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Marinara vs Spaghetti Sauce, What is the Difference?

Revising Paul Clayton’s words: “Nothing diminishes the pain of a bad day like a steaming plate of spaghetti and meatballs with marinara sauce, grated Parmesan cheese with a good fresh bread to wipe up!”

Can you almost taste the food that Paul describes?

Great food is always a delight, the right food combinations, in this case, food sauce added to foods can feel like heaven in your mouth creating a distinct taste. But when foods seem to work harmoniously they can be confused for each other.

If you are a foodie, chef, blogger or you are just trying to understand the difference between marinara and spaghetti sauce, then this article is just for you.

Is Marinara Sauce the Same as Spaghetti Sauce?

The short answer – no! They are different in flavour, ingredients, texture, etc. Marinara sauce is tomato-based mixed with herbs while spaghetti sauce is a general name for sauces mixed in or with a spaghetti dish.

Let’s explain what marinara and spaghetti sauce are first.

What is Marinara Sauce?

marinara sauce

Marinara sauce is a simple tomato sauce that contains tomatoes, onions, garlic, herbs, olives, even wine (depending on preference).

It could be of Italian or American origin, the consistency of the sauce is what tells the origin. A thin consistency is of American origin while a thick consistency is of Italian origin.


There is an Italian dish called spaghetti marinara, it is popular in Spain, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.

The marinara sauce in the US is more of a vegetarian-styled dish, mixed with olive oil and parmesan cheese.

Further reading: 10 Healthy Substitutes for Marinara Sauce

What is Spaghetti Sauce?

spaghetti sauce

First, what is spaghetti? It is an Italian staple food, a long cylindrical, thin and solid pasta. It’s made from durum wheat semolina.

Spaghetti sauce is also a tomato sauce just like marinara but contains not just tomatoes and nice spices, but also includes cooked meat or cheese. It has a lot more ingredients than marinara sauce so it is more flavoured, it also takes a long time to boil and get thicker.

Now that we have established that, what is the difference between marinara sauce and tomato sauce?

Marinara Sauce vs Spaghetti Sauce, What is the Difference?

Now, just like identical twins, these two sauces are so similar they can be confused for each other. So we are going to look at their differences in this section. They are:


Spaghetti sauce is a lot more flavourful, meaty and thick, this consistency enables it serves as the main component of a dish and can be eaten with plain spaghetti.

Marinara sauce, on the other hand, is usually completely meatless, it’s a basic sauce, it can be great with seafood-based flavours. Also, it can be used as a vegan recipe, since it can be meatless.


If you want a sauce with a thin consistency, then your best choice is a marinara sauce but if you want something thick, then you should prepare spaghetti sauce or a marinara sauce with a thick consistency.


A huge difference between these two tasty sauces is meat. With spaghetti sauce, you can always add meat “feel” to your sauce, making it tastier but the marinara sauce does not contain meat.

So if you have all the ingredients to make a sumptuous spaghetti sauce but you don’t have meat, you can save yourself the stress of going to the butcher and just prepare the marinara sauce.

Duration for Preparation

Spaghetti sauce takes a long time to simmer, due to the meat and the thickness of the sauce.

Marinara sauce is just an easy fix, it’s thinner so achieving the desired consistency would not be that difficult, some chefs prepare it in about 25 minutes.

If you need to prepare sauce but you need something fast then marinara sauce should be your first choice.


Marinara was derived from mariners, and fish is a common feature with mariners, so if you are looking for a sauce that combines great with seafood, marinara sauce is just for you!

So, we have seen the definitions and differences between marinara and Spaghetti sauce, now we’ll give answers to some frequently asked questions about these two sauces.

FAQs About Marinara and Spaghetti Sauce

Can I substitute spaghetti sauce for marinara sauce?

Not likely. This is because marinara sauce and spaghetti sauce have different flavours and textures.

If you are preparing homemade sauce specifically for spaghetti, it’s usually thicker, while marinara sauce is thin so, you can’t substitute spaghetti sauce for marinara.

Frankly, the spaghetti sauce we purchase on the grocery shelf is a form of marinara sauce. It’s in the simplest form of tomato sauce.

But, you can use marinara sauce with spaghetti, all you have to do is add meat and more spice for “depth” and richness. If your spaghetti sauce is white based or pesto based you cannot substitute it with marinara, the flavours are completely different.

What’s the difference between pizza sauce, marinara sauce, and tomato sauce?

marinara sauce vs tomato sauce

First, the difference between pizza sauce and tomato sauce is in the preparation. Pizza sauce is a tomato sauce that’s uncooked but cooks along with pizza, while pasta sauce is prepared for the pasta.

