Pizza Sauce vs. Marinara (Key Differences)


While marinara and pizza sauce can usually be used interchangeably, there are some subtle differences in how they are prepared and the ingredients used in each.

The key differences between pizza sauce and marinara include:  

Pizza SauceMarinara Sauce 
Cooks along with the pizza Cooked during preparation 
Pureed tomatoes Finely blended tomatoes 
Thicker consistency Thinner consistency 
Less water contentMore water content

Whether you are making pizza or pasta, tomato sauce is an essential ingredient in both pizza sauce and marinara sauce. Keep reading to learn more about these differences and potential alternatives to replace one or the other when preparing your next pizza or pasta. 

The Key Differences Between Pizza Sauce and Marinara

Whether you are making a homemade pizza or preparing your favorite pasta, the flavor always depends on using the perfect sauce. So when deciding between pizza sauce or marinara sauce, it simply boils down to how you prepare them.

The differences between pizza sauce and marinara include consistency, water content, and types of tomatoes. However, this can be subtle and dependent on how each is prepared.

Pizza sauce is typically uncooked before it enters the oven, and many extra ingredients are added over several hours of preparation. On the other hand, marinara sauce is often cooked, whether homemade or from a jar, before being adding to your pasta. 

The other big difference between both sauces is a marinara sauce made for pasta will have a larger water content, giving it a thinner consistency. This is because the recipe for marinara sauce does not call for tomato paste, which would give it a thicker consistency. This eventually becomes a tomato puree with a thicker consistency in your pizza sauce. 

The reason why the sauces are cooked differently is because of their use.

How Pizza Sauce is Used

When you make a pizza, you are adding all the raw ingredients to your dough at once before putting them into the oven. You then cook your pizza at very high temperatures, sauce included. If you were to cook the sauce before putting it on your pizza in the oven, it would alter the taste. Essentially you would be cooking the sauce twice, and it would end up being burnt, leaving it without its great taste.

How Marinara is Used

When you make marinara sauce for your pasta, it needs to be cooked before going on your finished pasta. You never add sauce to uncooked noodles. Therefore it is important to finish preparing your marinara sauce, so it is ready to serve on your freshly cooked pasta. 

How is Pizza Sauce Prepared?

Pizza sauce is made with either plain tomato sauce or pureed tomatoes and paste. This gives it a thicker consistency when compared to marinara sauce. 

When preparing your own pizza sauce, you will need these few ingredients to make one or two 16-inch pizzas: 

  • 15 oz. Tomato Sauce 
  • 6 oz. Tomato Paste
  • ½ tsp. Garlic Powder 
  • ½ tsp. Onion Powder
  • ½ tbsp. Salt 
  • ¼ tsp. Ground Pepper 

To make the perfect pizza sauce, follow these three simple steps: 

  • Add the tomato sauce and paste to a bowl and puree for the perfect consistency.
  • Add the remaining ingredients to your bowl and stir.
  • Add your sauce directly to your pizza dough if you are ready to bake. If not, seal the sauce tight and store it in your freezer for up to two months.

These ingredients are strongly recommended for the perfect pizza sauce. However, feel free to add any spices or garnishes that appeal to your taste buds.

How is Marinara Prepared?

Marinara sauce is made with peeled and chopped tomatoes that are often blended to give it its smooth texture. Marinara has a thinner consistency when compared to pizza sauce because tomato paste is often left out of the recipe for marinara sauce. 

Preparing marinara sauce is similar to preparing pizza sauce. However, pizza sauce calls for tomato paste but marinara sauce does not.  The key ingredients for the best marinara sauce include:

  • 1 can of whole tomatoes
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 7 peeled garlic cloves
  • A pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. salt 
  • 1 large basil sprig or ¼ tsp. dried oregano 

To prepare marinara sauce, you will need to follow similar steps as with pizza sauce preparation. These steps include:

  • Pour your tomatoes into a large bowl and crush with your hands in water to make tomato juice.
  • In a large skillet, heat oil on medium heat. Once hot, add your garlic. 
  • Once the garlic begins to sizzle, add your whole tomatoes, followed by your freshly prepared tomato water.
  • If you are using any spices like oregano, add them along with your salt and stir. 
  • Place the basil sprig on the surface of your sauce and then submerge.
  • Let your sauce simmer for 15 minutes or until your sauce has a thicker consistency, and your oil is a deep orange color. 

As with pizza sauce, these ingredients and directions are only a guide. Be sure to add any flavors or garnishes that you prefer in your marinara sauce.

Can You Substitute Marinara for Pizza Sauce?

If you do not have any tomato paste on hand to make pizza sauce, marinara sauce can be substituted for pizza sauce. Your sauce will likely have a thinner consistency but will still give your pizza a great flavor.

If you want to substitute marinara sauce for pizza sauce, you can. However, it will require some extra preparation and time in the kitchen. To successfully turn your marinara sauce into the perfect pizza sauce, follow these six steps:

  • Strain your marinara sauce to remove any excess water.
  • Add your marinara sauce to a blender and pulse until it achieves a smooth texture.
  • Add any seasonings you wish to use in your dish to your sauce.
  • Blend again to ensure everything is mixed well. 
  • Strain one last time to remove any remaining water.
  • Add your marinara sauce to your pizza and enjoy. 

