What Is The Difference Between Pizza Sauce & Spaghetti Sauce? The Simple Answer


Spaghetti and pizza are two of the most popular foods in the United States, and perhaps even the world. And they share a lot in common as well. Pizza and spaghetti are both made from dough, they both are topped with cheese, and both feature a generous helping of tomato sauce. It might even make sense to think that you can swap out one set of ingredients for the other, but can you?

Pizza sauce and spaghetti sauce are similar but feature one key difference: pizza sauce is raw and pasta sauce is cooked. This is because pizza sauce is cooked in the oven on top of the pizza when it bakes, while spaghetti sauce is pre-cooked and then poured on already cooked spaghetti just before serving.

But this isn’t the whole story and there are a few nuances depending on what kind of pizza you’re preparing, and what part of the world you’re coming from.

Pizza Sauce Vs Spaghetti Sauce: An Amazon Case Study

What’s the difference between these sauces?

I’ll get into some general information about what differentiates pizza sauce and spaghetti sauce, but first we’ll look at some real-life examples.

Below are two of the most popular pizza and spaghetti sauces on Amazon, Yo Mama’s Original Marinara Sauce and Don Pepino Pizza SauceOpens in a new tab.. I’m going to compare the ingredients, nutritional information and the overall consistency to try to demonstrate the differences between these sauces and what makes pizza and spaghetti sauces unique.

Let’s start with Yo Mama’s Original Marinara sauce. This sauce touts fresh ingredients and its low-sodium, no sugar added recipe. Looking at the ingredients, they are quite natural, however the list is quite long.

This means the flavor of the tomatoes will be secondary, especially after the sauce has been simmered for some time. But in the case of this marinara sauce, it’s already been cooked so the flavor of the seasoning and aromatics will be quite strong right out of the jar.

On the other side, we have Don Pepino’s Pizza Sauce. This pizza sauce claims to have been around since the 1950, and that might be true. I actually remember this sauce from my childhood, which doesn’t go back quite as far as 1950 admittedly. But in any case this sauce is quite old!

The ingredients are very few as well, listing only tomatoes, corn oil, salt, spices and garlic powder. I dislike when products just say “spices” but since this is an American sauce I’ll assume that means “Italian seasoning”, which is usually basil, oregano, rosemary and thyme.

Sauce TypeIngredientsCooked/Raw
Spaghetti Sauce (Yo Mama’s Original Marinara)tomatoes, onion, garlic, white wine, chicken stock, turmeric, olive oil, basil, salt, oregano, black peppercooked
Pizza Sauce (Don PepinoOpens in a new tab.)tomatoes, corn oil, salt, spices, garlic powderraw
This example is indicative of the difference between spaghetti and pizza sauce.

As you can see from the table above, pizza sauce and spaghetti sauce are quite different. The spaghetti sauce has way more ingredients and will wind up tasting much different from the pizza sauce.

And while I might consider using the pizza sauce as a starter for a spaghetti sauce, I would never use the spaghetti sauce for a pizza sauce since it’s already cooked and much too seasoned.

Pizza Sauce Might Be Cooked Or Uncooked Depending On Where You’re From

Typically speaking, pizza sauce consists of seasoned crushed tomatoes that are put on top of pizza dough raw. The sauce gets cooked in the oven along with all the other ingredients of the pizza.

Using raw crushed tomatoes for pizza sauce helps to maintain the flavor of the tomatoes. This works especially well for Neapolitan styles of pizza that are baked in super hot wood-fired ovens.

But for some styles of pizza, particularly pizza from New York City, the sauce is cooked before going on the pizza. This often involves simmering the tomato sauce at a low temperature for, sometimes, several hours before topping the pizza. Doing this helps to transfer the flavor of the onion, garlic and whatever other seasonings into the sauce to make it extra flavorful.

Because pizza has historically diffused throughout the United States via New York City, this style of cooked pizza sauce is quite common on many American styles of pizza.

Americans generally prefer, and expect, a sauce that is much more flavorful than Italian pizza sauce.

