Rao's Homemade Sauce Flavors Ranked Worst To Best

It's not that difficult to whip up your own homemade pasta sauces — just use canned tomato or puree to cut down on time and mess — but there's no denying it's even easier to open a jar of store-bought sauce and move on. In those times, you'll certainly want to use the best grocery store sauce you can find, and that's often Rao's Homemade. These premium pasta sauces may come at a steeper price point than most, but that hasn't stopped them from being fan favorites for more than 30 years. Each jar is made from small batches with real food ingredients and no water or fillers. Since the start, the line has expanded to its current collection of 15 pasta sauces, plus two more for homemade pizza bakers.

We're not here to challenge the supremacy of Rao's Homemade sauces. Instead, we set out to find out which of these saucepot champions is the best of the bunch. To do that, we tested every variety currently available, sampling each one in two ways: First, we tasted them straight from the ladle to get the purest impression; then, we added them to pasta and dug in. We used premium pasta and, to be sure we didn't alter the sauces themselves, we didn't add any spices or toppings of our own (sorry, grated Parmesan — we'll catch you next time). Flavor, aroma, appearance, and consistency considered, we ranked every Rao's Homemade sauce flavor and present them here from worst to best.

15. Sundried tomato pesto

Let's start by acknowledging that this may be our least favorite among Rao's Homemade pasta sauce collection, but we don't hate it. Unfortunately, it's still at the bottom of the list, so that automatically classes it as our worst, but it's still decent. We appreciate that sundried tomato pesto is an alternative take on a traditional pesto alla Genovese — the basil and pine nut sauce you generally associate with pesto. We also enjoy that basil still plays a strong part in this sauce, despite no longer performing as the top-billed ingredient.

As for the star ingredient, it's obviously sundried tomato, and we sadly don't love its performance here. Sundried tomatoes are especially sweet, and combining them with the sweetness of basil makes the pasta just too sweet for a meal. It borders on a taste better suited for dessert than dinner, so if you're the type who likes fruit sauces on your meat, then you might love sundried tomato pesto on your pasta — but it's not for everyone.

We hesitate to kick this one while it's down, but we should note that we also noted a consistency issue. Though the label doesn't appear to indicate this anywhere, it's advisable to mix jarred pesto before using so the oils can redistribute properly. We did this, but our jar of sundried tomato pesto was still a bit too dry and chunky, making it difficult to dress the pasta.

14. Sensitive marinara

We applaud the name of this sauce. Sensitive marinara is a hilariously delightful way of saying that this sauce is for those with a natural aversion to Italian food because it lacks onion and garlic. Truthfully, Rao's classic marinara doesn't have a predominantly oniony or garlicky flavor profile, so this is really for those who simply can't stand seeing either of those ingredients in their food. Still, we appreciate that it exists, because there are plenty of haters out there, and it's great that Rao's has an option for them.

To make up for the ingredient loss (Rao's also eliminates black pepper, oregano, and some salt), sensitive marinara includes carrots. That's fine because the result is still a bright-tasting marinara, but we're confused about where the increased calories and fat content come from. Sensitive marinara has 30% more calories and over 50% more fat than classic marinara, and we really don't think that's coming from carrots. 

We realize it sounds like we hate this sauce, but we don't. It serves a purpose for those who need it (and those who think they need it), and there's nothing bad about it. There's just nothing especially exciting or great about it, so it's simply one of our least favorite.

13. Tomato herb

Marinara and tomato sauce are not the same, but if you order some form of pasta with an undescribed red sauce at most restaurants, you can bet your noodles will be topped with one of these two sauces. Among Rao's Homemade collection, tomato herb is probably the closest in taste you'll come to that restaurant-style red sauce. Sounds pretty good, right? Sure, but it's not particularly special, so we'd opt for one of the more interesting sauces in Rao's catalog if it were up to us.

