The Store-Bought Bolognese Sauce That Tastes Closest To Homemade

Who hasn't had to turn to store-bought pasta sauces when time is tight? While a homemade sauce is the ultimate choice and affords unparalleled customization and freshness, jarred options offer a streamlined path to a hearty meal. In fact, Tasting Table has even reviewed the options from Rao's to help you make a more informed choice. Generally, folks reach for veggie-based marinara sauce on the store shelf — which can also be customized to taste homemade — rather than more complex sauces like the time-consuming, meat-centric Bolognese. But if there was an option for an easier path forward on such a sauce, would you take it? Somewhat surprisingly, Tasting Table taste testers found that Rao's jarred Bolognese can almost stand toe-to-toe with the homemade equivalent.

Rao's might not have been on your radar a decade ago but, today, the line of sauces from this venerable New York Italian eatery is garnering considerable praise. The ingredients, balance, and lack of copious artificial preservatives all lead to sauces that burst with deep flavor and evocative aromas. That attention to detail extends to Rao's Bolognese sauce, which took home the top prize in Tasting Table's review of the brand's entire line of sauces. The distinct flavors of the meats used (beef and pork meatball crumbles and pancetta), fresh vegetables, pungent aromatics, and delicate herbs each held their own while blending harmoniously. Anyone who has ever made a homemade Bolognese knows that this can be a difficult feat to pull off.

The trouble with store-bought Bolognese sauce

Bolognese is considered by some to be the king of Italian sauces. As with other vaunted dishes, there isn't one recipe but rather a confederation of similar ingredient lists and instructions. Some recipes — such as Tasting Table's Classic ragu alla Bolognese — call for milk, others for chicken liver, and still others for wine. What is universal is the need for time to develop the signature depth of flavor that all Bolognese sauces share. Vegetables must be sweated, aromatics awakened, various meats browned to create fond, and finally, the long simmering process that brings all elements into divine concert.

With that said, it becomes a bit more clear why there aren't many store-bought Bolognese sauces available. There are plenty of jarred sauces that contain meat, but brands seem to eschew the Bolognese moniker, possibly for fear of being held to too high a standard. Trader Joe's is one of the few that take that swing, and the sauce has received some praise for its herbaceous character and robust tomato flavor if somewhat mealy consistency compared to a typically chunkier Bolognese sauce.

Or maybe the lack of available store-bought Bolognese is a result of consumer hesitation to purchase shelf-stable meat sauce. These sauces, though, are perfectly safe given their FDA approval. The process to pack them includes heating thoroughly to destroy harmful microorganisms, the use of preservatives like citric acid and salt that inhibit bacterial growth, and airtight sealing that keeps the bad bacteria at bay.