The title pretty much says it: What is the difference between marinara and spaghetti sauce?

I Googled and got a bunch of hits but none of the answers left me feeling like I actually understand the difference. If anything, I'm more confused now than when I started. The one thing that a few of the answers I found had in common was the idea that marinara sauce is simpler, with fewer ingredients than other tomato-based sauces. Still, the idea does not present the full picture. I guess another way to approach this question would be to ask: What would one add to "marinara" sauce to make it "spaghetti" sauce?


  • 5
    Spaghetti sauce is a generic term for sauces you can put on pasta. There are hundreds of recipes out there with a huge variety, some have tomato and some don't. Marinara is one type of pasta sauce.
    – GdD
    Jun 8, 2015 at 8:58

10 Answers 10


Marinara is a style / kind of a sauce that originated in Napoli usually made with tomatoes, garlic, herbs, and onions. A spaghetti sauce only says where to sauce is used (obviously on spaghetti) but doesn't say anything about what the sauce is exactly like.

There are many dishes which are basically spaghetti + sauce:

and, uhmmm...

  • 1
    I thought Spaghetti and meatballs were from Italy
    – Rob P.
    Jun 10, 2015 at 13:21
  • 1
    @RobP. No, it isn't from Italy. I heard from spaghetti with meatballs only in American context. The only thing I know that resembles with spaghetti and meatballs is Ragù alla bolognese. Jun 10, 2015 at 15:24
  • 1
    Interesting - I'm finding a lot of conflicting claims. Wikipedia says 'However, pasta served with meatballs and tomato sauce are found in southern Italy and are documented earlier than the American version'. But plenty of other sources say otherwise. Probably getting off-topic, my apologies.
    – Rob P.
    Jun 10, 2015 at 15:29

In the U.S. Marinara is a vegetarian Italian style tomato sauce and it may have olive oil and cheese like parmesan mixed in. But never meat or anchovies.

Spaghetti Sauce in the U.S. is culinary slang for manufactured tomato sauce served over spaghetti.


Marinara sauce is actual a thin tomato sauce used originally on fish foods, hence the name Marinara! In Naples Italy when the fishermen came home with the fish they caught for the day the wives would fix a thin tomato sauce used in cooking and serving the fish. Marinara sauce is not started with any meat or meat flavoring or onions like a thick tomato sauce for pasta is. Spaghetti sauce starts with sauteing onions and meat such as neck bones, garlic and olive oil in the bottom of a pan before adding the tomato sauce and paste or adding meat balls to flavor the sauce besides the oregano, garlic, basil, etc., while it is cooking down.

  • Although it is not in the original Neapolitan style, you will occasionally find people including anchovy paste or the like in their marinara sauce.
    – tchrist
    Oct 21, 2018 at 15:42

I don't think there is a big difference. Spaghetti sauce is a little Thicker and can come with meats added to it and more vegetables. Marinara sauce is more liquid but you can add meat and vegetables to it or leave it as is. Either way they are both good!


The biggest difference I found in spaghetti sauce and marinara sauce is the use of oregino. Typically spaghetti sauce does not have oregino in it and a marinara sauce does which is usually what gives it is flavor.

  • 3
    Why do you think that spaghetti sauce doesn't have oregano in it? Do you have a source that states this is the case?
    – Catija
    Feb 6, 2016 at 3:58

My family (from Italy) makes both, and the only difference I have noticed is that marinara sauce is a thinner sauce. As for spices, that varies from Person to person and does not effect how thick the sauce is.


Im Italian and Sicilian which is kind of a greater mix of the two because it's rare when they don't get along and we do use oregano in spaghetti sauce and either way there is not no much difference and yes they both taste the same well both taste great, out here in the US they do say that pizza sauce is marinara sauce you can use it all the same and yes meatballs and (Italian sausage) which is not mentioned is part of Italian I would say one of the biggest part not US. So let's get your facts straight and correct.. however yes and all in all actuality it is and does vary from person to person

  • DV - sorry, this is not clear. Sep 5, 2017 at 3:15

My family is from Naples where Marinara originates.

Marinara never has meat.

  • 4
    This does not anything to the other answers. Please don't repeat answers.
    – user34961
    Sep 4, 2017 at 7:44

In my Italian opinion, spaghetti or standard "sugo" tomato sauce is fairly smooth, whether thick or thin, likely using strained tomatoes. Marinara is a little more chunky or pulpy in texture, or "rustic" lets say, probably using crushed tomatoes.

This will definitely vary depending on who you ask and where so you probably won't get a definitive answer. Gotta love Italian cuisine, huh?

Both are interchangeable depending on application and preference.


Sonny Silvaroli had the best if incomplete answer. Marinara should never be cooked for more than a half hour. Where as spaghetti sauce more correctly know as Sugo di pomodoro usually cooks for an hour or two. But marinara was made by the fishermen themselves usually on the beach or on board the boat and would never have meat in it.

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