Still, you may be trying to please a crowd or fussy eaters, in which case a jar of tomato herb will do the trick. It's slightly thicker than Rao's marinara and has a hint of a deeper flavor that should be universally appealing to anyone not in the anti-onion or anti-garlic camps. Keep it in the cabinet for unexpected guests whose tastes you aren't super familiar with, and you'll always have a solid backup ready to go.

12. Roasted garlic Alfredo

If you're a calorie counter, you already know to steer away from creamy white sauces that carry twice the amount of tomato sauces, so let's not even get into that. They're delicious, and this isn't a ranking of the healthiest sauces. Still, roasted garlic Alfredo falls toward the bottom of our list, but it's not because it's sinful; it's because we're not exactly sure why it exists. Rao's Homemade already offers a standard Alfredo sauce, and we appreciate the effort to include more variety in the lineup. That being said, we don't think roasted garlic Alfredo actually adds much.

Visually, it's a tinge darker than classic Alfredo, which is a good sign that the roasted garlic has had an impact on the sauce. Unfortunately, it doesn't deliver quite as noticeably in the flavor department. To be fair, there is certainly additional garlic flavor that surely comes from the garlic puree and roasted garlic noted in the ingredients, but the impact is minimal. Garlic naysayers will obviously want to stay away, but garlic lovers are likely to be disappointed. There's a much better garlic option to come.

11. Bolognese

As long as meat is a part of your diet, who doesn't love a Bolognese sauce? Traditional Bolognese can be made from any combination of beef, pork, and veal, and Rao's Homemade Bolognese contains the first two. As an added nod toward purism, uncured pancetta crumbles also feature in this recipe, which likely contributes to the pork-forward flavor of this meat sauce.

We love that this sauce is so thoroughly meaty, which helps it clings to big, textured pasta like a chunkier sauce should. We also appreciate its rich aroma, especially once it's heated, but we especially enjoy the noticeable impact of Romano cheese mixed into the meat crumbles. Many Bolognese sauces contain a dairy component and are topped with freshly grated cheese, but cheese isn't often cooked into the recipe. We loved the relatively large influence of this small adaptation. 

We must admit we thought this sauce would rank higher on our list, especially as there's only one other meat option in the entire collection. Unfortunately, the overall finish of the flavor came across as more of a spiced ketchup than a hearty Bolognese after extended eating, so it slipped a bit. Would we still enjoy it if we found a jar in the pantry? Yes. Would we seek it out? Probably not.

10. Italian sausage & mushroom

Speaking of meaty options by Rao's Homemade, here's the other one. Italian sausage & mushroom is meaty in the ways both carnivores and vegetarians love (oh hey, mushrooms) — though obviously unsuitable for those who don't eat meat. Regarding the mushrooms, Rao's does not skimp on this sauce. Sliced mushrooms are plentiful, leaving us seriously impressed with their inclusion.

We were similarly happy with how boldly the Italian sausage flavor came through in both aroma and taste, without overpowering the mushrooms. Despite the meaty ingredients and the use of deeper herbs and spices like oregano and black pepper, the tomato base remains brightly flavored and balanced. Despite all of these positives, we found the sauce slightly incohesive with a bit of an issue of confused identity. But only slightly. And if you're a true mushroom lover, this is the jar for you, even though there's another mushroom variety that ranks higher on our list.

9. Vodka sauce

The first thing you're likely to notice about Rao's Homemade vodka sauce is that it looks a little different than most vodka sauces you're probably used to. If you imagine an orange or pink pasta sauce, it's understandable: Heavy cream is usually added to deliver that super creamy texture, and it certainly lightens the bold red of the tomato base. Rao's vodka sauce isn't much different in color than most of its other red tomato sauces, and a quick check of the ingredients label reveals there's no cream in this recipe. Scandal? Not as big as you'd think.

While you might assume eliminating cream would have a major impact on the finish, Rao's Homemade vodka sauce still manages a similar texture to most variations and delivers the dairy through a couple of strong cheeses (which are made of milk, of course). We're not sure why Rao's made this major change to a popular sauce, but it works, so we're good with it. Unless you're unreasonably attached to the signature color of other vodka sauces, we're pretty sure you'll be on board, too.

