In a sea of marinaras, Trader Joe's chunky tomato-and-pepper sauce is a ship carrying a special treasure: spice. In my experience, Trader Joe's items that are labeled as spicy can be pretty mild so I was pleasantly surprised as the insides of my cheeks tickled and burned with each successive bite of this sauce.
If you're looking for something that tastes like traditional marinara with a few red pepper flakes, look elsewhere.
Unlike an Arrabbiata, the chunky tomato-and-pepper sauce gets its kick from spices found in harissa, a spicy, tangy North African paste. It contains cumin and coriander, which was a nice surprise.
The spices gave the sauce a mellow burn (I'd classify it as medium-level heat) that lasted the duration of the meal and it even heightened the acidic tomatoes to create a one-of-a-kind bright, zesty, and delicious flavor.
I also loved the texture of the sauce, which had San Marzano tomatoes mashed into good-sized pieces to get the liquid out of them.
When I researched the sauce, I saw some customers believe it's best as a shakshuka base. Though I have the urge to dump it over black beans and rice, I'm not sure I'd get that rich comfort-food feeling with it over farfalle, rigatoni, or penne.
VERDICT: Trader Joe's spicy, chunky tomato-and-pepper sauce is a true standout with its layers of complex, spicy seasonings, bright-tomato flavor, and textured consistency. I'd buy it again, I just wouldn't pair it with pasta.