Marinara Sauce vs Pasta Sauce – Differences and Similarities Summarized!

Published Categorized as Ingredients, Journal Tagged

When we are shopping for sauces to accompany our pasta in the supermarket, the choices may seem a little confusing. Likewise, if you are searching for a new sauce recipe for your favorite pasta dish, such as spaghetti, Alfredo, or lasagna, you may feel overwhelmed looking at all the different recipe titles. Many people wonder what the difference between marinara sauce and pasta sauce is — or if there even is any real difference.

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Today, we’ll explore marinara sauce vs pasta sauce. We’ll cover how the two are similar and different, and what that means for the next pasta recipe you’re planning.

Spaghetti with meatballs

Table of Contents

Is Marinara Sauce the Same as Pasta Sauce?

Pasta sauce doesn’t refer to any specific type of sauce. Any sauce served over pastasuch as spaghetti, rotini, or macaroni – is technically pasta sauce. 

Marinara sauce, on the other hand, is a specific type of sauce. Traditional marinara sauce requires just a few ingredients — tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, and herbs, like basil or oregano.

So, are marinara sauce and pasta sauce the same?

Marinara sauce can be used as pasta sauce. It can also serve as a dip for breads, seafood, vegetables, mozzarella sticks, and more. 

Think of the comparison between rectangles and squares: all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares. The comparison between marinara sauce and pasta sauce is similar. Marinara sauce can be pasta sauce, but pasta sauce doesn’t have to be marinara sauce.

What are the Different Types of Pasta Sauce?

Now that we know that marinara sauce is just one possible type of pasta sauce, you may be curious to learn more about the other types of pasta sauce.

There are many different varieties of pasta sauce. Each chef may make their own variations and tweaks to make unique recipes.

Here are a few of the different pasta sauce options you may see when shopping at the grocery store, searching for recipes online, or ordering from a restaurant:

  • Meat Sauce/Ragu: Meat (often beef), tomatoes, and seasonings combine to make ragu sauce. Ragu sauce is thicker than marinara sauce and often pairs with spaghetti, fettuccine, or other long noodles. Bolognese sauce is one type of ragu sauce that you may have seen on a menu or recipe title. In America, the term meat sauce and ragu sauce are often interchangeable.
  • Alfredo: Alfredo sauce is a thick and rich sauce made with cream, butter, and cheese.
  • Pesto: Pesto sauce is made with olive oil, pine nuts, Parmesan-Reggiano cheese, and herbs. It is a lighter and healthier pasta sauce option.
  • Aglio e olio: This is another light pasta sauce that requires only garlic and oil to make. Sometimes parmesan cheese or other herbs are in the aglio e olio recipe.
  • Carbonara: Cream-based carbonara sauce contains lots of grated cheese, like Alfredo sauce. However, carbonara sauce also requires egg, which helps the sauce stick more to the pasta. It must be said that the mainstream carbonara we know is different from traditional carbonara, which just needs eggs and cheese to make the sauce.
  • Rosé: Rosé sauce combines tomato sauce with cream sauce. With its combination of ingredients, rose sauce has a gorgeous pink color and delicious flavor. These days it’s popular to make rose tteokbeokki, which combines the rose sauce with gochujang.
rose pasta sauce

“Pasta Sauce” Often Refers to Meat Sauce

While there are numerous different types of pasta sauce, many individuals use the term pasta sauce interchangeably with meat sauce (or ragu sauce).

Thus, for some looking to compare marinara sauce and pasta sauce, what they are really trying to do is to compare marinara sauce with meat sauce.

If this is more of the comparison you were trying to make, the points below comparing the flavor, texture, and preparation for marinara sauce or pasta sauce (meat sauce, in this case), may be useful.

Flavor

The way the term pasta sauce is used often refers to a richer and meatier sauce. It has a stronger flavor when compared to marinara sauce.

Marinara sauce is full of complex flavors as it includes a lot of different ingredients, but is generally lighter and thinner. The marinara sauce is made without any meat, so it does not have a meaty flavor, like pasta sauce does. Marinara is a sauce where the individual flavors can be tasted easily.

Pasta sauce (meat sauce) is designed to have a strong flavor and be the main ingredient that creates the strong flavors of the dish. Whereas marinara sauce is meant to accent a dish and have milker, softer flavors.

Texture

Meat sauce is a lot thicker than marinara sauce. The thinner texture that marinara sauce has places more emphasis on the dish it is accompanying rather than being a big dominating ingredient in a dish. Meat sauce will create a hearty and filling dish due to its thicker consistency and the inclusion of ground beef, turkey, chicken, or veal.

Marinara will create a lighter meal.

Preparation

Because meat sauce recipes require meat, they take longer to cook—typically at least 1 hour.

Marinara sauce is a sauce that can be made in under 40 minutes. It is quick compared to pasta sauce as it does not need to achieve the same.

pasta with tomato based pasta sauce

Can I Use Pasta Sauce Instead of Marinara Sauce?

The recipe you are cooking, the flavor you wish to achieve, and the consistency of the sauce you desire will impact whether pasta sauce (meat sauce) will be a suitable substitute for marinara sauce.

Remember that meat sauce is thicker, has a stronger flavor, and will take longer to cook, so take all of this into account as you decide whether it will be a good substitute for your recipe.

Can I Use Marinara Sauce for Spaghetti?

You can use marinara sauce for your spaghetti. However, there are a few considerations to keep in mind before adding marinara sauce to spaghetti.

Marinara sauce is much thinner than traditional spaghetti sauce/meat sauce. It also has a lighter flavor profile and does not include ground beef (or any other meat) that many individuals enjoy with their spaghetti sauce.