8. Mushroom & bell pepper

Major mushroom fans take note: Mushrooms may be listed first in this variety's name, but you should grab a jar of Italian sausage & mushroom instead (unless you're vegetarian, of course). While mushrooms do add some beautiful depth to this sauce's rich overall flavor, bell peppers are the dominant ingredient — mushroom chunks are far less abundant. For the rest (the less mushroom-obsessed), mushroom & bell pepper is the better sauce, in our opinion.

Despite the complex flavor of this sauce, the bell peppers shine through with a surprising sweetness. In part, that's surely to do with the large chunks, which is a significant upgrade over most other brands' skimpy offerings. In fact, there are pleasantly large chunks of several ingredients, so smooth saucers beware. Those sweet notes are especially appreciated amidst the sauce's various flavors. In fact, we would argue that even those who don't particularly love mushrooms will enjoy this sauce, as they are easy to avoid and not particularly noticeable in the overall flavor.

7. Tomato basil

We need to return to marinara comparisons again, and that's because tomato basil is the third of the simpler sauces offered by Rao's Homemade. If you've been following along carefully, you'll recall that we said restaurants typically serve marinara or a seasoned tomato sauce for basic pasta dishes, and that tomato herb was Rao's closest equivalent. Tomato basil is similar and actually contains almost identical ingredients, but in different proportions. That small change makes a big difference.

The only actual herbs in tomato herb are basil and oregano, and both appear in tomato basil too. Appropriately, basil is more prominently featured in the recipe this time, and to good effect. The herby sweetness of this heftier dose of basil brightens the sauce without overdoing it (sorry, sundried tomato pesto) and offers a taste that is a tad more unique than tomato herb without straying too much from a traditional tomato sauce. We love an original and we also appreciate smart adaptations, so tomato basil is our clear preference between the two tomato sauce subs, bringing it to the top half of our ranking.

6. Basil pesto

As we mentioned, pesto alla Genovese is the type of pesto that usually first comes to mind — if you don't live in Italy, that is. Most accurately, pesto is an Italian sauce made by pounding ingredients (that's where the name comes from), but pesto alla Genovese is the green one made with basil and pine nuts. It has dominated the category worldwide and become simply pesto to most of us. Rao's Homemade goes a step further by naming its contribution basil pesto, perhaps to help distinguish it from its sundried tomato pesto. 

We think the basil version is a perfect pesto. Unlike its drier counterpart, Rao's Homemade basil pesto offers an ideal consistency for easy tossing and coating (you'll still want to stir the jar before using). We recommend a long wide noodle, like the fettuccine we used, to grab maximum flavor from this oil-based sauce. You won't want to miss any of its delightfully-balanced blend of basil, cheese, and nuttiness from the combination of cashews and pine nuts.

5. Marinara

We've already talked about marinara more times than we care to count, but now it's finally time to talk about Rao's Homemade marinara. The simplest of sauces, it's also one of the very best this premium brand offers. You may be tempted to opt for a cheaper jar, presuming that marinara isn't that complicated anyway so there's no need to pay extra for it, but you'd be making a big mistake. A marinara can make or break an Italian restaurant, and this perfect pasta topper put Rao's (the restaurant) on the map, becoming the first jarred sauce it sold in 1992.

Rao's Homemade marinara is the quintessential red sauce you crave, with a delicate balance of sweetness, salt, and acidity in a vibrant sauce that spreads easily over any noodle. Whether it's the small batch, slow cooking, imported ingredients, or a secret cooking technique no one knows about, it's a practically perfect workhorse for any pasta night and it will never disappoint. Above all, we think it's the purity of this jar that makes it a top marinara, and one of our top favorite Rao's sauces overall.

