The other day, I made black bean sweet potato enchiladas. They were on my weekly meal plan, so I had all the ingredients except for one key piece: the enchilada sauce. I threw something together from canned tomatoes and spices and though the end result was tasty, well, it was just not quite a true enchilada.
The sauce is really key. Although I like the idea of making my own enchilada sauce, as a busy mom of two kids, that’s simply not possible sometimes. So I’m on the hunt for the best canned enchilada sauce.
Canned Enchilada Sauce Reviews
Here are some of the best canned enchilada sauces that are widely available. I focus on the traditional red enchilada sauce, although many of these brands also make varieties with green chillis.
Amalia’s Cocina Authentic Enchilada Sauce, 25 oz. jar
Amalia’s is a family-owned specialty brand started by 5 Mexican-American women in 2005. The recipes are said to be their family recipes passed down through the generations.
This sauce features cumin and garlic chunks. Interestingly, it also features chicken stock flavor, so while it’s not vegetarian-friendly, the chicken base adds a savoury complexity to this sauce. Tomatoes are not one of the leading ingredients, so the spices really take front stage in this mildly spicy sauce. (For a full list of the ingredients, check here.)
I’ve been lucky to try this one, and it really does have a nice, homemade taste to it. Other reviewers also note that it has a smoother flavor than many prepared enchilada sauces.
The main drawback is that it’s on the pricier side.
Hatch Medium Enchilada Sauce, Pack of 6 14 oz. cans
Hatch is an American brand that originated in New Mexico and is well-known for its salsas. It is pretty widely available.
This red enchilada sauces leads with tomatoes, with dehydrated chilli powder bringing in that signature enchilada taste. This sauce doesn’t contain MSG, but does have similar ingredients that may bother people who are sensitive to MSG.
Hatch’s enchilada sauces is frequently recommended on food and cooking forums as the best canned enchilada sauce, for its classic, mellow flavor.
El Pato Red Chile Enchilada Sauce, 28 oz. can
El Pato is another Californian brand of Mexican sauces and salsas. Walker Foods has been producing El Pato sauces for over 80 years.
Their red chile enchilada sauce lists tomato puree as the first ingredient, but also lists actual chillis, and not just powder, as a prominent ingredient. It’s an otherwise simple sauce, allowing those chillis to really stand out.
Reviewers praise the use of these simple ingredients and the lack of preservatives in this sauce. Some people note its fresh taste compared to other brands, and I believe this is due to the use of whole chillis rather than chilli powder.
The primary drawback with El Pato is that it is most easily found in a large, 28 oz. can. As you’re not likely to use the entire can in one sitting, you’ll have to freeze the leftovers for your next use.
Rosarita Mild Enchilada Sauce, Pack of 12 20 oz. cans
Rosarita is an American brand of Mexican-style foods, in business since the 1940s.
This red enchilada sauce also lists tomato paste as its first ingredient. It does have red chilli puree as a top ingredient, as well, which gives it a fresh chilli flavor. This one does contain a number of natural gums as stabilizers.
Cooks lavish enthusiastic praise on this enchilada sauce. Many say it’s as good as what you’d get in a restaurant or make at home. Others note the low acidity and complex flavor.
Enchiladas are a delicious street food style dish from Mexico. The dish consists of a savory filling rolled into a corn or flour tortilla, covered with a chilli sauce and often cheese, then baked. The sauce is a thick chilli sauce that is typically made with red chilli peppers but can also be made with green peppers.
One of my favourite aspects of enchiladas is that it’s a great dish for using up leftovers. For example, I’ll use the last bits of a roast chicken to make a simple filling, adding in some onion and whatever other veggies I have on hand. For a quick meal like this, having a great canned enchilada sauce on hand is very useful.
Here’s a quick how-to for making enchiladas at home:
Secret’s in the Sauce!
Many enchilada sauce recipes begin with a roux-type base into which you add spices (especially chilli powder) and often some tomato paste, resulting in a flavorful, thick but smooth and creamy sauce. Enchilada sauce is typically made with red chillis, although you do see green chilli sauces as well.
In a traditional enchilada sauce, chilli peppers should be the main ingredient, although many enchilada sauces are tomato based, as tomatoes are cheaper. Of course, enchiladas are one of those dishes that have so many variations that how you make them is really up to your tastes and what’s available to you.
But generally speaking, the dish and the sauce are simple, so it’s important that the ingredients are of high quality. The same principles apply when looking for a canned sauce. You want real, high quality ingredients so you can be sure the sauce is full of rich flavor.
When looking for the best canned enchilada sauce, it seems you have the “problem” of many great options.
If I’m making a special enchilada dish for guests or an occasion, I’d spring for the homemade taste of Amalia’s Cocina. I love the natural ingredients, and the added depth from the chicken base and cumin.
But to stock my pantry with an enchilada sauce to have on hand for quick family meals, I recommend El Pato’s red enchilada sauce. I love that whole chillis are a main ingredient, and that there are few additives and stabilizers. Sometimes simple is best when you want certain ingredients to really stand out.
Now, put your enchilada sauce to use in my favorite enchilada variation, chicken enchilasagna.