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Marinara Sauce vs Tomato Sauce Comparison

Maria Foster
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by Maria Foster

It is easy to get lost in the pasta sauce aisle or the countless recipes for spaghetti sauce online. There are so many different pasta sauce varieties that choosing a sauce for dinner can quickly become the biggest challenge of the day.

Marinara sauce is one of the most popular pasta sauces out there. You probably have had it many times in your life but may not know what is in it and how it differs from other tomato sauces.

For starters, there is no difference between marinara and tomato sauce because marinara is a type of tomato sauce. However, there are many other tomato sauces out there besides marinara. What usually distinguishes them from marinara is that they can involve many more ingredients, have complicated recipes, and take much longer to make.

Bottom line upfront, if you want a quick and simple tomato sauce to go with your weekday pasta dinner, marinara is always a safe bet. If you want a more hearty meal, you should opt for a different tomato sauce recipe. 

Read on for some information to help you differentiate between marinara vs tomato sauce and hopefully make dinner time easier for you and your family.

Difference Between Marinara and Spaghetti Sauce

Marinara Sauce

Marinara is a simple sauce made from just a handful of ingredients, including tomatoes, garlic, and herbs. Marinara originated in Italy, where it was made with basil and oregano. Many marinara sauce recipes today still call for these herbs. In addition to the great taste, one of the benefits of marinara is that it is quick to make.

According to some food experts, marinara should take no more than 25 minutes to make. Additionally, a “true marinara” will not include any extra ingredients, such as a splash of wine, anchovies, or tomato paste.

A quality marinara sauce will include San Marzano tomatoes, a variety of plum tomatoes that have a sweeter and less acidic flavor. Because of their flavor profile, they make a perfect base for marinara sauce.

Spaghetti sauce and pasta sauce, on the other hand, are different names for the same thing. Spaghetti sauce is often made from tomato sauce, but it doesn’t have to be. There are countless spaghetti sauce recipes out there, including marinara, pomodoro, bolognese, and arrabbiata.

Spaghetti sauce can be as simple or as complex as your taste buds demand. Simple tomato sauces for spaghetti contain only a handful of ingredients and are no more difficult to make than marinara sauce. However, depending on the recipe you follow, spaghetti sauce can get pretty complicated and take a long time to cook.

A spaghetti sauce base frequently will include tomatoes, olive oil, and salt to start. You can build on this classic base by adding other types of vegetables, such as peppers, mushrooms, and onions, meats, such as beef or lamb, and seafood, such as anchovies and clams. Herbs, such as oregano and thyme, are often added to bolster a sauce’s flavor.

In addition to tomato-based sauces, spaghetti sauces include pestos and white sauces. Cream and cheese make up the base for white spaghetti sauces, like alfredo.

Speaking of white sauces, if you search for marinara recipes, you may also come across a marinara bianca or a white wine marinara. This is a seafood pasta dish that is popular in several countries around the world. While marinara is in the title, it does not involve any marinara sauce.

Can You Use Marinara Sauce for Spaghetti?

Not all spaghetti sauce is marinara, but all marinara can be a spaghetti sauce. This adage is a complicated way of saying there is no difference between marinara and pasta sauce because marinara is a type of pasta sauce. If you are looking for a simple sauce for your pasta, marinara is the way to go.

Did you know that it is best to pair certain tomato sauces with specific kinds of pasta? For instance, spaghetti, linguini, and angel hair pasta are served best with light-olive oil-based sauces and cream-based sauces. Marina is a type of light-olive oil-based sauce, so it is no surprise it pairs great with spaghetti.

However, if you are looking for something more robust and filling, you may wish to use a heartier spaghetti sauce for your dinner, such as a bolognese sauce, which contains meat.

When it comes to the popularity of marinara vs tomato sauce for spaghetti, marinara seems to win frequently. In multiple taste tests of jarred tomato sauces, different marinara sauces consistently came in first place.

What is Marinara Sauce Used For?

Italian cuisine incorporates marinara sauce into many dishes besides pasta, including some main course dishes, such as chicken and eggplant parmesan. It is also often served with meatballs as an appetizer.

You will also find marinara on the menu at many Italian restaurants, served as a dipping sauce for breadsticks, garlic knots, and mozzarella sticks.

While you can use marinara sauce as a base on pizzas, it tends to be runnier than pizza sauce. For instance, the classic Neapolitan pizza marinara does not use marinara sauce despite its name. It is equally simple, though, featuring only tomatoes, olive oil, oregano, and garlic.

Recipes for tomato and vegetable soups, like minestrone, sometimes also include marinara as a base ingredient.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve made it this far, you are probably ready to grab some spaghetti sauce and make a delicious meal right now.

Some key takeaways to remember when deciding between marinara vs tomato sauce include:

  • Marinara is a type of tomato sauce made from only a handful of ingredients
  • San Marzano tomatoes are one of the defining ingredients in marinara sauce
  • Tomato sauces range in complexity from simple sauces like marinara to heartier recipes that include many ingredients and can take hours to make
  • For a more filling meal, use a more complex tomato sauce recipe than a marinara
  • Marinara is one of the most popular sauces for spaghetti and other pastas
  • Marinara is found in many different types of Italian dishes, not just spaghetti
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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