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Substitute For Marinara Sauce: 10 Best Alternatives

If you are looking for a substitute for marinara sauce, you’ve come to the right place. We have a list of great swaps you can use as a replacement for this popular sauce. 

This article will discuss what marinara is and what the best alternatives are for it. Feel free to experiment with these swaps.

Jars with marinara sauce on the shelf at the grocery store.

What Is Marinara Sauce?

Marinara sauce is a classic Italian tomato sauce that has its origins in southern Italy.

The name “marinara” is derived from the Italian word “marinaro,” which means “sailor.”

This sauce is a classic tomato-based sauce popular in Italian-American cuisine.

It has a versatile and comforting flavor. For this reason, it has grown to be a kitchen essential worldwide.

This timeless condiment blends simple ingredients like ripe tomatoes, garlic, onion, and basil. The result? It has a delightful taste and a lovely texture.

  • The tomatoes contribute a mildly acidic note and subtle sweetness to the sauce.
  • Garlic, on the other hand, adds a hint of spice and a rich aroma.
  • Adding onion and basil gives the sauce a fresh herbal note, creating a symphony of flavors.
  • To further elevate its taste, use oregano and thyme to give it a Mediterranean flair.

The marinara sauce can cling to pasta beautifully with its smooth and moderately thick consistency. That said, it is perfect for spaghetti, penne, and linguine.

Marinara sauce goes beyond pasta, though. It shines as a dip and makes a great ingredient in casseroles.

Plus, it serves as a delectable base for many other dishes.

The sauce complements mozzarella and parmesan cheese, among others.

Its texture also pairs well with crusty bread.

At restaurants, you’ll often see this sauce as a coating for chicken parmesan and a dipping sauce for mozzarella sticks.

Best Substitutes For Marinara Sauce

These simple swaps can replace marinara sauce in pasta dishes, pizzas, and beyond.

Choose the ones readily available, or explore other sauces if you want a twist to your classic recipes.

Here is a list of the best marinara substitutes.

1. Canned Tomatoes

White bowl with canned tomatoes.

Canned tomatoes are tomatoes that manufacturers seal in cans for preservation. This way, you’ll have tomatoes ready in your pantry that you can use whenever you need them. As such, they are handy when you need a swap for marinara.

You will come across whole, crushed, or diced tomatoes in cans. Cook them with garlic, onions, and basil, and you’ll have a quick alternative for store-bought sauce.

The canning process preserves the tomatoes’ freshness and gives you access to tomatoes when fresh produce is unavailable.


Opt for unseasoned canned tomatoes. They will be a blank canvas you can customize with your choice of seasonings.

Before use, drain the liquid so your sauce won’t be too runny.

If you don’t like chunks in your sauce, you may pulse the tomatoes in a food processor for a better texture.

2. Tomato Ketchup

Small dish filled with ketchup and bottles with sauce next to it.

Tomato ketchup combines tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, salt, and assorted spices.

It is a common condiment that many people love for its sweet and tangy flavor.

In a pinch, it can also be an alternative to marinara sauce. After all, it is equally versatile.

You can use it as a dipping sauce or an ingredient for pasta and pizza sauce.

The great thing about ketchup is that most households have it. Plus, kids love them.

However, ketchup’s distinct sweet flavor means that it won’t pair with all recipes that call for marinara.

There are better substitutes if your dish won’t bode well with a sweet taste.


To use it as a swap for marinara, you might have to add seasonings to get a closer flavor match.

If your ketchup is too runny, thicken it by cooking it until you reduce it to a better consistency.

3. Tomato Sauce

Can of tomato sauce with white dish next to it.

Tomato sauce is another great option to replace marinara sauce.

It has a thick consistency, which is quite similar to marinara. This sauce also possesses a rich tomato flavor.

As a substitute, tomato sauce is perfect for stews, soups, sauces, and pizza.

This sauce is also a widely available ingredient in most grocery stores.

It is also common in most pantries, so you probably already have it. If you don’t, you can always make homemade tomato sauce.


As with other alternatives, you should season tomato sauce to your liking to make marinara sauce.

Note that most tomato sauces available in the market contains added sugar.

Do a taste test before seasoning the sauce to ensure the output tastes great.

Also, if you think the consistency of tomato sauce is too different from marinara, add a small amount of olive oil. Doing so will improve its texture.

4. Tomato Paste

Tomato paste is a concentrated version of the tomato sauce. It is one of the most common ingredients in making marinara sauce. For this reason, it is a great alternative for it.

This paste has a similar rich tomato flavor, so it will not alter the original taste of your recipes. You can use it in all dishes that call for marinara.

Do note that as a paste, this option is extremely thicker than most sauces.

You should thin it out to get a closer texture match.


Add your preferred spices to bring the flavor of tomato paste closer to the marinara sauce.

Thin the paste out by adding an equal amount of water and simmering the mixture for a few minutes.

