In the culinary world of tomato-based sauces, two champions emerge, vying for the crown: pizza sauce and marinara sauce. These delicious sauces are staples in Italian cuisine and are often the subject of much debate and curiosity among food enthusiasts. But what sets these two saucy contenders apart? What makes each sauce unique, and can they be used interchangeably?

In this exploration of pizza sauce vs marinara, we’ll delve into the origins, ingredients, and key differences between these two traditional tomato sauces. So let’s embark on this flavorful journey and settle the great sauce debate once and for all!

Understanding Pizza Sauce and Marinara Sauce

The story of Italian sauces dates back to the 16th century, where the art of creating rich and flavorful sauces became integral to Italian cuisine. Marinara sauce, named after the Italian word “marinaro” meaning “sailor,” is believed to have been created by sailors’ wives in Naples. This sauce’s simplicity and quick cooking time made it a popular choice among seafaring folk.

pizza sauce by applied over a pizza dough
Photo by Airam Dato

Pizza Sauce

Is a thicker sauce specifically crafted for use as a pizza base. The main ingredient is tomato paste, which gives it a thicker consistency and more robust tomato flavor compared to marinara. Olive oil, garlic powder, and Italian seasoning are common additions, but the sauce often has fewer ingredients overall, allowing the flavors of the pizza toppings to shine.

San Marzano tomatoes, a type of tomato praised for their sweet and tangy flavor, are the essential ingredient in the original Italian recipe for both marinara and pizza sauce. However, many variations exist, and personal preference often dictates the choice of tomatoes used.

marinara sauce being poured over on a pasta plate
Photo by Gaspar Zaldo

Marinara Sauce

Marinara sauce, on the other hand, is a classic Italian tomato sauce made with tomatoes, garlic, onions, and herbs. It is typically cooked and simmered for a longer period to develop the flavors. Marinara sauce is commonly used as a sauce for pasta dishes, such as spaghetti, but it can also be used for other dishes like meatballs, chicken Parmesan, and even as a dipping sauce.

Is Pizza Sauce for Pizza and Marinara for Pasta?

In general, pizza sauce is specifically designed for topping on pizza, while marinara sauce is commonly used for pasta dishes, including spaghetti. However, it’s important to note that both sauces can be versatile and may be used interchangeably in various culinary applications, depending on individual preferences and recipe variations.

The Origins and Evolution of Pizza Sauce and Marinara Sauce

The story of pizza sauce and marinara sauce is deeply intertwined with the rich history of Italian cuisine. These iconic sauces, which have become culinary symbols of Italy, have fascinating origins and cultural significance that continue to evolve over time.

The Origins of Marinara Sauce

Marinara sauce, one of the most recognizable and beloved Italian sauces, traces its origins to the coastal city of Naples in the late 16th century. It is said that marinara, meaning “sailor-style” in Italian, was so named because it was created by sailors, or “marinai,” who were part of Naples’ bustling seafaring community.

Legend has it that marinara sauce was initially prepared by sailors’ wives who eagerly awaited their husbands’ return from sea. The sauce’s simplicity and quick cooking time made it a practical and delicious choice. Its key ingredients—tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, and herbs—were readily available and preserved well during long voyages. Notably, tomatoes, which had arrived in Italy from the New World, became a fundamental ingredient in Italian cuisine.

In its purest form, traditional marinara sauce embraced minimalism, allowing the freshness and quality of its ingredients to shine. It was not uncommon for the sauce to be served with fish and seafood, reflecting Naples’ close relationship with the sea.

The Emergence of Pizza Sauce

The history of pizza sauce is inextricably linked to the birth of pizza itself. While flatbreads with toppings have been enjoyed by various cultures for millennia, the modern pizza that we know today began to take shape in Naples in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Early pizzas were simple street food, often topped with olive oil, herbs, cheese, and anchovies. However, the introduction of tomatoes would transform pizza into the saucy delight we recognize today. Initially, crushed tomatoes were used to top the pizza dough, creating a rustic and flavorful base.

The true turning point came in 1889 when the famous Pizza Margherita was created in honor of Queen Margherita of Italy. This classic pizza, adorned with tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil to represent the colors of the Italian flag, solidified the role of tomato-based pizza sauce in Italian gastronomy.

