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Get taste of Tuscany from canned tomato sauce

Published September 21, 2005

Spaghetti sauce was the first family recipe that I mastered. We added lots of meat and spices to canned tomato sauce and, ideally, it simmered all day on the stove. I've always used the same sauce my mother bought. Until the Taster's Choice panel suggested it tasted more like the can than tomatoes. Sorry, Mom.

The new generation of our family sauce will begin with GFS "Fancy California" sauce. And all the relatives will be invited to dine, because the smallest can we could find was the size of a paint can. We'll also be adding sauces from the organic Woodstock Farms and from Wal-Mart.

Those three brands tied for top choice among our judges with 62 out of 80 points.

Taster's Choice sampled 11 canned tomato sauces and discovered a wide variety in flavor. The favorites were rich in true tomato color - not too dark and not too pale. The best samples also had a robust consistency. Panelists didn't like watery sauces or those with too many chunks.

The sauces from GFS ($2.99 for a 6-pound, 10-ounce can), Woodstock Farms (79 cents for 8 ounces), and Wal-Mart (five 8-ounce cans for $1) also stood out for their punch. They pack plenty of tomato taste and the right thickness to pour over pasta after any length of warming.

"This is yummy; it's warm with a Tuscany kind of feeling," one judge said of the Wal-Mart sauce.

All panelists said they would buy the organic brand. Two said, "Absolutely."

The same went for GFS, which was purchased at a Save-A-Lot market. It had a hint of salt to the taste and a satisfyingly bulky texture.

My former standby from Hunt's (60 cents for 8 ounces) received a pathetic 9 points.

Another organic sauce, this one from Muir Glen (99 cents for 8 ounces) and purchased at Nature's Finest, and Publix's store brand ($1.29 for 15 ounces) also ranked higher than the others, with 54 and 46 points, respectively. Sauce from Contadina (89 cents for 8 ounces) seemed more like soup or juice to our judges.

"I just need a straw, some spices, vodka and "Good morning!' " said one panelist.

Another said, "This looks more like hot sauce."

Also tasted were sauces from Albertsons (75 cents for 8 ounces); Progresso ($1.50 for 15 ounces); Kash n' Karry (two cans for 79 cents, 8 ounces each) and Diane's Garden (five 8-ounce cans for $1).

Panelists were Monique Massaro of Pepin Restaurant; Gary Kawalec, chef/owner of Supper Club, a make-and-take meal assembly business soon to open in Safety Harbor; personal chef Julie Overton; and Bob Devin Jones, artistic director of Studioat620. All products were tasted blind.

Send suggestions for product testing to Taste section, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731 or e-mail them to Please put TEST SUGGESTION in the subject line. To read past Taster's Choice columns, go to


No. 1 (tie): GFS, Woodstock Farms, Wal-Mart.

No. 2: Muir Glen.

No. 3: Publix.

[Last modified September 20, 2005, 10:38:03]

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