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Marinara Vs Spaghetti Sauce – Is There A Difference?

Marinara is an extremely famous pasta sauce that is used across Italy, and the rest of the world. It is most commonly used for pasta dishes, and is an integral part of Italian cuisine.

Spaghetti sauce is also a part of Italian cuisine, but it has more American-style to it. It is also frequently used for pasta dishes. But what is the difference between the two? Well, a lot of the Italian cuisine that we know around the world is very Americanized.

For starters, when we think of pizza and pasta, we tend to imagine more American-style dishes, which aren’t traditional in Italy. Marinara sauce, on the other hand, is one of the more authentic sauces. But today, marinara sauce and spaghetti sauce are used interchangeably, but there are key differences between the two.

In this article we’re going to go over some of the key factors which separate these two sauces, including ingredients, prep, cooking, serving, and origin, so that you will know how to use the right sauce for your recipe.

Marinara Vs Spaghetti Sauce - Is There A Difference

What Is Marinara Sauce? 

Marinara sauce was first invented back in the 16th Century, by an Italian chef named Antoni Latini. Latini published the recipe in his two-volume cooking book around 1692-1694, and it is the same recipe that we know and love today.

Marinara is made using a mix of tomatoes, onions, garlic, and herbs. Like most sauces, there are a few different versions, depending on the different Italian regions.

In some regions, they like to add capers, olives, spices, and wine to give the sauce a tangy taste. It is most commonly served with spaghetti or vermicelli (like spaghetti but thinner). 

Don’t confuse this sauce with the famous spaghetti marinara, which is pretty popular in Spain, Australia, and New Zealand. This variation is typically served with seafood, but in Italy this is a different dish which is known as Alla Pescatore. 

Traditional Italian-style marinara sauce is quite thin, but in the US, they tend to thicken up the sauce using olive oil or parmesan cheese. The truest and most traditional form of marinara sauce does not contain any meat, seafood, vegetables, or cheese. When you start adding ingredients, you end up making a Bolognese.

What Is Spaghetti Sauce? 

Before going into detail about what spaghetti sauce is, let’s first define what spaghetti is. So, spaghetti is a type of pasta which is long, thin and solid. With that being said, any sauce can be referred to as “spaghetti sauce”, as long as you’re using that specific kind of pasta. 

By that logic, marinara sauce can also be considered a spaghetti sauce.You can use pretty much any sauce with spaghetti, including Bolognese, pesto, arrabbiati and alfredo, just to name a few. The sauces are normally either tomato based or cream based, but the list goes on and on. 

When we picture spaghetti sauce, we typically always picture it to be a thick tomato-based sauce, which is often mixed with ground or minced meat and cheese. This is because “spaghetti sauce” has become a sort of culinary slang for any tomato based pasta sauce in the US, and even in some parts of Italy. 

How Do Marinara Sauce And Spaghetti Sauce Differ In Flavor? 

Marinara sauce delivers a more complex flavor because of the different ingredients that are used. Because of the spices and the aromatic herbs, it’s much easier to pick out the individual ingredients.

In comparison, tomato based spaghetti sauce has a meatier flavor due to the ground meat that’s usually added. This gives it a rich flavor, which means that it pairs well with plain pasta, as it adds a lot of flavor. 

In terms of texture, spaghetti sauce is typically thicker than marinara. If you’re looking to make a filling, hearty meal, try spaghetti sauce, or thicken up a marinara sauce. However, if you’re after a lighter meal, marinara is better. 

Is Marinara Sauce And Spaghetti Sauce Prepared In The Same Way? 

Marinara sauce is easily prepped, and doesn’t take long to make. You simply add all of the ingredients to a pot, and bring them to the boil. All that’s left to do is cook the pasta of your choice and combine the two. 

On the other hand, spaghetti sauce takes a little more prep and cooking time. You usually have to saute the onions with garlic first. After they’re sauteed, you add the meat and other ingredients.

People tend to add tomato paste to thicken the sauce up a little more. Leave the sauce to simmer for a while so that the flavors have time to develop and combine. To bring out the flavor, add a mix of herbs and spices. 

As marinara sauce has a much quicker cooking and prep time, this is the perfect sauce to make if you’re in a rush to put a meal together. 

Should You Use Marinara Sauce Or Spaghetti Sauce For Pasta? 

Sauce For Pasta

A lot of people follow the argument that there is no such thing as “spaghetti sauce”, as you can serve pasta with a range of different sauces. From Bolognese and marinara, to Alfredo and Carbonara, the list goes on. You can even just drizzle a little bit of olive oil on pasta. 

There’s also an argument that spaghetti and meatballs (which is served with a thick tomato based sauce) is actually an American dish, not Italian. So, when we think of spaghetti sauce, we picture a thicker, American-style tomato sauce. 

The biggest difference between marinara sauce, and American-style spaghetti sauce is the inclusion of meat. The truest form of marinara sauce has very few ingredients, and none of them are meat.

If you start adding ground beef or seafood to a marinara sauce, you begin to change the flavor profile, and it begins to resemble a Bolognese sauce instead. A lot of people choose marinara sauce for their pasta as it has a subtle and delicate flavor which isn’t overpowered by a rich meaty taste. 

As marinara sauce is traditionally thin, to make a “spaghetti sauce” you need to add more tomatoes to create a thicker texture. You’ll also have to reduce the sauce once you’ve brought it to the boil, so that it has time to thicken up.

