What defines a marinara sauce?

Marinara sauce is typically a simple sauce mixed with tomatoes and aromatic ingredients such as onions and garlic. Additional condiments and herbs such as basil, oregano, red pepper flakes, and more can be added depending on personal preferences. Marinara (lit. Variations include capers, olives, spices and a dash of wine.

Widely used in Italian-American cuisine, in Italy it is known as alla marinara, where it is usually made with tomatoes, basil and oregano, but also sometimes with olives, capers and salted anchovies. It is used for spaghetti and noodles, but also with meat or fish. Marinara sauce is one of the most authentic parts of Italian-American cuisine. It's not exactly the same as what you find in Italy, but it's descended from a tomato-based sauce that was originally used for seafood.

The name “marinara” comes from the word “sailor” and describes how fishermen used the sauce on their freshly caught fish. If the tomato sauce in the pasta is thick, it's spaghetti sauce or Americanized marinara. Using marinara instead of ketchup can make a recipe vegetarian friendly and is a great way to save time preparing weekday dinners. The true birthplace of marinara sauce has been the subject of debate for generations, although most of the signs point to southern Italy.

The traditional Italian-style marinara sauce is quite fine, while many Americanized variations become quite thick. You can also take a spaghetti sauce recipe, take out the meat and you'll usually get marinara sauce. That said, marinara isn't as heavy or tasty as ketchup, so the flavor and texture of the finished dish will be very different. Marinara sauce is a very simple tomato-based sauce with minimal ingredients, including tomatoes, onions, garlic, and condiments.

We often see the terms “ketchup” and “marinara” being used interchangeably on supermarket sauce jars. Good explanation. In fact, in the last few days I met someone who had never heard of marinara sauce, and then I thought, hmm, what's the difference, so thank you for the explanation and now I'll be happy to tell you. If it's fine, it's most likely a more traditional Italian-style marinara sauce.

Because of its simple list of ingredients, marinara can be used instead of pizza sauce and spaghetti sauce. Since tomatoes and spices make up most of the list of ingredients in marinara sauce, it's one of the healthiest dipping sauces. While you can add quite a few things to marinara sauce and still call it marinara sauce, it never contains meat, anchovies, or cheese. Or check out this post if you run out of tomato paste and this one to focus specifically on thickening the marinara.

Jeannette Klingenberger
Jeannette Klingenberger

Proud beer fanatic. Freelance web specialist. Subtly charming tv nerd. Wannabe coffee fan. Subtly charming tv ninja.