Is There a Difference Between Pizza Sauce and Pasta Sauce? (Hell Yes!)

updated Dec 6, 2022
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(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

During my freshman year of college, I lived in a small dorm that was a ways from the dining hall and instead had a small kitchen in the basement. That left me to cook most of my dinners, but my options were pretty limited when I shared the space with 30 other residents. So a whole lot of my meals relied on a jar of marinara sauce.

I’d toss pasta with it, make English muffin pizzas with it, and spoon it over pre-cooked breaded chicken breast for a hacked version of chicken Parmesan. I figured that sauce was completely multipurpose — and it is, to some extent.

The thing I realized later down the road is that marinara sauce is really not intended for pizza, whether that’s an English muffin pizza or an actual pizza. I don’t mean to be fussy, but there’s one big thing that sets them apart. Here’s what it is.

The Difference Between Pizza and Pasta Sauce

Pizza sauce is an uncooked tomato sauce, while pasta sauce is cooked. That may not seem like a big deal, but it can make all the difference. The best pizza sauce is simply puréed tomatoes that are seasoned simply with salt and pepper and maybe a couple of extras like garlic, oregano, or a splash of balsamic or

red wine vinegar

The reason pizza sauce is uncooked is because it will actually result in a better-tasting pizza — it will give you fresh, zippy tomato flavor, even after it has been baked in a hot oven.

Pasta sauce, on the other hand, is slow-simmered. It usually has a few more herbs involved, like basil or even a bay leaf. Cooked sauce will have a sweeter, richer, deeper flavor. Since the noodles are already cooked when they’re tossed in the sauce, it’s nice to already have the flavor developed in the sauce.

Pasta sauce may also be chunkier and less smooth in texture, as it’s not always puréed like pizza sauce.