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Marinara Sauce Vs Spaghetti Sauce: What’s The Difference?

Maria Foster
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by Maria Foster

When it comes to Italian cuisine, few dishes are as beloved as spaghetti. Whether enjoyed with meatballs, a sprinkle of Parmesan, or a generous drizzle of sauce, spaghetti has become a staple on dinner tables around the world.

One of the key decisions when serving spaghetti is choosing the best sauce possible.

Marinara Sauce Vs Spaghetti Sauce: What's The Difference?

Two of the most common sauces you will see are marinara sauce and spaghetti sauce. While many use these terms interchangeably, there are distinct differences that set them apart in terms of taste, ingredients, and culinary traditions.

In this article, we will look at the different qualities of marinara sauce and spaghetti sauce. We’ll examine the unique characteristics that define each sauce and explain their differences.

Whether you’re an expert in Italian cuisine or just want to choose the best sauce for your family meals, we’ll answer your questions.

Difference Between Marinara Sauce And Spaghetti Sauce

The main difference between marinara sauce and spaghetti sauce is that marinara sauce is a simpler sauce and is made from fewer ingredients. Many types of spaghetti sauce have meat in them but marinara sauce never does.

Marinara sauce is thinner and has a more delicate flavor than spaghetti sauce, which is typically thicker and more flavorful.

The terms are often used interchangeably as both sauces are used on pasta and spaghetti. Marinara sauce can be considered a type of spaghetti sauce when spaghetti sauce is used as a universal term for any type of pasta sauce.

Let’s now look at the two in more detail.

What Is Marinara Sauce?

Most types of Italian food that are eaten in the United States are not very authentically Italian. It’s food that has been taken from Italian cuisine and then adjusted to suit American tastes. 

However, marinara sauce is one of the more authentic parts of Italian-American cuisine. It’s not the same as the pasta sauces you will find in Italy but is one of the closest versions you can find.

It’s a very simple sauce that has a tomato base. Any kind of tomato can be used for marinara sauce, but the best options are either plum or San Marzano tomatoes.

There aren’t many other ingredients added to the sauce but you will see garlic, onion, and a few seasonings. It has a very delicate aroma and tastes strongly of tomatoes due to the limited number of ingredients.

What Is Spaghetti Sauce?

Many people would argue that there is no such thing as spaghetti sauce. This is technically true as spaghetti, like any other type of pasta, can be eaten with a wide range of different sauces.

It can even be eaten with just a sprinkling of olive oil, so suggesting that there is one singular sauce that can be called spaghetti sauce is a little reductive.

However, in the United States, we do have a product called spaghetti sauce and it is generally the same regardless of the manufacturer. It’s not a traditional Italian sauce and is instead something created in America that is similar to a bolognese sauce.

Spaghetti sauce also has a tomato base like marinara sauce does. However, it has a thicker consistency and a wider range of other ingredients that are included in the sauce.

It’s not uncommon to find onions or other vegetables such as carrots, for example. It usually has ground beef included and is more filling than a marinara sauce.

Spaghetti sauce has a very strong flavor of tomatoes and can be overpowering in some pasta dishes. However, it will also add a lot of flavor to your pasta and is a great choice for anyone who is looking for a filling meal.

How Is Marinara Sauce Used?

Marinara sauce is commonly served with pasta. As it’s a thinner and more delicate sauce, it’s a great choice if you want to actually taste the pasta as the sauce won’t overpower it.

Although it can be served with pasta dishes that include meat, it’s usually best without meat as meat can overpower its delicate taste.

Marinara sauce can also be used as a dipping sauce. You can use it with a variety of sides and especially those that have an Italian feel. Consider dipping some mozzarella sticks, zucchini chips, garlic bread, or breadsticks into your marinara sauce.

How Is Spaghetti Sauce Used?

Spaghetti sauce is used almost exclusively with pasta. It doesn’t have to be just spaghetti, however, as spaghetti sauce works with any kind of pasta. The inclusion of meat in the sauce makes it a favorite with many in lasagnas, for example.

