What’s the difference between marinara and tomato sauce?

Want to know the differences between marinara and tomato sauce? You are about to find out everything you should know.

There are many Italian tomato sauces, like Ragu, and even some American ones, such as Stewed Tomatoes. However, few are as famous as the marinara and the aptly-named “tomato sauce.” These two sauces are often used as interchangeable terms for one another, which is unfair. There are some crucial differences, as you’ll find out.

Marinara vs. Tomato Sauce

Marinara is a vegan-friendly sauce made with garlic, crushed red peppers, and basil. American-style marinara usually contains onions, not red peppers. Marinara can be cooked quickly and left chunky in texture/appearance. Tomato sauce is a complex sauce with many ingredients, in some cases including pork.

What is Marinara Sauce?

Most tomato sauces prepared in the home kitchen are variations of the humble but mighty marinara. This somewhat thin sauce cooks quickly from start to finish, requiring only around an hour max. 

The famous flavors come from garlic, crushed red pepper, and basil. Some people also include a little oregano. All traditional Italian marinara sauces should consist of those three essential ingredients and tomatoes, of course!

Note: When cooking marinara, you should opt for fresh ingredients and high-quality San Marzano tomatoes for the best result.

Marinara sauce is often enjoyed in sub sandwiches, as the base for pizza, and is also known as spaghetti sauce.

What is Tomato Sauce?

Tomato sauce is not like marinara in its consistency or nature. Instead, this sauce is thick and complex, based on a sauce tomat mother sauce. 

You start with onion, carrot, celery, and salt pork, lardons, or bacon. This is then cooked into a roux made of flour and butter. You then add fresh tomatoes, bay leaves, garlic, and veal or chicken stock. 

This sauce isn’t quick to prepare or cook as this is then left to simmer for several hours, becoming sweet and more flavorful. When ready, the sauce should be puree consistency, unlike marinara with its remaining chunks of the tomatoes.

Tomato sauce is best for pouring over foods like pasta. It is used as a tomato gravy in many senses and isn’t ideal for pizzas or similar recipes.

Note: Tomato sauce is not vegetarian-friendly.

Can you substitute these sauces for one another?

It depends. While both are tomato-based sauces, they are still too different to be suitable substitutes in all cases.

  • You can substitute marinara for tomato sauce in almost all cases. It won’t always have the richness of flavor or the same thickness and texture. However, it does work.
  • You can substitute tomato sauce for marinara in pasta dishes and meat dishes like pork meatballs, chicken, and similar.

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