What makes marinara sauce different?

The sauce acquires its characteristic flavor through the addition of garlic, crushed red pepper flakes and herbs such as basil and oregano. So when it comes down to that, how are the two really different? In short, ketchup has much more depth and complexity than marinara sauce, as well as a longer list of ingredients. It's best to think of marinara sauce as a basic form of tomato sauce, especially since its flavor notes, cooking time and ingredient list are short and sweet, according to Paesana. The marinara sauce is also quite fine compared to the thick texture of the tomato sauce.

While the two sauces share many ingredients, the main difference is in the consistency and depth of flavor. Marinara is brighter, thinner and has more tomato flavor than ketchup. Tomato sauce is thicker, creamier and has a certain resemblance to sauce, which is why some Italians call it “Sunday sauce”. Since both are tomato-based and use garlic and similar herbs, the flavor can be interchangeable.

However, marinara sauce is often made a little lighter and thinner. On the contrary, pasta sauce is thick and creamy (if it has a roux base). Think of the classic Marcella Hazan sauce, which is more like tikka masala than something you'd find at your local Italian-American restaurant. Flavors don't have as much time to develop as they would with ketchup, and any added herbs, such as basil and oregano, will be more prominent.

Marinara usually uses only tomato, olive oil and garlic, making it less complex than pasta sauce. Marinara sauce and ketchup are often used interchangeably and for clear reasons; the two look and taste quite similar to each other. But if you have free time and are looking for a richer, heavier sauce, then the traditional pasta sauce will suit you better. There are several different ways to use a freshly made marinara sauce, in addition to dressing the pasta.

The common idea is that this sauce was a staple food that maritime merchants normally consumed, since it was a simple sauce that took a short time to make. Variations of Italian tomato sauce include vodka sauce, ragout and arrabbiata sauce, which take the basic red sauce and add a few additional ingredients to transform it into something completely different. Or you can take out a bag of chips or French fries for a movie night and dip it in marinara for an extra touch of flavor. Regardless of the tomatoes you use, with basic cooking techniques and a little patience, you'll get a better sauce than any other you can buy at the store, in less than an hour.

But if you want a slightly lighter touch that takes less time to do so, then marinara is probably the best option. Spaghetti usually uses pasta sauce, since they are commonly made with meat (meatballs and spaghetti are a classic combination). The same goes for fried calamari or mozzarella sticks; the marinara sauce will help accentuate the flavor of the dish without robbing it of prominence. But before we dive into their differences, let's talk about what ketchup and marinara sauce actually are.

Two of the most common types of sauces you'll hear people use are marinara sauce and pasta sauce, especially in Italian cuisine.

Jeannette Klingenberger
Jeannette Klingenberger

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