The pizza sauce, as we know it, continued to evolve, with variations in consistency and ingredients emerging in different regions of Italy and beyond. The thick, robust pizza sauce that graces pizzas worldwide today is a testament to this culinary innovation.

Cultural Significance and Evolution

Both pizza sauce and marinara sauce have transcended their humble beginnings to become symbols of Italian identity, heritage, and culinary excellence. As Italian immigrants brought their food traditions to other countries, the love for these sauces spread globally.

Marinara sauce, with its versatility, has become a staple in Italian-American cuisine, often used in pasta dishes, meatballs, and parmigiana dishes. It has also inspired various interpretations, such as arrabbiata sauce with its spicy kick.

Pizza sauce, on the other hand, has become synonymous with the ever-popular pizza—a dish that has been creatively adapted to suit diverse palates, from New York-style thin crust to Chicago-style deep dish.

Ultimately, the history of pizza sauce and marinara sauce is a celebration of Italian culinary ingenuity, resourcefulness, and the art of using simple ingredients to create timeless flavors. From the kitchens of Naples to the tables of the world, these sauces continue to be cherished and reinvented, leaving a delicious legacy for generations to come.

Variations and Regional Differences: The Many Faces of Pizza Sauce and Marinara Sauce

Italy, a country known for its rich and diverse culinary traditions, boasts a variety of regional variations and adaptations of pizza sauce and marinara sauce. As these sauces made their way across Italy and around the world, they took on new flavors, ingredients, and characteristics, reflecting the tastes and preferences of different cultures and regions.

Variations within Italy

Global Adaptations

These variations and regional differences illustrate how pizza sauce and marinara sauce have inspired creativity and culinary exploration worldwide. Whether enjoyed in a traditional Italian trattoria or a bustling pizzeria in another corner of the globe, these sauces have become cherished and versatile components of diverse food cultures.

Main Differences Between Pizza Sauce and Marinara Sauce

The main difference between pizza sauce and marinara lies in the cooking process and the desired consistency. While marinara is a cooked sauce simmered to perfection in a large saucepan, pizza sauce is typically uncooked, retaining the freshness of the tomatoes. The cooking method for marinara involves sautéing garlic in olive oil, adding tomatoes and other ingredients, and allowing the sauce to simmer until the flavors meld into a complex and heartier sauce.

Consistency is another important distinction. Marinara sauce is smoother and slightly thinner, making it a versatile choice for pasta dishes and as a dipping sauce for mozzarella sticks. Pizza sauce is intentionally thicker, ensuring that it adheres well to the pizza crust without making it soggy. The thick consistency of pizza sauce is achieved by using tomato paste as a base ingredient.

In terms of flavor, marinara sauce often has a more complex flavor profile due to the addition of ingredients like bell peppers, Italian sausage, ground beef, and red pepper flakes. Pizza sauce, in contrast, has a simpler sauce composition with a more pronounced tomato flavor. Its thicker consistency also means that it can hold its own against the variety of pizza toppings it often accompanies.

Nutritional Information: Understanding the Nutritional Content of Pizza Sauce and Marinara Sauce

Pizza sauce and marinara sauce are both tomato-based sauces that bring rich flavors to a variety of dishes. Understanding their nutritional content can help you make informed dietary choices. Additionally, it’s important to consider any potential dietary considerations, such as gluten-free and vegan options.

Nutritional Content of Pizza Sauce (Per 1/2 Cup Serving)

a cup of pizza sauce and a pizza pie on the background
  • Calories: 30-35
  • Total Fat: 1-1.5g
  • Saturated Fat: 0g
  • Cholesterol: 0mg
  • Sodium: 150-300mg
  • Total Carbohydrates: 3-5g
  • Dietary Fiber: 1g
  • Sugars: 2-3g
  • Protein: 1g

Nutritional Content of Marinara Sauce (Per 1/2 Cup Serving)

a cup of marinara sauce and a spaghetti with marinara sauce on the background
  • Calories: 35-70
  • Total Fat: 1.5-4g
  • Saturated Fat: 0-0.5g
  • Cholesterol: 0mg
  • Sodium: 250-500mg
  • Total Carbohydrates: 5-9g
  • Dietary Fiber: 1-2g
  • Sugars: 4-7g
  • Protein: 1-2g

It’s important to note that the nutritional content may vary based on the brand, recipe, and specific ingredients used. For example, sauces made with added sugar, extra olive oil, or cheese will have higher calorie and fat content.

