A typical marinara sauce is made with tomatoes that have been pureed, garlic, onion, and a mix of spices, which often include basil, oregano, and parsley. Currently, Trader Joe's has four marinara options on offer, two of which are organic. Surprisingly, despite being similarly basic, they all have very different tastes. This one, the Organic Low-Fat Tomato Basil Marinara, ranks the lowest of them all.

We actively disliked this pasta sauce, which was surprising because it's organic, low-fat, and also incredibly basic. Unfortunately, the sauce just didn't taste right. The basil in it was clearly dried, and there was too much of it. The sauce is also watery because it's low-fat, and it really doesn't come together. We assumed this one would be in the middle of the pack, but unfortunately, we cannot recommend the Organic Tomato Basil Marinara.

15. Calabrian Chili Spicy Pasta Sauce

It's safe to say that the Calabrian Chili Spicy Pasta Sauce is one of TJ's more experimental options currently. This sauce shouldn't be confused with the Italian Bomba sauce, which people went crazy for but has since been removed from Trader Joe's shelves; it's still made with Calabrian chilis, those cherry-sized fireballs that range from 2-4x as powerful as jalapeño peppers, but in Calabrian Chili Spicy Pasta Sauce, the chilis have less of an impact because the recipe also includes tomatoes.

The good news here is that the Calabrian Chili Spicy Pasta sauce wasn't actively a bummer, flavor-wise. We can see what they were trying to do here! No shade. However, this sauce feels more like a salsa than a sauce — the tomato chunks are big, and the spice from the chilis was powerful enough that it felt like a good Italian version of salsa. Serve this sauce on bruschetta and call it a night. Points are deducted because we couldn't imagine eating a whole bowl of pasta with this on top, but for spice lovers, this jar is probably your best bet on this list.

14. Organic Low-Fat Marinara Sauce

Next up, we have the Organic Low-Fat Marinara Sauce, the plainest option in an already plain category. Simply put, this was a very, very bland marinara sauce, although the lack of emphasis on additional spices saved this jar from actively tasting bad. It did taste like marinara, but there's not much else for us to say about it.

This marinara would definitely be elevated in the context of other ingredients, so if you need a solid base for a recipe that involves added chicken and ample veggies, or you want a simple dipping sauce for homemade mozzarella sticks, by all means, buy a jar; unfortunately, in its resting state, the Organic Low-Fat Marinara sauce is better for a child's palate than for an adult's.

13. Roasted Garlic Marinara

This variant of marinara ranks only slightly higher on the list than the Organic Low-Fat Marinara. The Roasted Garlic Marinara is not an organic or low-fat option, and it's cheaper than the other two marinaras we've ranked thus far.

We found this sauce very sweet — possibly too sweet. All of the marinaras on the list contain sugar, but for some reason, it really leaped out in this recipe. The roasted garlic flavor was not very distinguishable, which also hurt the Roasted Garlic Marinara's chances of winning the top marinara slot. This sauce would be good if you cooked it up with some ground beef to create a meaty sauce. As is, it's just another bland jar that tastes a little bit off.

12. Cacio e Pepe Pasta Sauce

Cacio e pepe is an Italian classic made with grated cheese and pepper — "cacio" and "pepe," respectively. In part, this dish became a classic because it's extremely easy to make: The only ingredients you'd need to buy are those in the name of the dish, along with some pasta and pasta water, which transforms the cheese into a silky, delicious sauce. 

We had high hopes for the Trader Joe's Cacio e Pepe Pasta Sauce, but they were let down. Instead of the creamy Italian flavors we expected, this sauce tasted like mac and cheese, in a synthetic, straight-from-the-packet way — it was almost like eating knockoff Annie's. (Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that this rendition of cacio e pepe contains sunflower seed oil, modified cornstarch, sodium citrate, and xanthan gum, none of which the Romans would have approved.) While this sauce wasn't unpleasant, it still tasted very different from a traditional cacio, and for that, it falls in the ranks. You're definitely better off making your own cacio e pepe from scratch — it's really not that hard! 

11. Tomato Basil Marinara Sauce

We made it — we've finally reached the cream of the disappointing marinara crop! The Tomato Basil Marinara Sauce (the regular version, not the organic) is our pick for the best marinara that Trader Joe's offers. The spice mix, which contains dried garlic, parsley, basil, and oregano, is well-proportioned in this sauce, and the mix of tomato puree and diced tomatoes gives the sauce a pleasant mixture of textures.

