Pizza Vs Marinara Sauce – What’s The Difference?

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With so many tomato-based sauces, it can be hard to keep up with their differences, especially if they’re all from the same cuisine. Italy is well-established for being a pillar in the culinary world when it comes to sauces.

The first time we heard of pizza sauce, and marinara sauce specifically, we were very confused – aren’t they the same thing? Actually, they’re not!

But what’s the difference between pizza sauce and marinara sauce? Pizza sauce is a smooth tomato sauce made by blending raw ingredients. It isn’t cooked until it is added to the pizza. Marinara sauce is cooked before being incorporated into another dish and includes other ingredients besides tomato sauce.

If you’re not keeping up, fear not, as today we’ll be having a very in-depth discussion regarding the exact differences between pizza sauce and marinara sauce.

From ingredients and production methods all the way to nutritional values – we’re tackling it all!

Pizza Sauce

Uncooked Pizza Sauce

A pizza sauce, as you guessed from its creative name, is the sauce that goes on pizza.

Now, we know that today there is much more than one type of pizza sauce, but the original type used was a tomato-based one.

A lot of people confuse today’s version of tomato sauce with a proper tomato sauce meant for pizzas – hence the name “pizza sauce” to better distinguish between the two.

A tomato sauce today can be bought in store and has a very processed, watered-down consistency. It is usually colored with food colorants and packed with artificial flavorings and preservatives.

A proper pizza sauce (a traditional tomato sauce) is made using fresh tomatoes that are blended.

Some seasonings may be added, like salt and pepper, but no preservatives or additives are included. This type of tomato sauce is very similar to a tomato-based pasta sauce.

Each type of cuisine and even culture has its own version. Because pizza is Italian, it is best to follow their definitions for “pizza sauce” and their recipes and methods to get the best and most authentic dish.


Over the last few centuries and decades, pizza sauce has changed and changed again, and in our opinion, today it has finally been perfected.

The most basic of pizza sauces are very easy to make, the most important element being the ingredients used.

The base of any pizza sauce consists of tomatoes. Personally, we would only use fresh ones, but if you’re not up for the challenge, some canned tomatoes or even canned tomato sauces are actually very fresh tasting and will do in a pinch.

When using canned tomatoes, use half whole peeled and the other half crushed. If you are using fresh tomatoes, you will first need to process them before making the sauce (we will discuss this in the next section).

Sugar (white or brown granulated sugar) is a must-have, as it cuts through the acidity and rawness of the tomatoes. Without it, the sauce will be bland and unappetizing.

Next, we look at basic seasoning ingredients which include salt, black pepper, and Italian seasoning.

Salt is an essential ingredient in any recipe, especially savory ones. The black pepper should preferably be freshly ground to provide maximum flavor and the Italian seasoning is an absolute must-have.

Italian seasoning is a blend of dried herbs like basil, oregano, rosemary, and thyme. You can also blend your own and even add some dried garlic flakes.

This brings us to our next ingredient, garlic. As we’ve just mentioned, adding garlic flakes is an option, but adding freshly minced garlic is a better one. Garlic is a very fragrant aromatic that is essential in Italian cuisine.

Now, we move on to our less essential yet highly recommended ingredients. These only include onion, fennel seeds, parmesan, and olive oil.

Finely minced shallots or onions act in the same way as garlic, as an aromatic. It really makes a big difference and adds texture and a semi-sweet savory flavor.

The addition of parmesan cheese is completely optional, especially if you are adding it as a topping. 

The olive oil is mainly there to thin the mixture if needed. Olive oil also adds better flavor compared to other oils like sunflower or canola.

How To Make Pizza Sauce

This is how we would make pizza sauce. People often use different methods, but this is our base recipe and the ingredients we like to use.

To make pizza sauce doesn’t require any cooking. Some people like to fry their onions, garlic, and spices before blending, but we don’t feel that it is necessary, as it cooks when added to the pizza.

Just add all of the ingredients to a blender and blend for a few seconds. If you like your sauce more smooth and thin, blend for longer. 

The ingredients we add are onions, garlic, Italian seasoning, parmesan cheese, fresh basil leaves, and fresh tomatoes.

Let’s quickly discuss the tomato situation. If you are using fresh whole tomatoes, first remove the skin by boiling them in hot water for 1 minute. Then, cut the whole tomato into pieces and add to your sauce base.

If you are using canned tomatoes, you can simply add them to the mixture. You may need more sugar to balance out the metallic flavor and acidity.

If you want to make the absolute most out of your pizza sauce and save it for other pizzas to come, you can actually freeze your pizza sauce after you’re done.


Because of the ingredients used and the production method, if followed correctly you should have a sauce on the thicker side – definitely spreadable but not a tomato paste by any means.

The color should be a nice bright red and you will smell deep umami aromas.


First, the way pizza sauce is used on pizza is as follows; spread a layer of sauce on the pizza before adding toppings and cooking in an oven or on an open fire. AS we’ve previously discussed, the sauce isn’t pre-cooked before being used.