Spaghetti sauce can add some extra protein and flavor to your pasta. It is a strong-tasting sauce, however, so you will be able to taste less of the pasta itself. It works great with pasta dishes that include meat, such as spaghetti bolognese or spaghetti and meatballs as well.

How To Make Marinara Sauce

Marinara Sauce Vs Spaghetti Sauce: What's The Difference?

Making marinara sauce from scratch is pretty quick and easy. It doesn’t take long on the stovetop to make and you can have a complete marinara sauce made in around 30 minutes.

Most recipes for marinara sauce need only tomatoes, onion, garlic, and some seasonings. You may find recipes that include red bell peppers as well, but this is less common.

Due to the minimal ingredients and the simple cooking method, it’s very easy to make marinara sauce at home.

How To Make Spaghetti Sauce

Spaghetti sauce typically uses ground beef in its recipe and this means that it is a more complicated and lengthy process than making marinara sauce.

You will need to fry the meat and any other vegetables first before you can begin the stages of making the sauce.

It’s very important to make sure that the beef is thoroughly cooked through so after you have fried the meat, you will need to simmer the sauce for around an hour while occasionally stirring it.

This is a much longer and more involved process than making marinara sauce at home.

Marinara Sauce Vs Spaghetti Sauce Comparison Table

CategoryMarinara SauceSpaghetti Sauce
Sauce consistencyThinnerThicker
Sauce colorRedRed
IngredientsTomato, onion, garlic, seasoningsVaries. Can include various vegetables or meat
Suitable for vegansYesUsually not
HistoryMore authentically ItalianItalian-American cuisine
UsesPasta sauce, dipping saucePasta sauce, lasagne
Cooking timeUnder 30 minutesOver one hour

Nutritional Content Breakdown: Which One Is Healthier?

Let’s take a look at the nutritional content of both marinara sauce and spaghetti sauce. In both cases, we’ve based the nutritional amounts on half a cup of sauce, which is around 132g. 

For spaghetti sauce, we’ve used a sauce that includes meat as that is the most typical version of spaghetti sauce found. Spaghetti sauces that don’t have meat will have values very similar to marinara.

As you might expect, the addition of meat to spaghetti sauce has a great influence on its nutritional value. Spaghetti sauce has almost double the calories of marinara sauce and over twice as much fat.

It also features nearly ten times as much cholesterol as marinara sauce as spaghetti sauce uses red meat and this is well-known for being high in cholesterol.

It’s not all bad news for spaghetti sauce, however. Meat does have its positive points as well and this is mainly seen in a great increase in the amount of protein in the sauce.

Meat is a great sauce of protein and spaghetti sauce contains over four times as much protein compared to marinara sauce.

The two sauces have very similar amounts of fiber, sugar, calcium, iron, and potassium. 

Overall, marinara sauce is the healthier option due to the lack of meat. However, if you do need some extra protein in your diet and the increase in cholesterol and calories aren’t an issue, spaghetti sauce is also a good choice.

Category (half a cup / 132g)Marinara SauceSpaghetti Sauce
Vitamins and Minerals


In this article, we took a closer look at marinara sauce and spaghetti sauce. We found that although neither of them is authentically Italian, marinara sauce is closer to pasta sauces made in Italy than spaghetti sauce. 

Marinara sauce is a thinner sauce that is typically vegan and spaghetti sauce is thicker and usually made with ground beef.

When it comes to making the two sauces at home, marinara sauce is much easier and quicker due to its more limited ingredients.

The addition of meat to spaghetti sauce has a great effect on the nutritional value of the sauce. It is higher in calories, cholesterol, and protein than marinara sauce.

About Maria Foster
Maria Foster
Maria Foster is a mother of 3 and she and her husband of 23 years share their home with 2 faithful dogs. Besides being CEO of the household and active in her community, Maria is the lead contributor to Food Champs and loves to try new food ideas and kitchen accessories to make easier and more delicious meals.
Maria Foster
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