Feel free to substitute: Marinara sauce may cause your pizza to be more “runny.”  But it is the perfect alternative when you do not have tomato paste at home to make pizza sauce for your pizza without compromising any flavor.

Can You Substitute Pizza Sauce for Marinara?

Pizza sauce can be substituted for marinara sauce. However, expect your pasta to have a much thicker texture compared to if you were using marinara sauce. 

If you plan to use pizza sauce on your next pasta dish, you can incorporate it into plain pasta or add other meats and vegetables for even more flavor. In any instance, pizza sauce will still give your pasta the same great taste. It may just make the texture feel a little different than what you are used to when cooking with marinara sauce.

What Can I Substitute for Pizza Sauce?

Sauced-Pizza-Crusts

There are several alternative sauces to use on your pizza other than regular pizza sauce. The top three sauce substitutes for pizza sauce include: 

  • Pesto Sauce 
  • Barbecue Sauce
  • Alfredo Sauce 

Most pizzas you see often have red sauce as the base. This is because the majority of pizza sauces are made with tomatoes and tomato paste that give them a bright red color. However, the reason pizza is so great is because of all the alternative options you can choose from for toppings and sauce. Some other options to use as a pizza sauce include:

  • Ricotta Cheese 
  • Ranch Dressing 
  • Olive Oil and Garlic 
  • Sweet Chili Sauce 
  • Balsamic Glaze 
  • Buffalo Wing Sauce 

Your options truly are endless when it comes to choosing a sauce for your pizza that is not your typical tomato-based sauce. Some of the above-mentioned alternatives to pizza sauce may sound different; they are the perfect choice when you want to substitute out the traditional tomato-based pizza sauce. 

What Can I Substitute for Marinara Sauce?

There are a variety of sauces that can be substituted for traditional marinara sauce. The number one choice of sauce for cooks to use is a tomato and basil sauce, along with garlic and oil and lemon walnut sauces. 

As with pizza sauce, there are also several alternatives to use on your pasta other than marinara sauce. The top three alternatives to marinara sauce include:

  • Tomato and Basil
  • Garlic and Oil
  • Lemon Walnut

Tomato and basil sauce are often substituted for marinara sauce when looking for a new sauce to use on your pasta. It is an easy to prepare sauce that is made with natural tomatoes and fresh basil. Fry the tomatoes and basil with your favorite seasonings, and it will be ready to serve.

Another alternative is garlic and oil. This is the classic Italian recipe that requires a pinch of oregano and parmesan. Brown some garlic in a pan with extra virgin olive oil and then add your parmesan to make a delicious sauce. 

One last sauce to consider instead of marinara is a lemon walnut sauce. It is the perfect blend of citrus fruits and nuts for a healthier option on your pasta. Simply add a brown onion in extra virgin olive oil followed by your nuts of choice. Allow this blend to cook before adding your citrus garnishes and your pasta sauce will be ready to go.

Are Marinara and Pasta Sauce the Same?

Although marinara sauce and pasta sauce are sometimes thought to be synonymous with one another, that is not true. Pasta sauce is any sauce you use on your pasta. Marinara sauce is a type of pasta sauce. 

Believe it or not, marinara is not actually the same as your everyday tomato pasta sauce. It is also not the same as alfredo sauce. The four key differences between marinara sauce and pasta sauce are between:

  • Their flavor 
  • Their texture 
  • Their ingredients 
  • The time it takes to prepare each sauce. 

Marinara sauce is less meaty and allows you to taste all the complex flavors that go into making marinara sauce. Pasta sauce is perfect for when you want to make regular spaghetti and are cooking noodles without a lot of flavors. You should, however, use marinara sauce when making a dish with meat and seafood. This way, the marinara sauce can add a good balanced taste without overcoming the meat and seafood flavors. 

Marinara sauce has a thinner texture compared to pizza sauce. If you compare it to your average spaghetti sauce, you will notice spaghetti sauce also has a richer consistency. If you are looking for a lighter option with your meal, marinara sauce is the way to go.

In terms of the ingredients used in marinara sauce compared to pasta sauce, they are very similar with only one significant difference. Pasta sauce calls for meat in the recipe whereas marinara sauce does not. Many often make marinara sauce to avoid another trip to the store to pick up ground meat.

Lastly, because regular pasta sauce requires meat, you can expect to need more preparation time in the kitchen. You will first have to season and cook your meat before adding it to your sauce. On top of that, regular pasta sauce needs to simmer longer to reach its desired consistency with a thicker consistency.

Final Thoughts

Pizza sauce and marinara sauce are essential for giving your pizza and pasta their great flavors. Although they look the same, both pizza sauce and marinara come with their own lists of ingredients and instructions. 

Pizza sauce is going to have a thicker consistency because of the tomato paste ingredient that is not used in marinara sauce. Because of this, pizza sauce will have less water content when compared to marinara, too.

Lastly, be sure you do not cook your pizza sauce before putting it on your pizza. If you do, it will be burnt, and the flavor will not taste the same. If you are making marinara sauce, however, you should cook it before adding it to your pasta to ensure it tastes great.

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For more, don’t miss Can I Use Marinara Sauce for Pasta? | What You Should Know.

Anne James

Hi, I'm Anne but my grandchildren call me Jelly Grandma. I have over 50 years of experience as a Southern cook and am a retired librarian. I love sharing what I have learned. You can find me on YouTube as well! Just click the link at the bottom of your page. I hope your visit here has been a sweet one.

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