Giada De Laurentiis' Pro Tip For Buying Store-Bought Pasta Sauce

Pasta checks all the right boxes: It's comforting, capable of soothing the soul and nourishing the body with every bite, and it's convenient, requiring only a box of dry noodles and a jar of tomato sauce to make. But just because your meal isn't completely made from scratch doesn't mean it can't taste as if it were wholly homemade.

According to Italian-American chef Giada de Laurentiis, there's a simple way to ensure your store-bought pasta sauce goes toe-to-toe with any gourmet marinara, and it involves buying only the ready-made brands that feature tomatoes instead of sugar as the first ingredient (per Bon Appétit). Just like the seemingly endless stream of pasta shapes and sizes available, every jar of tomato sauce is unique. They each feature a distinctive blend of flavors — not to mention, varying amounts of added sugar, which is where the "Everyday Italian" chef's tip comes in.

Per FDA requirements, ingredients are always listed on product labels in descending order by weight — jars of pasta sauce included. Meaning, a food product will feature the most of whatever ingredient is listed on the label first. In the case of tomato sauce, likely, the first ingredient will always be tomatoes. However, the higher that sugar is listed on the ingredients label, the sweeter your sauce will assuredly be.

Stick to brands that don't use added sugar

Not all tomato sauces are created equal, especially in terms of levels of sweetness. Instead of buying ready-made sauces that are high in sugar, choose ones that contain fewer added sugars — or opt for products that feature no added sugars at all, such as Classico Roasted Garlic Tomato Spaghetti Pasta Sauce and Rao's Homemade Marinara Sauce, both of which feature four grams of total sugar.

An even better option is to slather your noodles the Giada de Laurentiis way — with Bio Orto. The Puglia, Italy-based brand is a staple of her Italian food and lifestyle brand, Giadzy. Her online store features a variety of the company's pasta sauce offerings, including its organic tomato sauce with basil and organic arrabbiata sauce, which both only contain two grams of sugar.

It's also a good idea to keep an eye out for the amount of salt that's lurking in store-bought pasta sauces, the amount of which can vary greatly from bottle to bottle. For example, the aforementioned arrabbiata sauce features 150 milligrams of sodium whereas Bio Orto's tomato sauce with basil has 230. However, some brands contain higher amounts of sodium, with the average container of Prego pasta sauce featuring 480 milligrams, which is 21% of the recommended daily value per serving.

Tips for balancing overly sweet tomato sauce

Sugar is often added to marinara to help offset the natural acidity of the tomatoes, resulting in a more well-balanced — and tastier — sauce. Without any sugar, your spaghetti sauce may turn out overly tart. Conversely, however, too much sugar and you'll be left with a similarly overpowering sugo (that's sauce in Italian).

If you happen to purchase a jar of tomato sauce that's a little heavy on the sugar, you can easily cut the sweetness by adding acidic ingredients like lemon juice and vinegar. Just be sure to incorporate them into the mixture in small amounts, such as one teaspoon at a time, until it tastes a bit more palatable.

You can use plain water or a savory broth, such as vegetable or chicken, to dilute the marinara. Or, round it out by opting for the secret ingredient Giada de Laurentiis adds to store-bought pasta sauce: parmesan rinds. She lets the rind simmer in the sauce while it cooks, which introduces a satisfying umami flavor to the tomato blend, helping to lend a silky texture to the sauce in the process.

However, one of the easiest ways to avoid having to balance out the overly sweet flavors of some store-bought sauces in the first place is to shop for brands that make basic tomato sauces using minimal ingredients.