If you have a thick tomato based sauce, it’s referred to as either an Americanized marinara sauce or a spaghetti sauce. If it’s thin, then it’s a traditional Italian-style marinara. 

With that being said, you can use any kind of spaghetti sauce with pasta, including marinara. Tomato based, cream based and pesto based sauces, as they all taste delicious served with pasta, and each has a different outcome and flavor profile. 

Can You Use Marinara Sauce As A Substitute For Spaghetti Sauce? 

You can definitely use marinara sauce as a substitute for spaghetti sauce, as it’s a tomato-based sauce, which makes it perfect for a pasta dish. You can also substitute marinara sauce for another tomato based spaghetti sauce, but you cannot substitute it with cream based or pesto sauces, as you won’t have the same flavor or outcome.  

You can substitute marinara sauce with jar bought tomato spaghetti sauce, as these typically resemble the ingredients and consistency of marinara. However, you can’t substitute it with homemade tomato sauce, as these tend to have a different consistency and flavor profile to marinara. 

Is Marinara Sauce The Same As Tomato Sauce? 

Technically, these two sauces are not the same. A tomato sauce is the simplest form of pasta sauce, which consists of pureed tomatoes that are seasoned with salt. The sauce will change depending on the ingredients you add to it. So, if you add garlic, onions, and herbs, the sauce will become marinara sauce. 

With that being said, you can use both sauces interchangeably, as they are both tomato-based sauces. You can also use marinara sauce or tomato sauce as pizza sauce. You can also substitute other tomato based sauces for both marinara and spaghetti sauce. 

Marinara Sauce And Spaghetti Sauce Substitutes 

If you’re bored of having marinara and or spaghetti sauce, you can spice up your pasta dishes by opting to use different tomato-based sauces. Some great creative alternatives include: 

Bolognese Sauce 

This is a popular and well known Italian red-based pasta sauce. The difference between Bolognese and marinara sauce is that Bolognese is meatier and has a stronger tomato taste.

When translated into English, Bolognese means “bowl of comfort.” It is served with a variety of different pastas including spaghetti, tagliatelle, fettuccine, pappardelle, and gnocchi. 

Puttanesca Sauce 

This sauce was invented in Naples, which is also the birthplace of Neapolitan pizza! Puttanesca sauce is made from tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, capers, and anchovies. This sauce is usually served with long pasta strands, such as spaghetti, linguine, fettuccine, and vermicelli. 

Amatriciana Sauce 

This sauce is made from tomatoes, olive oil, pecorino romano cheese, and guanciale, which is a type of Italian cured meat. It pairs well with thick and wide pastas, such as tagliatelle, ravioli, orecchiette, pappardelle, farfalle, and lasagna. 

Alla Norma Sauce

This is another tomato-based sauce which originates from Castania, in Sicily. The tomatoes are mixed with fresh eggplants/aubergines, and chunks of creamy ricotta cheese. Alla Norma sauce pairs well with smaller pastas, such as penne, rigatoni, manicotti, ziti, sedani rigati, and pipe rigate. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

Can You Use Marinara Sauce As A Pizza Sauce? 

You can absolutely use marinara sauce for pizza. It has a classic Italian flavoring, and out of all tomato-based sauces, it is the easiest to make. If you do make marinara sauce the Italian way, where it is quite thin, you may need to thicken it up using tomato puree before you use it on a pizza base.

If the sauce is too watery, it will seep through the dough and give the pizza a soggy base. 

What Dishes Can You Use Marinara Sauce With?

If you are trying to cook marinara sauce in the authentic Italian way, it is usually served with pasta. Due to the thin texture of the sauce, it makes for a mouth-wateringly great simple and light dish. However, there are some dishes which you can use marinara sauce with. These include: 

  • Pizza
  • Parmigiana 
  • Mozzarella Sticks
  • Meatballs
  • Minestrone 
  • Ratatouille (French) 
  • Shakshuka (Arabic) 
  • Afritada (Spanish-Filipino)
  • Menudo (Filipino) 

Can I Use Marinara Sauce With Spaghetti?

Of course! Marinara sauce is often served with spaghetti, and also pairs nicely with both linguine and vermicelli. Marinara sauce has a subtle and delicate flavor to it, which makes it a great summertime meal. 

Can I Use Tomato Sauce Instead Of Marinara Sauce?

If you prefer to have a thicker and more strong tomato flavored sauce, you can absolutely use a tomato sauce in place of a marinara sauce. However, it will have a different effect and taste on the dish. 

Is Ragu A Marinara Sauce?

Regular Ragu is a meat-based Italian-American style sauce which has a high meat, and low-tomato content. However, Ragu Old World Style Marinara sauce uses a blend of tomatoes, onions, and olive oil, which is more in line with a traditional marinara sauce. 

Final Thoughts 

In essence, marinara sauce is a form of spaghetti sauce, but not all spaghetti sauces are tomato-based. By that logic, marinara sauce can be classed as spaghetti sauce, but spaghetti sauce is not always marinara (we hope that’s not too confusing!) 

Typically, spaghetti sauce is thought to be a thick, American-style, tomato based sauce, but there are lots of different variations of spaghetti sauce. Spaghetti sauce can be tomato based, cream based, pesto based, butter based, and can even be just a drizzle of olive oil. 

So, marinara will always be a form of pasta sauce, whilst spaghetti sauce can refer to any sauce which is paired with spaghetti. 

We hope that this has cleared up your confusion, so that the next time you head to the grocery store, you know exactly what you’ll need for your next recipe!

Jess Smith