Whether cooking at home or ordering at a restaurant, you may be wondering about pizza sauce vs marinara. What’s the difference? And can you use pasta sauce for pizza? 

A collage showing a Traditional Neapolitan Pizza with a saucepan of marinara next to a photo of traditional pizza sauce and marinara ingredients. Text overlay reads "pizza sauce vs marinara"

Pizza sauce and marinara are both a type of tomato sauce made with similar ingredients, so it’s understandable there might be some confusion about the differences. Let’s take a look at pizza sauce vs. marinara vs. spaghetti sauce and find out if you can use pasta sauce for pizza. 

A large thin crust pizza with pizza sauce, cheese, eggplant and arugula on a white table in Tuscany Italy with a young girl in the background.

My typical thin-crust pizza with eggplant and arugula in Chianti, Italy.

Italian-American vs. Authentic Italian Sauces

When considering the difference between pizza sauce and marinara, we must first address whether we are talking about authentic Italian pizza and marinara sauces like we enjoy in Italy, or American-style sauces. The difference is vast, and unless you have tried real Italian pizza and Pomodoro sauces, you may not know.

Most American fast-food pizzas come with very thick and pasty sauces with many seasonings and lots of greasy melted cheese. Traditional Neapolitan pizza, on the other hand, is made with a very simple sauce that consists of DOP San Marzano tomatoes, basil, salt, sometimes garlic, and olive oil. It’s often not even cooked before going onto the pizza.

The ingredients for marinara sauce on a marble countertop: San Marzano DOP tomatoes, fresh basil, red pepper flakes, olive oil, salt, and garlic.

Pizza Sauce vs Marinara

Pizza sauce and marinara are both important recipes in Italian cuisine. The main difference is that marinara is a traditional tomato sauce meant as a pasta sauce and pizza sauce is meant as a pizza base for toppings.

Pizza and marinara are both traditionally made with simple basic ingredients such as peeled plum tomatoes, garlic, and basil. Authentic Italian versions are very similar both in terms of consistency and ingredients. Though whole peeled canned tomatoes are often used, in the summer I like to make Fresh Tomato Marinara

To make the most authentic Italian tomato sauces, be sure to look for the certified DOP San Marzano labels. 

Let’s look at the ingredients list for one of my favorite Italian tomato sauce brands, Carmelina ‘e…San Marzano®. These are not DOP tomato sauces, but work well as a convenience. 

  • Pizza Sauce: 100% Italian tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, salt
  • Authentic Italian Marinara Sauce: Italian Chopped Tomatoes in Puree, olive oil, onions, garlic, salt, basil, black pepper, oregano

American pizza sauce is usually a tomato-based sauce with a variety of spices added to it, while marinara is a simpler sauce made with tomatoes, garlic, and herbs. This pizza sauce tends to be more flavorful and has a thicker consistency than marinara. Because of its simplicity, marinara is often used as a pasta or dipping sauce, while pizza sauce is used as a pizza topping.

The cooking process is also what differentiates pizza from marinara sauces. Whereas pizza sauce traditionally can be made without cooking before going on the pizza dough, marinara sauce is always simmered on the stove. I make a Naples-style easy homemade pizza sauce with the traditional no-cook method.

A white bowl filled with homemade pappardelle pasta and a vegan lentil ragu.

What’s the Difference Between Marinara and Spaghetti Sauce?

Marinara is a very simple type of spaghetti sauce, but there are many other recipes we call “spaghetti sauce” as well. 

Spaghetti sauce is the English name for a type of red sauce that contains additional ingredients such as onions, carrots, celery, and often ground beef, wild boar, Italian sausage, or other meat. I enjoy mine best with lentils. The Italian word for these hearty “spaghetti sauces” is ragu. Bolognese is another popular type of spaghetti sauce that is similar to a ragu, but typically thinner and made with white wine. This makes a heartier sauce that can be used as a main course, rather than a primi piatto (first course).

If you hear someone mention spaghetti sauce, it’s best to inquire about ingredients, as it may or may not contain meat. 

An overhead close-up photo of a mini eggplant pizza round topped with tomato sauce, cheese, and basil.

Can you Use Pasta Sauce for Pizza?

Yes! Pasta sauce such as marinara is fine to use as a pizza sauce, as long as you enjoy the flavors of that particular sauce. For Eggplant Pizzas, either pizza or marinara sauce is fine. This all comes down to personal preference.

Pizza sauces can vary greatly from recipe to recipe and even brand to brand. Most made in the U.S. would be a thicker pizza sauce that wouldn’t be ideal for pasta. 


As you can see, there is not much difference between pizza and marinara sauces. Both should be made with just a few similar ingredients such as tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, and herbs. 

When considering what the difference is between pizza sauce vs marinara, the answer is a bit complicated. American-style pizza sauces are much thicker than marinara, but in Italy, this is often not the case. When it comes to spaghetti sauce vs marinara, well, marinara is a simple, low-calorie spaghetti sauce. But there are many other spaghetti sauce recipes, such as ragu and bolognese. 

Feel free to use a really tasty marinara as a pizza sauce. What matters most it that you choose a high-quality sauce made with just a few great ingredients.