Dietary Considerations

Health Benefits

Overall, pizza sauce and marinara sauce can be part of a balanced diet when enjoyed in moderation. Homemade sauces offer the advantage of controlling the quality and quantity of ingredients, allowing you to cater to specific dietary preferences and needs.

Comparison Table: Pizza Sauce vs. Marinara Sauce

Attribute Pizza Sauce Marinara Sauce
Ingredients Tomato paste, olive oil, oregano Fresh tomatoes, olive oil, basil
Consistency Thicker Thinner
Flavor Robust tomato flavor Complex, herby flavor
Cooking Method Often uncooked Cooked, simmered
Typical Usage Base for pizzas Pasta dishes, dipping sauce

Common Questions

Can you substitute marinara sauce for pizza sauce?

Yes, you can substitute marinara sauce for pizza sauce in a pinch, but keep in mind that marinara is a bit thinner and has a more complex flavor. To achieve a thicker pizza sauce consistency, you may consider reducing the marinara sauce by simmering it for a longer time.

Is pizza sauce better than marinara?

This ultimately comes down to personal preference and the intended use of the sauce. Pizza sauce works best as a base for pizzas, while marinara is a versatile sauce for pasta dishes, dipping, and more. Both sauces have their unique characteristics and uses in Italian cuisine.

Can you use pizza sauce for spaghetti?

Yes, pizza sauce can be used for spaghetti, but it may have a stronger tomato flavor and fewer additional ingredients compared to traditional spaghetti sauce. For a heartier pasta sauce, consider adding ground beef, Italian sausage, and other ingredients to the pizza sauce.

What kind of sauce do you use for pizza?

Traditional pizza sauce is a thick tomato-based sauce made from tomato paste, olive oil, garlic powder, and Italian seasoning. It is specifically formulated to complement pizza toppings and adhere well to the pizza crust.

What sauce is closest to pizza sauce?

Marinara sauce is the closest sauce to pizza sauce in terms of its tomato base and similar ingredients. However, marinara is typically thinner and cooked, while pizza sauce is thicker and often uncooked.

What can I use if I don’t have pizza sauce?

If you don’t have pizza sauce, you can use marinara sauce, canned tomatoes, or even a simple mixture of tomato paste and water with seasonings. Other creative options include using alfredo sauce or pesto as a pizza base for a different flavor.

ragu sauced spaghetti and a jar of ragu sauce

Can you use Ragu Marinara for pizza sauce?

Yes, you can use Ragu Marinara as a substitute for pizza sauce. To achieve a thicker consistency, you may consider reducing the sauce by simmering it for a longer time.

Can you use Prego Italian sauce for pizza?

prego sauce jar and a prego sauced spaghetti

Yes, Prego Italian sauce can be used as a pizza sauce substitute. Similar to using marinara, you may wish to reduce the sauce for a thicker consistency if needed.

Does pizza sauce taste different than pasta sauce?

Yes, pizza sauce typically has a simpler and more robust tomato flavor, with a thicker consistency compared to pasta sauce. Pasta sauce, such as marinara or spaghetti sauce, may have additional ingredients like onions, bell peppers, and ground beef for a more complex flavor.

Why is pizza marinara called marinara?

Pizza marinara is named after the marinara sauce used as its topping. Marinara sauce gets its name from the Italian word “marinaro,” meaning “sailor,” as it was believed to have been created by sailors’ wives in Naples due to its simplicity and quick cooking time.

What is the most used pizza sauce?

ragu jar

Traditional tomato-based pizza sauce is the most commonly used pizza sauce in pizzerias and home kitchens. It provides a flavorful base for a variety of pizza toppings.

In 2020, the most used brand of pizza sauce in the United States was Ragu, with 44.99 million Americans using this brand. This data was calculated based on the U.S. Census data and Simmons National Consumer Survey (NHCS)​

pizza sauces brands; don pepino, pastorelli, muir glen, stanislaus, contadina

Based on customer reviews, some of the best pizza sauce brands include the following:

These brands have been highly rated by customers and are known for their quality and flavor​.

