I have been conducting experiments recently in an attempt to try to reverse engineer a basic original pepperoni pizza from Papa John’s. As part of this effort, I have tried to reverse engineer the signature pizza sauce that PJ uses on that pizza (and others as well).
The starting point for the reverse engineering of the PJ sauce was information that was provided to me a couple of years ago by PJ, in which the ingredients for the sauce were given as follows:Pizza Sauce: Vine-ripened fresh tomatoes, sunflower oil, sugar, salt, spices, garlic*, extra virgin olive oil and citric acid. *Dehydrated.
A statement accompanied the above ingredients list that read as follows: “Ingredients are not necessarily listed in the order of predominance
”. Usually, in documents required by government regulators, the ingredients are required to be specified by their predominance, by weight. Possibly the information I received was not a public document. However, for my purposes, I decided to treat it as such.
Earlier ingredients lists for the PJ sauce that I was able to find from Internet searches indicated that oregano was one of the “spices” used by PJ in its basic sauce. I also saw references to basil and black pepper. The PJ website indicates at the F.A.Q.s/Allergen section at http://www.papajohns.com/menu/faqs.htm
that the sauce includes a blend of sunflower and olive oils. Another section of the website, at http://www.papajohns.com/pizza_story/sauce.htm,
says that the tomatoes are “packed within an average of six hours after harvesting”. Elsewhere the tomatoes are described as being “fresh-pack” tomatoes. I am pretty certain that the tomatoes come from Stanislaus, because of the “citric acid” listed in the sauce ingredients. Escalon, the other major supplier of fresh-pack tomatoes to the pizza industry, does not add any citric acid in its tomato products. To the best of my knowledge, there are no other suppliers than Stanislaus and Escalon that are in the position of being able to supply fresh-pack tomatoes to meet the needs of a pizza chain (PJ) with over 2000 stores in the U.S. (and over 3000 worldwide).
The other major part of my reverse engineering effort was to obtain a sample of the PJ sauce itself. To do this, I simply asked the counterperson at a local PJ’s where I purchased a PJ original pepperoni pizza for a sample of their regular pizza sauce in lieu of the garlic sauce they usually hand out. I told the counterperson that I preferred to dip the rims of my PJ crusts in their pizza sauce rather than their garlic sauce. I was given a sample that, on my scale when I got back home, weighed 80 grams. That was the sauce that I tried to reverse engineer to come up with a clone. I guarded it like it was gold. As a side note, I wondered whether PJ’s uses the same sauce for its breadsticks. As best I could tell from the PJ counterperson, the sauces are similar but not the same.
The first thing I did with the PJ sauce was to closely examine it. It was very smooth, with no tomato chunks. It was not watery. I could see very small greenish/grayish “shreds” that I took to be herbs of some sort. The sauce also had a sheen to it that no doubt was because of the oil blend of sunflower and olive oils. The sauce had a sweetish taste, was not salty, and I detected garlic, but it was not overwhelming. The sauce did not taste particularly oily, but I could feel it on the tongue.
To replicate that sauce in my case, I decided to use the Escalon 6-in-1 tomatoes (ground tomatoes with added puree) since I did not have a 28-ounce can of the Stanislaus Tomato Magic tomato product that is considered to be the Stanislaus counterpart to the 6-in-1s. My starting quantity of the 6-in-1 tomatoes was around 145 grams. According to information provided by member dapizza at http://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/index.php/topic,994.msg38390.html#msg38390
(Reply 14), PJ uses 5 ounces (about 142 grams) of pizza sauce on its pizzas (which I took to be the 14” size). Before weighing out the tomatoes, I first pulverized them with an immersion stick blender to get rid of any chunks of tomato, and then drained some of the water out of them. I was careful not to drain too much water because I wanted the final sauce to have some “spreadability” to it when saucing the pizza.
As my approach to replicating the PJ sauce, I decided to first try to get the same sweetness as the PJ sauce, which appears to be a dominant characteristic of the PJ pizza sauce, then the herbal taste, the garlic and, finally, the oil blend--to get a sheen and mouthfeel comparable to the PJ pizza sauce. If I could get close with this approach, the salt and possibly ground pepper would be the final adjustments. Doing repetitive taste comparisons as I added ingredients to the 6-in-1s and noted their quantities, I finally came up with the following ingredients and quantities:
144 grams 6-in-1 tomatoes, partially drained (the weight is the weight after draining)
1 t. sunflower oil
7/8 t. sugar
1/16 t. salt
5/16 t. dried oregano* (Italian variety that originally came from my garden and was pulverized in a mortar and pestle and between my fingers)
1/8 t. dried basil* (Italian variety that also originally came from my garden and was pulverized in a mortar and pestle and between my fingers)
1/8 t. garlic powder
a dash of olive oil (I used Classico in the bottle with the yellow label)
* the amount is after pulverizing
I found no need to add any ground pepper, inasmuch as I could not detect it in the sauce. To allow the herbs to infuse in the tomatoes, I put the sauce into my refrigerator overnight. The following day, I could taste the difference. As with any sauce, it can be tweaked to suit personal tastes.
Overall, I found my “clone” pizza sauce to be quite close to the sample I used for my test. There was still a slight difference, which could have been because of some unidentifiable herb or because of the citric acid in the PJ pizza sauce. If anything, at the end of my test I concluded that my clone had a fresher, brighter taste. I have used my clone a few times to make clone PJ pizzas and it seems to work quite well.
I have shown below a couple of photos of my recent PJ pepperoni pizza clones in which I used my clone sauce. As befits my new avatar, I showed the latest PJ clone in a pizza box (a PJ pizza box, at that.) At some point, when I am satisfied with my dough formulation, I will perhaps be posting that dough formulation in another thread. I still have a little bit of the PJ pizza sauce sample left (in my freezer), so I may try at some point to scale up my recipe and also to see if I can make a Wal-Mart Great Value crushed tomatoes clone version. Those with the Stanislaus Tomato Magic product might be able to use a similar approach to mine to try to get an even closer clone to the PJ pizza sauce.
For those who are interested, the 6-in-1 canned tomatoes can be purchased directly from the producer, Escalon, at http://www.escalon.net/.
The 6-in-1s are also occasionally sold in supermarkets, including some Kroger supermarkets and specialty Italian food stores. Many foodservice companies that supply the pizza industry also stock the 6-in-1s. Some of these foodservice companies will sell to individuals on a cash-and-carry basis.
Edit (2/1/16): For Wayback Machine replacements for the two above inoperative links, see the following: http://web.archive.org/web/20080308010631/http://www.papajohns.com/menu/faqs.htm