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Marinara vs. Tomato Sauce: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Updated on October 19, 2023
"Marinara" is a simple, quickly-cooked tomato sauce with herbs and garlic, while "tomato sauce" is a broader term for any sauce made primarily from tomatoes.

Key Differences

"Marinara" is an Italian tomato sauce that is typically made with tomatoes, garlic, herbs, and onions. Its simplicity and quick cooking time distinguish it. In contrast, "tomato sauce" is a more general term that encompasses a range of sauces made from tomatoes, which can be cooked for longer durations and may include a broader array of ingredients.
Originating from Naples, "marinara" has a history tied to mariners, hence its name. This sauce is often used in pasta dishes and as a pizza base. "Tomato sauce," being a broader category, can be found in various cuisines, ranging from Italian to American, and its use is not limited to any specific dish.
While "marinara" maintains a more consistent recipe base, the term "tomato sauce" can imply a variety of recipes, from very simple preparations to those with meat, vegetables, and a mix of spices, resulting in a more complex flavor profile.
Texture is another point of difference. "Marinara" often retains a chunkier consistency due to its quick cooking process. "Tomato sauce" might be smoother, especially in versions that are simmered for extended periods, allowing ingredients to meld thoroughly.
In essence, while "marinara" is a specific type of tomato sauce with a distinct history and preparation method, "tomato sauce" serves as an umbrella term for multiple sauces where tomatoes are the primary ingredient.

Comparison Chart


Naples, Italy
Various cuisines

Key Ingredients

Tomatoes, garlic, herbs, onions
Tomatoes (other ingredients vary)

Cooking Time

Quickly cooked
Varies; can be cooked longer


Often chunkier
Can be smoother

Typical Usage

Pasta dishes, pizza base
Wide range, including pasta, meat dishes, stews, etc.

Marinara and Tomato Sauce Definitions


A tomato sauce originating from Naples.
Authentic Neapolitan pizza uses marinara as its base.

Tomato Sauce

Often simmered to meld flavors together.
The tomato sauce simmered for hours, filling the house with a delicious aroma.


A quick-cooking sauce used as a base for various dishes.
I used marinara as a dip for my mozzarella sticks.

Tomato Sauce

A base for many culinary dishes.
The lasagna recipe calls for two cups of tomato sauce.


A sauce typically free of meat ingredients.
Vegetarians often prefer dishes with marinara.

Tomato Sauce

A sauce made primarily from tomatoes.
I added a can of tomato sauce to my chili for depth of flavor.


A term derived from mariners, indicating its quick preparation.
As per lore, marinara was a favorite among sailors due to its quick cooking time.

Tomato Sauce

A sauce that can be smooth or chunky, depending on preparation.
I prefer a smooth tomato sauce for my pasta.


A simple Italian sauce made from tomatoes, garlic, and herbs.
The spaghetti was served with a classic marinara topping.

Tomato Sauce

A versatile sauce used in various cuisines.
My curry recipe uses a spiced tomato sauce.


Being or served with a sauce made of tomatoes, onions, garlic, and herbs
Spaghetti marinara.


Marinara sauce.


Can I use marinara in place of tomato sauce?

Yes, marinara can be used as a substitute for tomato sauce in most recipes.

Is marinara a type of tomato sauce?

Yes, marinara is a specific type of tomato sauce with distinct ingredients.

Is marinara always vegan?

Traditional marinara is vegan, but always check the ingredients, especially store-bought versions.

Does tomato sauce always contain spices?

No, the ingredients in tomato sauce can vary, and some versions are plain while others are spiced.

Why is it called marinara?

The name "marinara" is derived from "mariners" and is believed to have been a favorite among sailors.

Which has a stronger garlic flavor, marinara or tomato sauce?

Marinara typically has a pronounced garlic flavor, though tomato sauces can also be garlicky.

Can I add meat to marinara?

While traditional marinara is meat-free, you can customize it by adding meat if desired.

Which is chunkier, marinara or tomato sauce?

Marinara often has a chunkier consistency, though tomato sauce can vary in texture.

Is tomato sauce used only in Italian cooking?

No, tomato sauce is versatile and used in various cuisines worldwide.

Is marinara spicy?

Traditional marinara isn't spicy, but variations with chili or other spicy ingredients can be made.

Which is thicker, marinara or tomato sauce?

This can vary by recipe, but marinara is often chunkier while some tomato sauces are smoother.

What dishes typically use marinara?

Marinara is commonly used in pasta dishes, on pizzas, and as a dip.

Can I freeze tomato sauce?

Yes, both marinara and other tomato sauces freeze well for future use.

How long should I cook tomato sauce?

Cooking times vary; some tomato sauces simmer for hours while others, like marinara, are cooked quickly.

Which has more herbs, marinara or tomato sauce?

Marinara typically has a distinct herb flavor, but some tomato sauces can also be herb-rich.

Are canned tomato sauces as good as homemade?

Preference varies; some find homemade sauces fresher and tastier, while others appreciate the convenience of canned.

Is marinara only used with pasta?

No, while popular with pasta, marinara is also used in other dishes like pizza or as a dipping sauce.

Can I make a creamy tomato sauce?

Yes, by adding cream or a creamy ingredient to tomato sauce, you can achieve a creamy consistency.

Can I make marinara sauce at home?

Absolutely! Marinara is simple to make with tomatoes, garlic, herbs, and onions.

Is all tomato sauce red?

Most are, but variations exist like yellow or orange tomato sauces.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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