But this isn’t to say that American style pizza sauce tastes better, however, just different.

This NYC style pizza sauce will be simmered at a very low heat, just to bring out a bit of flavor.

Italian Pizza Sauce Comes Raw & Relies On The Quality Of The Tomatoes

It’s often said that Italian cooking, at least in principle, is an expression of the quality of the ingredients rather than relying on excessive amounts of seasoning for flavor.

This is why pizza served in Italy is prepared with a raw tomato sauce using only the finest tomatoes. These tomatoes usually come from regions of Italy that are famous for their tomatoes that are grown in rich volcanic soil, like Campania.

The most famous of these are called San Marzano tomatoes and they can be found canned in markets all over the world, including the United States. They are even readily available on Amazon.Opens in a new tab.

These are actually my favorite kind of tomato to use for all kinds of tomato sauces, including pizza. They have a rich tomato flavor and always come perfectly ripened and with lots of flesh.

In terms of ingredients, raw pizza sauce usually contains far less ingredients than spaghetti sauce besides salt, olive oil, basil and sometimes oregano. This is another way that raw pizza sauce allows the natural flavor of the tomatoes to shine through.

On the other side of the Atlantic, produce, including tomatoes, found in the Unites States is often of a lower quality compared to what’s expected in Italy. This is probably one of the reasons why Italian immigrants in NYC, and other US cities, began to cook and season their pizza sauce to offset the less flavorful tomatoes they had available to them.

This is a raw pizza sauce that can be used on Neapolitan style pizza.

Spaghetti Sauce Is Pre-Cooked & Mixed With Cooked Pasta

While there might be some regional differences between cooked and uncooked pizza sauce, spaghetti sauce is always pre-cooked.

The reason for this should be obvious since spaghetti is not baked in an oven like pizza. Instead, spaghetti is boiled in water and served directly from there.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone boiling tomato sauce along with their spaghetti. And if anyone has tried, I’m sure it didn’t turn out too well.

So this means, spaghetti sauce needs to be pre-cooked on its own and then mixed with already cooked spaghetti. If you’ve ever had spaghetti topped with raw tomato sauce, either on purpose or by accident, trust me – it tastes awful, no matter how good your tomatoes are.

Cooking a spaghetti sauce, at least in the US, usually involves simmering it for a long period of time with other very flavorful ingredients like onion, garlic, basil and oregano. When the spaghetti sauce is cooked to your liking, it may even have thickened a bit due to some of the moisture getting evaporated away.

How To Make A Simple Raw Pizza Sauce

Making a pizza sauce is incredibly simple once you’ve found some good quality tomatoes. I usually use a can of whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes, but fresh plum or roma style tomatoes can work as well.

Simply empty your can of tomatoes into a bowl and crush them by hand or with a potato masher along with your seasonings. But don’t over do it since we want to preserve some small chunks of tomato for extra flavor.

Add a teaspoon of salt, a glug or two of fresh olive oil and a few pinches of crushed dried oregano. You can also add a few basil leaves to the sauce but I like to leave those to put on top of the pizza raw.

This style of pizza sauce is perfect for Neapolitan style pizza, especially if you have a professional pizza oven at home. The high heat and flash cooking will really enhance the flavor of the San Marzano tomatoes, although it will taste fine in a regular home oven as well.

How To Make A Simple Cooked NYC Style Tomato Sauce

The way I make cooked NYC style pizza sauce is actually not entirely different from the way I make uncooked Neapolitan pizza sauce. This is because I prefer a simpler sauce that relies on the flavor of the tomatoes and minimizes excess seasoning.

The process is simple. Empty a can of San Marzano tomatoes into a bowl and mix with a few glugs of olive oil and salt. Mash the mixture with a potato masher (or you can use a food processer) but do it only until it’s relatively smooth with some small chunks of tomatoes.

Store the sauce in a jar in the fridge until you’re ready to use it. When you are, take a few ladles full of the sauce (per pizza) and put it in a saucepan on low heat. Add in a pinch of crushed dried oregano and a few cracks of black or hot pepper to taste.