Secondly, Pizza sauce contains a special vinegar, balsamic vinegar, made from grapes used in Italian cuisine. Pizza sauce has a smooth texture and usually contains more salt.

Thirdly, tomato sauce requires lots of ingredients to give a tasty flavour, it also requires loads of patience as the tomato has to simmer so that the flavours and ingredients mix properly.

Pizza Sauce

Marinara Sauce

Tomato Sauce

Tomato Type




Liquid Base

Balsamic vinegar

Olive Oil



Thin and smooth

Thin and chunky

Thick and chunky





Which is healthier marinara or spaghetti sauce?

It all depends. Marinara sauce is lower in calories per serving than spaghetti sauce. It covers your daily need for Vitamin B3.

But spaghetti sauce has less sugar. Just choose according to your needs.

What is marinara sauce used for?

If you do not want to use your marinara sauce with spaghetti, or you want to use this simple tomato sauce in another recipe. Here are a few suggestions for you:

  • Creamy Tomato Soup: This recipe uses pureed marinara and roasted vegetables. Then you add cream and your spice to taste and your dish is ready!
  • Marinara Meatballs: This is a great recipe to try.  All you have to do is, make meatballs and fry them, then cook in marinara and add pasta. Exquisite meatballs!
  • Ratatouille: Modified ratatouille recipes use vegetable puree in the cooking pan before laying the attractive thin cuts of vegetables. Marinara sauce in this recipe would be a mind-blowing addition.
  • Minestrone: Marinara sauce is an organic replacement for canned diced tomatoes in preparing this soup. So for a different taste, you could use marinara sauce.
  • Shakshuka: Don’t be scared, this is just a tomato sauce and egg dish of Arabic origin. It is really easy to prepare and marinara sauce can be used in this recipe.
  • Pizza: Yes! Marinara sauce is a great pizza ingredient.
  • Mozzarella sticks: Marinara is a great bestie sauce for mozzarella sticks.

These are a few recipes you can use marinara sauce for. But what if you want to try a substitute for marinara sauce but still tomato-based sauce, what options do you have?

What can I substitute for marinara sauce?

If you are feeling adventurous with your sauce and you would like to try a different flavour, these are some options you can try:

  • Bolognese Sauce: This is a popular Italian sauce that can be served with a lot of pasta dishes including the spaghetti. It’s very meaty and contains lots of tomatoes, it can serve as another option for tomato sauce.
  • Alla Norma Sauce: This is a sauce made from a mix of fresh juicy eggplants and hunks of creamy ricotta cheese. It can be used for pasta dishes like rigatoni, manicotti, pipe rigate and more.
  • Puttanesca Sauce: Puttanesca sauce is made from tomatoes, olive oil, capers, garlic and anchovies.
  • Amatriciana Sauce: If you are a lover of a great sauce, you should try this.  This Italian sauce is made from a mix of tomatoes, guanciale (a form of Italian cured meat), pecorino romano cheese, and olive oil. Its texture is thick and can be used for lasagna, ravioli and other pasta dishes.
  • Roasted Tomato: This is marinara sauce with a “taste twist “.  The tomato used in the sauce is roasted.
  • Red wine sauce: Does this come as a surprise? It shouldn’t. For this one, you must have a full-bodied amazing red wine, like a cabernet and mix this with your pasta. This is for a truly adventurous kitchen lover.
  • Fra Diavolo: This is a marinara sauce “look-alike”, but has a different taste. Red pepper along with onions, garlic, herbs, and a splash of wine in some cases adds some spice to this sauce. Feeling adventurous,  you should try this out.
  • Béchamel: This is a French sauce made from flour, butter, and milk. It’s used with lasagna, it’s also known as “White sauce”.

The Bottom Line

Hopefully, this article has helped you understand the difference between Marinara sauce and spaghetti sauce.

Remember that Marinara sauce can be used as Spaghetti sauce, just make it meaty and add more spice. But Mariana sauce cannot be replaced by spaghetti sauce, the texture is different, Mariana sauce is one.

If you are feeling adventurous you can try adding different spices to your spaghetti sauce to create a mind-blowing sensation.

Variety is the spice of life, food variety makes the world go round. Enjoy the variety!

I’m Jennifer Schlette, a Registered Dietitian and Integrative Nutrition Health Coach. I love cooking, reading, and my kids! Here you’ll find the healthiest recipes & substitutions for your cooking. Enjoy, and be well, friends!

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