Vodka pasta sauce is hardly a novelty item in 2006, judging from the menus of many Italian restaurants and the fact that we had no trouble finding so many jars of it in supermarkets.
But it is hardly a classic sauce, according to the Web site, foodtimeline.org. According to the attributions collected on this amusing and informative food site, vodka sauce showed up at the height of nouvelle cuisine - or, more accurately, nuova cucina in 1980s Italy.
Vodka is not as dominant an ingredient as cream and cheese in this rich sauce, and our six tasters had trouble detecting its presence in most of the brands.
Some sauces contained just 90 calories per half-cup, others more than 200, which reflected a greater reliance on cheese and cream. Yet first-place Rao's Homemade and second-in-a-squeaker Newman's Own hovered in the 100-calorie range. (Third-place Bertolli weighed in at 140 calories.)
Products are scored on a scale of 1 to 9, with 9 being highest. Prices may reflect sales or discounts from frequent-shopper cards. Here are the winners, with tasters' comments.
1. Rao's Homemade (6.9 points. 24-ounce jar, $8.70; 36 cents per ounce) "Seriously intense flavor; very good." "Cheese, herbs and tomato aroma: Yum!" "Decent tomato flavor but slightly acidic."
2. Newman's Own (6.8 points. 26-ounce jar; $2.99; 12 cents per ounce) "Complex and cheesy; I love the richness." "Very cheesy; tomato flavor comes through."
3. Bertolli (5.1 points. 26-ounce jar, $3.45; 13 cents per ounce) "Really taste the Romano cheese and vodka in this one." "Artificial and not very subtle."
4. Classico (4.9 points). 5. Trader Joe's Organic (4.8 points). 6. Gia Russa (4.5 points). 7. Emeril's (4.3 points).
Renee Enna writes for the Chicago Tribune.