Christopher Kimball: It’s true you can make a pasta sauce in about the same amount of time it takes to cook the pasta [camera pans to live in-studio tasting panel], ten or 15 minutes. So the question is, why would anybody buy jarred pasta sauce [turns to Jack Bishop]? Well, I asked Jack this question a year ago. He admitted he keeps a jar—you admitted it to me—in your refrigerator at all times [JB laughs and nods]. So you want to explain the concept?
JB: I have children.
CPK: Oh, so do I.
JB: Are you making pasta sauce when one of them wants pasta for lunch on a Saturday?
JB: You’re a better father than I am. [Audience laughs.]
CPK: [Throws hands up; addresses audience] You heard it here! Anyway…
JB: [Laughing] Dig in. There are nine brands of jarred pasta sauce. [CPK eats spoonful of first sample as camera cuts to lineup of nine jarred pasta bottles] We either chose a marinara, or some companies make a tomato basil, which is basically the same thing. A couple things that you’ve got to pay attention to. One is tomato flavor. Obviously more tomato flavor would be a good thing. I had assumed the texture was going to be also a big factor [CPK digs in to second sample], and that we would like chunkier sauces. And in fact our winner was pretty chunky, but some of the chunky sauces did not do well at all. And it turned out as I looked through all of the tasting sheets from our test kitchen panel, it was clear this is about seasoning. And if the seasoning is wrong in these sauces, they just don’t do well in a taste test. So with that [smiles, as CPK looks at audience and raises eyebrows], I’ve thrown you a little bone there to help figure this out, Chris.
CPK: [Holding third sample] Well, this is absolute— I mean, it’s bad. This is very bland, very smooth. [Eats another spoonful] It tastes like something… like getting tomato sauce out of a can.
CPK: There’s really nothing going on there. [Picks up another sample] This is clearly the best of the three. It’s a little extra sweet, though. It’s a little too sweet. But it’s fairly balanced. [Eats another spoonful and shrugs shoulders] It’s not bad.
JB: [Smiling] Are you convinced maybe your children could too have that sauce?
CPK: [Gives Jack a serious look] No. [Audience laughs; CPK smiles] I’m a good father, Jack. I wouldn’t do this to them. Yeah, this is fine. So I would say this is clearly the winner.
JB: Okay. You want to reveal?
CPK: Absolutely. What do we think? [JB uncovers CPK’s favorite sample]
JB: That is Bertolli. It was the top choice for the test kitchen.
CPK: [Turns to audience] How many picked Bertolli? [Vast majority raises their hands] Oh, man, these are pros.
JB: It was an overwhelming favorite for the studio audience. It was a clear favorite. [uncovers middle sample, revealing jar of Classico Tomato & Basil sauce] This was next to last in the test kitchen. There were a couple people out there who obviously are salt fiends. The main reason our test kitchen panel didn’t like it was it’s a lot of oregano, and a lot of herbs in it.
CPK: Yeah, it was really heavy. [Audience nods in agreement]
JB: Whether it’s the salt [or] the herbs—the philosophy there is a lot of seasoning.
CPK: Yeah. And this one was just very bland and nondescript. [removes third paper bag, revealing Ragu Traditional sauce]
JB: This was absolute last place, Ragu, for what you said. There’s no flavor whatsoever in this one. It seems like not enough salt, not enough herbs, and then once you put it over pasta it gets even worse. It got zero votes from the studio audience. So Ragu did not do well.
CPK: So the answer was, I guess, you can buy a pretty good pasta sauce in a jar in the supermarket. [Points to winning sauce] Bertolli was our winner. And for participating I’m giving Jack the jar so he can bring it back to his kids. [JB and audience laugh]
View the full report of our Jarred Pasta Sauce Tasting
Captioned by Media Access Group at WGBH
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