Of course, just because it's the best of the marinaras doesn't mean it's what we would order at a restaurant. It's still a bland choice and can feel watery, so if you have extra goodies to throw into the recipe, by all means, do so and save yourself from a boring meal.

10. Creamy Tomato Basil Sauce

At this point in the list, we're crossing over to sauces that we would definitely eat again if they were offered to us. The first of those options is the Creamy Tomato Basil Sauce, one of the biggest jars in the collection, with a charmingly rustic label that seems to have been designed separately from the rest of the sauces.

The Creamy Tomato Basil sauce is perfectly fine. It reminded us of the type of pasta you'd be able to get at your college dining hall or at a museum cafeteria — something that is absolutely edible but devoid of all personality and flair. It tasted quite literally like a combination of the alfredo sauce and the tomato basil sauce, which it very well could be. This is the worst of the options that combine cream and tomato — the rest of them reign over the top of the chart, but this one struggles far behind. Very, very run-of-the-mill.

9. Organic Artichoke Pasta Sauce

The Organic Artichoke Pasta Sauce falls into that wiggly fourth category of experimental, very-Trader-Joe's products. Artichokes, or carciofi, are a very popular ingredient in Italian cooking, especially in Rome, where one specialty you can order only at restaurants in the former Jewish ghetto is called carciofo alla giudia, or a Jewish-style artichoke, which is double-fried in high-quality oil. This pasta sauce perhaps aims to pay homage to those carciofi — in its own TJ's-infused way.

This pasta sauce is made primarily from artichoke hearts and ricotta cheese, with flavoring coming through from the inclusion of parsley, basil, and lemon juice. The lemon juice brings a great sourness to this sauce that's super fun. What's not quite as fun is the texture: it will only come out of the jar via being scooped, and it's very mushy in a way that doesn't quite excite the stomach. Still, we liked the taste and appreciated this sauce's innovative nature.

8. Alfredo Pasta Sauce

Like many popular Italian-American dishes, alfredo sauce is far from in high demand in the motherland. Italians often sneer at the idea of adding more ingredients than are strictly necessary to make a dish, and a traditional American-style alfredo combines parm with both heavy cream and butter, which makes the sauce a whole lot thicker than Italians are used to.

The Trader Joe's rendition of alfredo sauce was exactly what you'd expect — not a disappointment, but nothing to write home about. It's very thick, which means it would probably be best to cut it with a little pasta water so as to give your taste buds a break. This recipe adds Romano cheese and modified egg yolk to the mix and season the cheese sauce with roasted garlic puree, onion powder, and the slightest hint of nutmeg. It would be great with some broccoli, chicken, and spices added, but we simply can't imagine having a whole plate of pasta with just alfredo.

7. Roasted Red Pepper & Almond Pesto Sauce

The Organic Roasted Red Pepper and Almond Pesto Sauce has garnered both fans and enemies since it hit TJ's shelves in early 2023. It's a divisive sauce; many people object to the fact that it actually isn't pesto since the very definition of pesto states that the mixture must be crushed together, and this sauce still has clearly uncrushed chunks all up in it. It's made from all-organic ingredients, which makes the nutrition label seem much more intense than it actually is: the base of this sauce just contains red bell peppers, pecorino romano, sunflower oil, almonds, and onions.

This sauce makes for a great snack. Again, it didn't quite feel like pasta sauce, and it didn't feel like pesto, either — it tasted smoky, and all the other ingredients were drowned out by red pepper, which is often the case with red pepper. Maybe this is just the red pepper hummus lover in us, but we really wanted to scoop this one on a cracker. It tasted good! Just not, like, what we want to eat on pasta.

6. Spicy Chunky Tomato & Pepper Pasta Sauce

With all that said about the Roasted Red Pepper Pesto, if you're just going to go for one red pepper sauce, choose the Spicy Chunky Tomato & Pepper Pasta Sauce instead. Spicy sauces like this one are hard to come by on Trader Joe's shelves, which usually err on the side of accessible. The spice here comes from a mix of harissa, paprika, cumin, cayenne, garlic, black pepper, and coriander, and it makes for a marvelous, low-level heat.