Is Ragu sauce pizza sauce?

Ragu is a brand that offers various sauces, including marinara and traditional spaghetti sauce. While Ragu sauce can be used as a substitute for pizza sauce, it is not specifically formulated as pizza sauce.

What tomato sauce do pizzerias use?

Many pizzerias use a proprietary blend of tomato sauce made from high-quality ingredients like San Marzano tomatoes, tomato paste, olive oil, and seasonings. Some pizzerias may also use premade tomato sauce or canned tomatoes as a base for their sauce.

Sauce Pairings and Uses: Exploring the Versatility of Pizza Sauce and Marinara Sauce

Both pizza sauce and marinara sauce offer an incredible range of culinary possibilities, serving as the foundation for traditional and creative dishes alike. Let’s explore some of the delightful ways these sauces can be paired and used beyond the realm of pizza and pasta:

Traditional Pairings

eggplant parmigiana and chicken parmigiana pasta

Chicken or Eggplant Parmigiana

Breaded and fried chicken or eggplant slices are smothered in marinara sauce, topped with mozzarella and Parmesan cheese, and baked to perfection. This classic Italian-American dish pairs beautifully with the rich and savory flavors of marinara sauce.

meatball subs

Meatball Subs

Marinara sauce is the ideal companion for meatball subs, where tender meatballs are nestled in a crusty roll and covered in marinara sauce and melted cheese, creating a satisfying and hearty sandwich.

Calzones on a bowl with a marinara dipping sauce in the middle


Calzones are essentially folded pizzas filled with various ingredients such as cheese, vegetables, and meats. Pizza sauce is used both inside the calzone and as a dipping sauce on the side.

Dipping and Drizzling

Mozzarella Sticks

Mozzarella Sticks

Marinara sauce serves as an excellent dipping sauce for mozzarella sticks, adding a tangy contrast to the gooey, melted cheese.

dipping sauce(pizza sauce) and breadsticks

Breadsticks and Garlic Knots

Pizza sauce is a flavorful accompaniment for breadsticks and garlic knots, enhancing the garlicky, buttery goodness of these classic side dishes.



Drizzle marinara sauce over slices of toasted baguette topped with diced tomatoes, basil, and a drizzle of balsamic glaze for a delightful bruschetta appetizer.

The versatility of pizza sauce and marinara sauce opens up a world of culinary creativity. Whether used in traditional dishes or inventive pairings, these sauces have the power to elevate flavors and bring a touch of Italian flair to any meal.

Tips and Tricks: Customizing and Storing Your Sauces

Creating the perfect sauce is an art, and with a few simple tips and tricks, you can customize flavors, store leftover sauce, and experiment with alternative ingredients. Let’s explore some ways to enhance your sauce-making experience:

Customizing Sauce Flavors

Storing Leftover Sauce

Using Alternative Ingredients


Pizza sauce and marinara sauce are two delicious and iconic components of Italian cuisine that have captured the hearts and taste buds of food enthusiasts worldwide. Whether it’s the robust and rich flavors of pizza sauce or the complex and herby notes of marinara sauce, each brings its own unique character to a variety of dishes.

Through this exploration, we’ve delved into the main differences between these two tomato-based sauces, answered common questions, and traced their historical and cultural significance. We’ve also discovered regional variations, creative pairings, and nutritional considerations that reflect the versatility and adaptability of these sauces.

Armed with easy and delectable homemade recipes, you can now embark on your own culinary journey, experimenting with flavors and creating dishes that reflect your personal preferences. Whether you’re spreading pizza sauce over a perfectly kneaded dough or simmering marinara sauce for a comforting pasta dish, you’re carrying on the legacy of Italian culinary tradition.

Ultimately, the choice between pizza sauce and marinara sauce is a matter of taste and occasion, and there’s no right or wrong answer. Both sauces offer endless possibilities for enjoyment and creativity in the kitchen. So gather your ingredients, roll up your sleeves, and savor the process of crafting and enjoying these delicious sauces—one slice or spoonful at a time. Buon appetito!

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