After about 10-15 minutes you should see the sauce begin to gently bubble over. Take the pan off the heat and cover it up until you’re ready to put it on the pizza dough. We don’t want the sauce to start boiling rapidly or it will start to taste more like a spaghetti sauce and lose some of its natural tomato flavor.

This is how I make my cooked pizza sauce because it’s how my Italian-American mother and grandmother made it. But it’s also common to see this done using onion and garlic as well. In fact, traditional NYC pizza sauce very often includes either onion or garlic or both.

For a more in depth look and set of instructions on how to make a great NYC style pizza sauce, check out my recipe here.

Pizza Sauce Can Be Turned Into Spaghetti Sauce, But Not Vice Versa

Either one of the pizza sauce recipes, cooked and uncooked, that I’ve shared above can be converted into a spaghetti sauce. Simply add some extra seasonings, if you prefer, and simmer the sauce for as as it takes to reach your liking. The taste test always works best when deciding if your spaghetti sauce is finished cooking.

Unfortunately this little trick doesn’t work in reverse. This is because a spaghetti sauce is already cooked far too much for a typical pizza flavor, and that can’t be undone. That is, unless you like your pizza tasting a bit like spaghetti, in which case – go for it!

Spaghetti sauce is usually cooked too long and with too many ingredients to work well on pizza.

Final Thoughts

How you like your pizza or spaghetti sauce largely comes down to personal taste, but there are some generalizations we can make.

Spaghetti sauce, or marinara, is always cooked before being served with pasta. Otherwise, the tomatoes will be raw since the spaghetti cooks on its own in boiled water.

Pizza sauce, on the other hand, is often placed on the pizza dough raw. This is because the sauce gets a chance to cook in the oven while the pizza bakes. At least, this is the tradition in Naples where super high-heat wood-fired ovens are the norm.

But in New York City, where American food sensibilities are a bit different, pizza sauce is very often cooked before going on the raw pizza dough and before it gets cooked again in the oven.

Another important reason for this is, perhaps, the fact that NYC pizza ovens are often set to a relatively low temperature which doesn’t give the sauce as much of a chance to cook as in Naples.

Domenic

Hi, I'm Domenic, the founder of this website. I've been making pizza at home for over 15 years and in that time I've perfected what it takes to bake a delicious pizza in a home oven. My goal is to share that information and experience with you.

4 thoughts on “What Is The Difference Between Pizza Sauce & Spaghetti Sauce? The Simple Answer

  1. I make my own personal thin crust pizzas using two large tortillas glued together with a little cheese (one tortilla is too thin). I’ve made them for many guests and they NEVER suspect I didn’t make the crust myself and comment how great the pizza tastes. I found this so simple over making my own crust. I have also used both pizza sauce and spaghetti sauce on my pizzas with no problem. I actually prefer more flavor from the spaghetti sauce. I’ve been told that Don Pepinos is really good so I’m going to give it a try. Advice for other single people, freeze the remaining sauce because in the refrigerator it molds in 3 days.

  2. “pizza sauce is raw and pasta sauce is cooked.”

    “I usually use a can of whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes, but fresh plum or roma style tomatoes can work as well.”

    Huh….?

    Canned tomatoes aren’t raw. Please explain!

    1. Hi, Blane. Good question.

      While many types of canned tomatoes are indeed “cooked” briefly during processing, I was referring to the fact that these tomatoes are placed raw on pizza and not pre-cooked like a spaghetti sauce.

      It’s also worth noting that while many canned tomatoes are briefly boiled before peeling and canning, it’s usually not for more than a couple of minutes. They’re not being cooked in a way to alter the flavor of the tomato like you would a spaghetti sauce.

      The “cooking” of canned tomatoes is entirely for canning and preservation purposes.

      In my opinion, these tomatoes are still “raw”, though not from a technical perspective as you point out.

      But thanks for pointing this out. I may add some additional wording to the article to make this distinction clear.

      -Dom

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