Make or Buy? Tomato Sauce

Every time I walk down the pasta aisle at the grocery store, I am amazed at the sheer number of tomato sauces. Jar after jar of classic marinara, three-cheese blends, sauces spiked with Italian herbs, those without salt, and even ones with a splash of wine. With this kind of variety, is it even worth making our own?Let's take a look at the most basic, no-frills tomato sauce. For the store-bought, we'll use Newman's Own Marinara Sauce. For the homemade version, I turn to an old favorite: Sara Kate's Basic Tomato Sauce. All costs were taken from Peapod Online Grocery unless otherwise noted.

Newman's Own Mariana Sauce
Recipe: Basic Tomato Sauce (With Optional Zing!)
Peapod Online Grocery

COST BREAKDOWN

Newman's Own Marinara Sauce
24-oz jar

TOTAL: $2.99
PER 4-OZ SERVING: $0.50

Basic Tomato Sauce
Makes 2 cups (16 oz)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil: $0.44
1 medium onion: $0.79
4 garlic cloves: $0.12
1 (28-ounce) can whole or chopped tomatoes: $1.89
pinch dried red pepper flakes: $0.05
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel: $0.50
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley: $0.25
coarse salt: $0.01
freshly grated black pepper: $0.01

TOTAL: $4.06
PER 4-OZ SERVING: $1.02

Is this price difference surprising to anyone else? It was to me. I really figured they would come out to about the same price.

CONVENIENCE

This basic homemade tomato sauce takes about thirty minutes to make, including time to chop the onion and prep the rest of the ingredients. Except for perhaps the parsley, most of the ingredients for making this sauce can be purchase ahead and kept handy for whenever the mood for some pasta sauce strikes. While not as convenient as opening a jar from the cupboard, I'd say this recipe is still within the realm of "quick weeknight meals" for me.

TASTINESS AND HEALTHFULNESS

By and large, jars of commercial tomato sauce are pretty free of weird additives, fillers, and flavor enhancers. Tomatoes are always the first ingredient, as they should be. You'll get things like dehydrated onion powder and citric acid that we wouldn't use in our normal cooking, but that also don't give major cause for concern. This was a surprising but welcome discovery for me!

The one area where homemade tomato sauce really shines, however, is in the flavor department. Even when using canned tomatoes instead of garden-fresh ones, a homemade tomato sauce made with onions I sautéed myself and spices from my cupboard always tastes richer and more balanced to me than what comes from a jar. I also like the varied texture of homemade as opposed to the super-pureed, homogeneous texture of sauce from a jar.

There are lots of ways to doctor up a jar of tomato sauce to make it taste better, but I still like building it from the ground up, tasting as I go, and adjusting as needed.

MAKE OR BUY?

I admit that I came into this one thinking that homemade sauce would be the clear winner. But it's not! Once you factor in the cost, convenience, and healthfulness of the ingredients, store-bought starts to look pretty good.

My two-cents: if you have a brand of jarred tomato sauce that you really like, that seems fine to me. I never found that brand, so I've got into the habit of making it myself. And I think that's fine, too!

VERDICT: Store-bought is the unexpected winner this round

Do you make your own tomato sauce? Or do you have a favorite store-bought brand?

Related: Home Canning Project: Roasted and Canned Tomatoes

(Images: Peapod Online Grocery and Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan)

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