If you are fine with the way these marinara sauce properties will alter the taste and texture of your spaghetti dish, then there is absolutely no reason why you can’t pair the two together. In fact, some individuals prefer the lighter addition of marinara sauce over their spaghetti noodles rather than a heartier meat sauce.

If you only have marinara sauce on hand, but prefer the meatier and heartier taste of a traditional spaghetti sauce, there is another option to consider. You can add different ingredients to marinara sauce and turn it into spaghetti sauce.

To do this, brown some ground beef, turkey, chicken, or your meat of choice in a saucepan. Drain the fat, and stir in the marinara sauce. Add some basil, oregano, garlic, or any other seasonings you desire. Heat the sauce until it bubbles, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Allow it to simmer for at least 45 minutes to 1 hour to thicken the sauce. 

spaghetti with ragu sauce

Do You Use Marinara or Spaghetti Sauce for Lasagna?

If you’re making homemade layered lasagna, you can use whatever type of sauce you like. Either marinara sauce or spaghetti sauce can be used. Each will impact the way the finished tray of lasagna tastes.

Because marinara sauce has a thinner consistency, it may make your lasagna a bit runny. However, you may be able to work around this potential problem by simmering the marinara sauce on the stovetop for an hour or so. This will help the sauce to get a bit thicker

If you prefer a heartier lasagna, then spaghetti sauce (aka meat sauce/ragu), may be the best choice for you. 

marinara sauce vs pasta sauce

Marinara Sauce Recipe

Here is a simple step by step method to make your own marinara sauce from home:

You will need

  • 1 large can or 28 ounces of whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 medium white onion which is peeled and halved
  • 3 large cloves of garlic—peeled and diced. (if you do not have 3 cloves of garlic, you can use 3 teaspoons of garlic paste)
  • 3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 quarter of a teaspoon of red pepper flakes or chili flakes
  • 1 quarter of a teaspoon of salt
  • 1 quarter of a teaspoon of black pepper

How to make homemade marinara sauce

  1. Use a medium-sized saucepan that has a heavy bottom, and preheat it to a medium heat.
  2. Combine the tomatoes, the halved onion, garlic cloves or garlic paste, olive oil, basil, and red pepper or chili flakes together into the saucepan.
  3. Allow the sauce to a simmer. Move the heat from a medium heat to a medium-high heat for 5 minutes.
  4. After 5 minutes of medium high heat, lower the heat so the sauce is slowly simmering for around 35 minutes.
  5. When the sauce shows droplets of oil that are floating free from the tomatoes, the sauce is done.
  6. Stir the sauce consistently, and aim to crush the tomatoes against the side of the pan while you are stirring. This will make the sauce smoother and less chunky, as it will help to break down the tomatoes.
  7. Remove the pan from the heat. Remove the onion from the pan.
  8. If you have used garlic cloves, aim to crunch the garlic against the side of the pan to get the most flavor out of it.
  9. Once the sauce is off the heat, you can add the salt and black pepper to season.
  10. You can serve the sauce warm or you can store the sauce by covering it with plastic wrap and placing it in the fridge. The sauce will last for 4 days if you place it in the fridge or for 6 months. if you freeze it.

Note: If you would like to make this a meat sauce instead of a marinara sauce, begin by browning ground beef or turkey in the pan. Also, make sure to cook the sauce for another 30 minutes to allow the sauce to thicken to the right consistency. To make the pasta sauce taste different from your typical marinara sauce, add 1 tablespoon of dried oregano and 1 tablespoon of dried basil to your sauce while it is thickening.

marinara vs pasta sauce

FAQs

What can I add to marinara sauce for spaghetti?

A traditional marinara sauce is very thin. If you want to use it to make a spaghetti recipe, then you will need to alter the recipe slightly. A traditional spaghetti sauce has a much thicker texture. You can thicken up the texture of marinara sauce by adding more tomatoes to your homemade sauce than you would have done if you were making a traditional marinara sauce. You could also add ground turkey, ground beef, or ground veal to the sauce.

What is the difference between pasta sauce and spaghetti sauce?

Spaghetti sauce is one type of pasta sauce. Spaghetti sauce, which is often made using meat, is often a ragu or bolognese sauce.

What Is A Good Substitute For Marinara Sauce?

The best substitute for marinara sauce will depend on the recipe you are preparing. If you want to stick with the lighter taste of marinara sauce, try cooking puréed canned tomatoes with some olive oil, garlic, and herbs. This will allow you to make your own marinara sauce recipe. 
 You could also substitute a meat sauce or ragu for marinara sauce if you wish to add it to pasta and are OK with a heartier meal.

Choosing Between Marinara Sauce and Pasta Sauce

Now that you know more about marinara sauce and pasta sauce, do you feel more empowered to plan your next pasta meal? Remember that marinara sauce is a type of pasta sauce, but there are numerous other pasta sauces out there. Think about the flavor profile that you’d like to add to your next dish to help you select the right sauce for the job.

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By Anna

Hey, I’m Anna; writer, editor and amateur cook extraordinaire! Food has been my life and my passion for the most of my life – it’s crazy to think I didn’t pursue a career in cooking. I’m obsessed! However, keeping cooking as an obsessive hobby has worked for me – my passion grows as the years pass by – maybe I wouldn’t say the same if it was also my day job! I hope you find cooking inspiration, entertainment and “stop and think interesting tid-bits” throughout my writing – and I’d love to hear from you if you’ve got anything you want to share. Food feeds the soul – so get eating!

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