We Tried 9 Jars of Alfredo Sauce — And the Winner Tastes Like What You’d Find in Italy
The majority of restaurants in Italy don’t serve fettuccine Alfredo (shocker, right?). The ones that do are usually catering to tourists or they’re somehow connected to Alfredo di Lielo, a restaurant owner whose name is synonymous with a sauce that isn’t exactly what he created more than a century ago.
According to the sauce’s origin story, di Lielo kept whipping up plates of buttered pasta for his wife to help her regain strength after giving birth to their firstborn. The simple combination of pasta, butter, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese did the trick, and she encouraged him to put it on the menu of his joint in Rome — despite the fact that buttered noodles are so basic that, well, you wouldn’t necessarily go to a restaurant to eat it.
Regardless, Alfredo started preparing the dish tableside and, soon, all that butter and cheese became a hit — especially with visiting Americans. In the decades that followed, American cooks tried recreating the sauce, but their comparatively bland versions of butter and cheese lacked the richness of what Alfredo made in Rome. That led to the addition of heavy cream and, ultimately, the creation of the “Alfredo” sauce that has become a standard dish in the good ol’ United States.
Alfredo sauce has since also become a staple on grocery store shelves, and there are literally dozens of pre-made versions in the aisles. Given the sheer quantity, we needed to find the best jarred Alfredo sauce you can buy, so we tested them out for you.
The Best Jarred Alfredo Sauces at-a-Glance
- Winner: Trader Joe’s Alfredo Pasta Sauce
- Runner-Up: Rao’s Homemade Creamy Alfredo Sauce
We kept it simple and sourced nine jars of classic Alfredo sauce — no roasted garlic versions, no pesto Alfredo, nothing. All of them were purchased from a national grocery store or a big-box retailer (read: they’re all easy to get throughout the country). The majority of sauces were $5 or less at the time we purchased them, although a few were slightly more expensive (although all were in the single digits). We also looked at our original taste test, recent sales data, and new launches to round out the selection.
After a handful of true Alfredo fans spent one delightfully creamy afternoon tasting and tallying, a clear champion emerged. The winner had the lightest (read: the least overpowering) flavors that tasted like how we’d imagine di Lielo would’ve made it.
Best Jarred Alfredo Sauce: Trader Joe’s Alfredo Pasta Sauce
Three out of five tasters ranked Trader Joe’s Alfredo Pasta Sauce as their top choice (no other jar came close). The creamy sauce had a real depth to its flavor, perhaps because it uses a blend of Parmesan and Romano cheeses. In fact, every single person called out this robust P(arm) factor.
Most found the texture to be spot-on (compared to the other jars in the taste test, which ranged from “dip-like” to “brothy soup”), although one felt it was still a bit on the too-thick side with a slight aftertaste. (Adding a little pasta water to the equation will likely help.) It was rich, but not over-the-top, and Vicki, our studio director, summed it up nicely in two words: “Actually tasty!”
What’s So Great
- “It’s light and cheesy”
- More Parm-forward than others
- “Creamy, but not thick”
Good to Know
- For some, the aftertaste was a bit too much
- Available at Trader Joe’s locations or online at steep markup
Buy: Trader Joe’s Alfredo Pasta Sauce, $3.49 for 16 ounces at Trader Joe’s
Runner-Up: Rao’s Homemade Creamy Alfredo Sauce
If Trader Joe’s isn’t exactly local, Rao’s Homemade Creamy Alfredo Sauce is a perfectly suitable alternative. Just ask Paulina, who “wanted to eat the whole bowl of pasta” (and this was after two rounds of tasting). It was just a tad thinner than the winner, but still rich in flavor, which we can credit to the three main ingredients: milk, cream, and Parmesan cheese. Tasters, like Lauren, our recipe director, also appreciated the notes of black pepper.
A few found the sauce to be on the slightly salty side. This jar was also the most expensive of the bunch (although still way cheaper than those hefty TJ’s reseller markups).
What’s So Great
- Pleasant nutty and cheesy smell
- Strong peppery flavor (with visible flakes!)
Good to Know
- For some, it was a bit too salty
- Pricey compared to other sauces we tested
Find it in stores: Rao’s Homemade Creamy Alfredo Sauce, $9.79 for 15 ounces at Amazon
As for the Alfredo, he sold his original restaurant on Via della Scrofa in Rome to his son, who then sold it to a pair of the restaurant’s waiters. Four years later, he opened a new restaurant in Piazza Augusto Imperator and called it Il Vero Alfredo (The Real Alfredo). Both restaurants are still open, and yes, Alfredo’s grandson still serves that signature pasta at Il Vero Alfredo. But if you go, don’t you dare ask if they’re going to put cream in it.
How We Tested the Jarred Alfredo Sauces
We held a blind taste test of nine different jarred Alfredo sauces and recruited five creamy sauce fans (so you know they’re qualified), who work in our office to participate in this one-day test.
We don’t typically don’t eat Alfredo sauce straight from the jar, but for the purposes of this taste test we did eat it out of a bowl and also tossed with freshly cooked pasta. Each jarred Alfredo was emptied into microwave-safe white ceramic serving bowls by Maya, our studio assistant, and given a letter to conceal the brands’ identities. Just prior to tasting, we heated each sauce in the microwave for 45 seconds and set out sample-sized cups filled with cooked penne.
Tasters were instructed to taste the sauce both on its own (with a spoon) and tossed with the cooked penne. Halfway through the tasting, Maya reheated the sauces so tasters could test each sauce, freshly warmed, a second time. We also had chilled water on hand for palate cleansing.
Tasters rated each of the jarred Alfredo sauces on a scale of one to five (1 = No, thanks; 2 = Meh; 3 = Pretty good; 4 = Really like; 5 = Yes, Please!) across four criteria — look, smell, texture, and flavor — and included any specific observations, tasting notes, and general opinions worth mentioning. They were also asked to answer, arguably, the most important question of all: Would you buy this jarred Alfredo sauce?
Why You Should Trust Us
This was a blind taste test, which means tasters had no knowledge of the brands being evaluated ahead of or at the time of the tasting. It was held over one day and tasters were instructed to sample the jarred Alfredo sauces in random order (to stave off palate fatigue and not give any one sauce an unfair advantage). The group of tasters included a mix of food professionals and jarred Alfredo sauce enthusiasts who work at The Kitchn and/or Apartment Therapy Media (The Kitchn’s parent company). All participated in the taste test voluntarily, and we thank them for being so generous with their time and feedback.
Speaking of, each taster filled out a score sheet (without discussion or influence) ranking the jarred Alfredo sauces across several criteria (listed above). The results were also tabulated without any visibility into the brands. Only after the numbers were finalized did we reveal which brands corresponded to the winners.
Did your favorite jarred Alfredo sauce make the list? Tell us about it in the comments below.