4. Alfredo

Roasted garlic Alfredo may have ranked low on our list, but recall that we just felt it was unnecessary, not bad. And that's because Rao's Homemade Alfredo is exceptional. Some will say an Alfredo sauce should include garlic, but the purest recipes do not, and we appreciate that Rao's has chosen not to include it either. We also concede that this is probably why the brand created a roasted garlic Alfredo, but we still don't think that was necessary since Rao's traditional Alfredo is so delightful.

And yet Rao's Homemade Alfredo is not entirely purist. Alfredo is typically made with Parmesan, and so is Rao's, but it also contains Romano. The addition of this strong sheep's milk cheese brings this Alfredo to the next level of cheesiness, truly taking over the flavor profile in the very best way. Using Rao's Alfredo is like pouring a jar of liquid cheese over your pasta (not like a gloppy melted cheese, either). We're talking about a thin coating that looks like cream, tastes like cheese, and is actually both, ultimately clinging to every noodle evenly.

3. Roasted garlic

Where roasted garlic Alfredo falls short, Rao's tomato-based roasted garlic soars. This jar is absolutely bursting with both garlic flavors and aromas, which is apparent from the moment the lid is popped. Roasting or caramelizing typically softens the flavor of garlic and gives it a slightly sweeter note than in its more pungent raw form, and that's certainly the case here. The sharp burn of raw garlic is nowhere to be found — but that's all that's missing. You might swear you were getting the power of raw garlic if not for the pleasant lack of that nasty bite.

There's very little else in Rao's Homemade roasted garlic, which has no herbs and is seasoned only with salt. This surely contributes to the fabulous effect of the garlic's dominance, but we also suspect that the acidic tomatoes complement the garlic better than the cream in Alfredo. Not to knock our beloved marinara, but we found roasted garlic to be even more vibrant in both appearance and taste. Honestly, we would rank this one even higher if we didn't understand that some people will be turned off by how strong the garlic kicks in this jar.

2. Arrabbiata

"Arrabbiata" is Italian for "angry," and the name is given to a spicy tomato-based sauce enlivened by garlic and red chili peppers (often dried and crushed). While other goodies like black pepper and oregano round out Rao's Homemade arrabbiata, the essential inclusion of basil adds a touch of sweet relief for the spice-shy and complements the tomato base in general.

Rao's Homemade arrabbiata tops other jarred arrabbiata sauces thanks to its careful moderation of heat. It's present and undeniably the key takeaway, but it's strangely accessible to those who can't tolerate too much spice. It could be the use of naturally sweet Italian tomatoes (there's no sugar in the recipe) or just a masterfully balanced and cooked recipe. In any case, this delicious sauce manages to satisfy just about anyone on the spice scale in an almost mystical way. If there weren't some people who simply couldn't handle any heat at all, this would be number one on our list.

1. Four cheese

If there's a single food category with the most die-hard fans, it might be cheese. There's some science as to why cheese cravings are so powerful for some, so we're not judging. Still, we typically like to exercise some restraint when incorporating cheese into a recipe. Like salt or sugar, too much of a good thing can completely overpower a dish, and drowning a plate in grated cheese is a common mistake people make at Italian restaurants. Generally speaking, cheese should only accompany in moderation. That said, some cheese-focused recipes are spectacular and Rao's Homemade four cheese sauce is among them, so forget everything we just said.

The four types of cheeses in this recipe blend seamlessly, but there's no mistaking the clear flavor of Romano that leads the way once again. The sodium content of this jar may make you wince, but it's worth the mindful splurge for the bold cheese content within. With no added herbs, seasonings, garlic, or onion, it's no wonder the cheese shines (sensitive marinara, take note). 

However, it's the texture that really knocks this one out of the park. Neither runny nor gloppy, this well-blended sauce carries a consistency similar to a super-finely ground Bolognese, with an almost scoopable but perfectly soft mashup of smashed tomato and crumbled cheese. Even whiffing an empty jar of Rao's Homemade four cheese makes us salivate.