Pizza sauce is a very versatile sauce. We mentioned at the beginning of this article how many different cuisines and cultures have basically the same sauce with minor differences.

Pizza sauce is of course mostly used for pizza, however, it also makes a fantastic sauce for pasta. You can incorporate it into a plain pasta or add additional ingredients like meat and vegetables.

You can also easily turn your pizza sauce into a salsa by simply adding some hot sauce or chilis, black beans, red onions, and extra whole fresh tomatoes. This makes the mixture chunkier and also adds a ton of extra flavor.

Another very interesting use that we’ve recently heard of is making a cocktail. Just use your fresh pizza sauce instead of tomato juice in a Bloody Mary recipe! Pizza sauce also makes a great marinating liquid for vegetables and beef.

Marinara Sauce

Marinara Sauce on Spaghetti

Now that we have discussed pizza sauce in depth, Marinara sauce will go slightly quicker, as these two sauces are very similar.

Marinara sauce is also a tomato-based sauce. Some even just call it “tomato sauce.” It is also Italian, which is why many people confuse the two.

Marinara sauce doesn’t necessarily contain fresh tomatoes, though. It makes use of premade tomato sauce (possibly even pizza sauce) that is added with some other ingredients. Everything is cooked before being blended.


A marinara sauce is pretty straightforward and has much fewer ingredients added, as the tomato sauce carries most of the flavor.

Tomato sauce is the main ingredient and is what makes up the base. Please don’t confuse tomato sauce with ketchup, as the two taste very different and are made and used in different ways.

Other major and essential ingredients are fresh basil leaves, onion, and garlic; lots and lots of garlic. This means that the sauce is much more savory compared to pizza sauce.

The onion and basil both add traditional Italian flavors and you cannot make a marinara without them – then it becomes another type of sauce. Some choose to add fresh diced tomatoes to create more texture in their pasta.

Salt and pepper are always ingredients that should be added, but some tomato sauces might already contain enough and you don’t want to over-salt your beautiful sauce.

If you like an extra bit of deep tanginess to your sauce, try adding a splash of balsamic vinegar.

How To Make Marinara Sauce

Start by frying your diced onions in olive oil until they become translucent. Then add your garlic and other spices and fry for a few seconds.

The frying helps the ingredients release more flavor and ultimately gives the sauce more depth.

Once the aromatics have cooked, add the tomato sauce and simmer for about 10 minutes. The basil leaves are added last.

Many people prefer to blend their marinara sauce again, to not have any onion chunks present, but some prefer to keep it as-is. The final result is entirely up to you.


Once the sauce has been cooked, only then is it used in other dishes. It can be used in almost all the same ways pizza sauce is. The biggest difference in use is that marinara is often used in many more ways than pizza sauce is.

You can use marinara for basic things like a dipping sauce, pasta sauce, and also to make a salsa.

The more interesting ways to use it are in dishes like meatballs, ratatouille, and minestrone soup. The reason for its wider versatility is because this sauce is already cooked and doesn’t require further cooking.

Final Comparison

So, what are the differences between a pizza sauce and marinara sauce? Let’s take a look at some similarities first.

Similarities between pizza and marinara sauce:

  • Sauces from Italian cuisine
  • Tomatoes as the base ingredient
  • Various aromatics including garlic and basil added in some way
  • Blended and have a very fine consistency, yet not watery like tomato juice
  • Used with other dishes or incorporated into other dishes

Now, the moment we’ve all been waiting for. What are the actual differences?

First, let’s break them up into the three main differences: the ingredients, the production method, and the ways they are used.

Marinara may be easier to make with a premade tomato sauce, but it actually has more ingredients added in the long run and can even be made completely from scratch.

This is because marinara requires extra ingredients on top of tomato sauce, whereas pizza sauce is a basic form of tomato sauce itself.

The second big difference is the cooking method. Pizza sauce is only blended, not cooked at all before being used as-is on a pizza. Only then does it get cooked with the pizza or another dish.

Marinara is pre-cooked, then blended, and can therefore be used as-is instead of requiring extra preparation.

The final difference is the way they are used. We’ve just mentioned that pizza sauce gets added before cooking and marinara sauce can be added after, but other than that, the sauces themselves are used in different ways.

Marinara can be simply be added in pastas, used as a base for something else, used as a dipping sauce or topping for nachos, etc.

Pizza sauce does, of course, work great for pizzas, and also casseroles that still need to be baked.

Are These Sauces Interchangeable?

As we have discussed throughout this article, marinara sauce is made using tomato sauce. Because a pizza sauce is a type of tomato sauce, it cannot be used in place of marinara. It can, however, be used as a base to make marinara.

Marinara can be used as a substitution for pizza sauce, especially because it has already been cooked, but it may have less of a sweetness to it and more of an herbaceous flavor.

Make sure to check out some of our favorite pizza and marinara sauces in this article!

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