This sauce tasted great. We loved the chunkiness (such a well-named sauce!) of the peeled, whole San Marzano tomatoes. It's quite possibly also the base for TJ's pre-made shakshuka, and we're not mad about it — we'd gladly slice up some more red pepper, get it sizzling, knock half the jar of this sauce into the pan, and then crack an egg over the whole thing!

5. Limone Alfredo Sauce

You can come for us all you want about this take, but we're standing by it. The Limone Alfredo Sauce is basically exactly the same as the regular alfredo, with the simple addition of lemon juice, which is why this jar has garnered so much attention. The lemon juice changes the consistency of the sauce when it's in the jar: It's a little more rigid than the alfredo and harder to pour. However, in our opinion, these sacrifices are worth it for the added flavor.

The presence of the lemon in this sauce makes the whole dish much more palatable — it's not too strong, but it's enough to make any plate of pasta feel fresh and springy. It's better than the regular alfredo because there's more than one thing going on. Still, you may need to cut it with some pasta water to get it to the proper consistency. We suggest cooking this sauce up with some shrimp, chicken, or broccoli to really make the lemon flavor shine out.

4. Bolognese-style Tomato & Beef Pasta Sauce

Now, we're passing into the golden zone of this list — i.e., the sauces that we actively would buy again and consume with gusto. The first of these is the Bolognese-style Tomato & Beef Pasta Sauce. Bolognese-style sauce originated in Bologna, a city in the north of Italy where cold winter conditions influenced the Bolognesi people to include meat in as many dishes as possible in order to keep themselves warm.

The meat in this Bolognese knockoff is ground up very finely, so it's almost imperceptible. The taste, though, is strong — in fact, according to TJ's, the company has gone through several iterations of this sauce, and in the newest version, the meat content has been pushed up from 6%, which is industry standard for meat sauce, to 9%. The difference is palpable. As part of this change, the brand has also sourced different tomatoes imported from Italy. Altogether, we found the sauce to be a little sweet — we salted our pasta to counteract it — but we still loved the Bolognese.

3. Pesto Rosso

You thought we were done with pesto? The Pesto Rosso at Trader Joe's has a tomato base, which is what gives it that rich color. Red pesto originated in Sicilia, an island to the South of mainland Italy. Traditionally, it's made with sun-dried tomatoes and almonds,but this one elects to use cashews for a nut base instead. Interestingly, the TJ's recipe also includes pureed carrots, which sweeten the sauce.

We really, really liked this one. The pesto is very parmesan-forward, with a gorgeous orange color — not quite "rosso," but that's okay — and . We could easily imagine eating this pesto cold with crackers straight from the jar; but instead, we just cooked a large pot of gemelli, mixed in the pesto (it hugged the shape of the pasta so beautifully!), then garnished it with a few fresh basil leaves and served it up. Delizioso.

2. Three Cheese Pomodoro Sauce

Number two on the list has to go to the Three Cheese Pomodoro Pasta Sauce. The three cheeses in question here are Pecorino Romano, Parmesan, and Asiago, which isn't included in pasta sauces as often as the other two — it's only produced in the Veneto and Trentino regions of Italy and is a little more pliable than the other two, with a nuttier, almost yeasty flavor.

You can taste the cheeses in this sauce, and it really works. This sauce works really well on top of ravioli if you want to max out on how many different cheeses you can possibly consume in one bit; it also goes great with some sauteed mushrooms and longer pasta shapes like spaghetti or linguine. No matter how you decide to dress it up, this sauce is super tasty, and we can't get enough of it.

1. Organic Vodka Sauce

That leaves us with just one jar of sauce, our champion: The Organic Vodka Sauce. Although the vodka sauce label seems to match the organic marinaras, this sauce could not be more different than its twins: it's absolutely delicious. Made from various types of organic tomatoes, heavy cream, whey, and parmesan, this sauce is seasoned with garlic, basil, oregano, and lemon juice — along with a dash of vodka, of course.

Perhaps there are no surprises here; TJ's vodka sauce has many admirers. It has this glorious acidity from the tomatoes and lemon juice, and it's not too creamy, which means it's not as pink as some other vodka sauces you'll see in restaurants. Its distinctive flavor works well with a cut of chicken and any noodle shape under the sun. Mangia bene.