Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >
Mar 10, 2003 05:01 PM

Marinara Vs. Tomato sauce

  • j

What's the difference?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Usually the term "tomato sauce" refers to plain tomato sauce. Marinara sauce includes some combination of olive oil, garlic, and herbs in addition to the tomatoes.

    13 Replies
    1. re: John Kent

      Marinara sauce should also contain anchovies.

      1. re: Sandy

        Really? I don't think that is correct. I think it is onion, garlic, and herbs.

        1. re: AlanH

          Yes, I've always thought of those as the classic ingredients, Alan. My edition of Joy of Cooking says to saute the garlic in the oil from a tin of anchovies, and add chopped anchovies too. The recipe doesn't list onions at all.

          I add red wine to mine.

          1. re: Pat Hammond

            a classic marinara sauce is just garlic, a little oil on top, fresh basil and salt and pepper to taste. There are no onions in a marinara sauce, you put onions in a meat gravy or a meatless gravy. And there is definitely NO anchovies in it either, I never heard of that.

            Everyone has their own additions or renditions of certain recipes but that is what a classic marinara sauce consists of.

            1. re: sourpatch

              Marinara is a seafarer's sauce (cf. "marinaro," sailor). Contains anchovies.

              The derivation is from "marino," relating to the sea, not "marinare," to marinade or to pickle.

              1. re: Sandy

                It looks like you are both right. Here's an outtake from which excerpts various Italian chefs on the topic:

                Marinara Sauce

                As basic as it is, no one seems to have the true story on marinara. If you look it up in a dozen Italian cookbooks, you're likely to find as many different explanations of what marinara is and how it's made. Two basic concepts predominate, however.

                Some say that marinara is a very simple fresh tomato sauce with garlic and olive oil. Alla marinara means made in a quick and simple way, with just the few ingredients easily available to fishermen, writes Giuliano Bugialli in Bugialli on Pasta. He continues, "Some people mistakenly think the phrase means 'with seafood.'"

                Other authorities, like Arthur Schwartz in Naples at Table, say the association of marinara with seafood is no mistake. The name, they contend, is derived from the Italian word mare, which means sea. According to Schwartz, "Marinara in Campania is most often a tomato-based sauce with Gaeta olives, capers, anchovies, garlic, and sometimes preserved (canned or jarred) tuna."

                In America, to add to the confusion, the word marinara is used to refer to any tomato sauce made without meat. Perhaps Italian cooking authority Marcella Hazan takes the wisest approach to the issue: In an extensive section about tomato sauces in her definitive cookbook, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, she never once mentions the term.


                1. re: Sandy

                  Marinara sauce (and my uncles were fishermen in Italy)
                  is a sauce made by fisherman and contained garlic, olive oil - rarely any herbs. It's called marinara because it was a quick sauce that was made on board by the fisherman.

                  Tomato sauce usually has something to do with cooking time only because added ingredients could take longer to cook. I believe once you embellish the basic marinara sauce it becomes a tomato sauce.

                  Technically, tomato sauce that had meat stewed into it
                  (as was typcially served on sundays) is a sauce but can also be a gravy because of it's meat content.

                2. re: sourpatch
                  Laughing Goddess

                  I thought that if you added anchovies to a marinara, then it's called puttanesca sauce. Puttanescas usually include olives and capers, too.

                  1. re: Laughing Goddess

                    Let's not forget the hot red peppers that (according to one version of the legend, at least) gave the sauce its name!

                    1. re: C. Fox

                      Ah, that makes sense. Though we always used hot red pepper in marinara (no anchovies though).

                  2. re: sourpatch

                    Every first or second-generation Italian grandma that I've ever spoken to says that you start with anchovies.

                    They dissolve after a while, which is probably why many posters are saying it doesn't. Or, they've never had the real thing.

              2. re: Sandy
                science chick

                not where I come from...........anchovies are NEVER included in a marinara. Just goes to show how different sauces are from place to place. Even stranger, in Boston the Italian community refers to tomato sauce as "gravy". Go figure!

                1. re: science chick

                  The Neapolitans from Jersey (where I'm from--we're Siciliano) called the red tomato and meat sauce you cook all day long gravy. We just called it meat sauce. I don't think there was anything we called "tomato sauce" per se, since there were so many variations that mom might make on any given night--marinara, puttanesca, meat, or sticky sauce.

                  Curious, anyone else ever have sticky sauce? I'm not even sure what it would normally be called. (we grew up with a lot of strange food names that my grandfather came up with and we grandkids never questioned) It's a really coooked down clumpy tomato sauce, which we always had with fusili, and then served with shredded basil and tuna on top (not cooked in the sauce, more treated as a garnish).

            2. c
              Corrina Cantalupo

              Marinara sauce is very simple: olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, desired herbs. Tomato sauce should be simmered for 2 hours--marinara can be ready in 20 minutes!

              1. Tomato sauce or a Red Sauce is a classic mother sauce (one of five) which can be traced back to Escoffier. In his book a Tomato Sauce consists of a pork product, carrots, onions, bay leaf, thyme, a flour & butter mixture (roux), sugar, pepper, tomatoes and white stock (usually of veal or chicken). Marinara is classic to Italian cooking, and as by the discussion, can vary from region to region. When studying Italian cooking, cuisine can vary from almost a German style in Northern Italy, to a more well-known rustic style in the Southern parts of Italy. I believe, also mentioned in the comments is a Mariniere Sauce which is a seafood based sauce using a fish veloute (mother sauce) in the form of a fumet with the liquor of mussels added. This is then thickened with egg yolks. Reference Escoffier's cook book.

                1. Marinara in Campania is most often a tomato-based sauce with Gaeta olives, capers, anchovies, garlic, and sometimes preserved (canned or jarred) tuna.

                  1. I've always considered Marinara to be a chunkier sauce - where you could still see bits and pieces of the tomato and onions, and a bit more robust in flavor (tangier, spicier) than plain tomato sauce. Most products in our neck of the woods sold as just plain tomato sauce are usually pureed and strained until they're completely smooth, and flavor wise they're a bit more bland.