5. Tomato Juice

If the thick consistency of the marinara is not that significant for your dish, tomato juice is a decent replacement.

Tomato juice is the liquid you get when you crush or squeeze fresh tomatoes.

It is a thin juice, but it boasts a pure and strong tomato flavor.

Although it may lack the thickness and complexity of marinara sauce, its tomato essence can still make soups, stews, and sauces taste better.


Combine tomato juice with tomato paste to get a texture closer to the marinara. Enrich its flavor with your choice of seasonings and simmer.

6. Tomato Soup

Instant pot filled with tomato soup.

Another tomato-based ingredient you can use to replace marinara sauce in recipes is tomato soup.

Condensed tomato soup is either a milk or a broth-based soup you’ll find in cans.

It is popular because it provides a quick meal when you’re in a hurry. Unlike tomato paste and juice, tomato soup already comes with seasonings.

That said, you should not expect the exact flavor of marinara from tomato soup.


Simmer canned tomato soup to give it a thicker consistency, close to marinara sauce.

In most cases, you’ll notice that tomato soup has a sweeter flavor. For this reason, you should consider if a sweeter ingredient can give your recipe a pleasant outcome.

7. Tomato Passata

Wooden bowl with tomato passata and fresh tomatoes next to it.

Tomato passata is a smooth, uncooked tomato sauce. People make it using fresh tomatoes and strain it to remove seeds and skins.

Unlike marinara sauce, which often involves cooking and additional ingredients, tomato passata remains raw.

This tomato puree has an authentic and fresh tomato flavor, which makes it a viable alternative if you want a more intense tomato flavor.


Passata does not usually contain seasoning, though some cans may have added salt. In some cases, this pure flavor can be an advantage.

However, if you need it to taste like marinara, you must add seasonings.

8. Pizza Sauce

As the name implies, pizza sauce is a sauce people use to top the famous Italian dish. It uses tomatoes as its base, making it an excellent marinara sauce swap.

You can buy this sauce in cans or jars from most grocery stores.

If you frequently make pizza at home, then this might be a pantry staple for you. Nevertheless, it is a quick option when you do not have time to run to the store.

Depending on the brand, pizza sauce can have various seasonings.

Some have a strong oregano flavor, while others boast a sweet taste. Choose a pizza sauce that will complement the other ingredients in your recipe well.


Pizza sauce is significantly thicker than marinara. Thin it out by adding water and use the mixture as a direct substitute for marinara sauce.

9. Spaghetti Sauce

Spaghetti sauce, also known as pasta sauce, is a highly versatile and popular ingredient for pasta dishes.

It includes tomatoes, seasonings, and sometimes some vegetables, resulting in a rich and flavorful sauce. For this reason, it is a good marinara sauce substitute.

The biggest consideration you must be mindful of is that pasta sauces usually have meat. Marinara doesn’t typically have meat.

However, pasta sauce is a good choice if your dish calls for marinara sauce and meat. Think of it as a shortcut.


Pasta sauce typically boasts a slightly thicker consistency and a touch of sweetness.

Thin it out with water or tomato juice for a closer texture match.

You might also have to forego additional sweet ingredients in your recipe so you’ll not end up with an overly sweet dish.

10. Homemade Marinara Sauce Substitute

Hands down, the best alternative to store-bought versions of this sauce is one you make at home.

Your own homemade marinara sauce will give you the flexibility to customize it to your liking. Plus, you can also be sure that the sauce will be fresh and free of preservatives.

Simply sautee chopped onions and minced garlic in olive oil. Then, toss in crushed tomatoes, fresh basil, and dried oregano.

Simmer and season with sugar, salt, and freshly ground black pepper.


Feel free to incorporate your favorite spices and herbs into the homemade sauce. Add red pepper flakes for a bit of heat if you’d like.

Try including a splash of lemon juice for an acidic touch. The whole point of making a DIY marinara sauce is to make it truly your own.

How To Pick The Best Substitute For Marinara Sauce

Here are some factors to consider when selecting a marinara sauce substitute:

Flavor Profile

Consider the flavor profile of marinara sauce. It’s typically tomato-based with garlic, onions, herbs (like basil and oregano), and sometimes a hint of sweetness. Choose a substitute that matches or complements these flavors.


Marinara sauce is relatively smooth with small tomato chunks. Ensure your substitute has a similar texture if that’s important for your recipe.

Dietary Preferences

If you have dietary preferences or restrictions (e.g., vegan, gluten-free, low-sodium), consider substitutes that align with your dietary needs.

What Makes Marinara Sauce Unique?

Unlike more intricate sauces, marinara is unique because it prioritizes the natural taste of tomatoes. With its tangy and delightful flavor, this classic Italian sauce is a good foundation for a bunch of dishes. After all, it is not heavily seasoned, which makes it extra versatile.

Is Marinara Sauce Different From Spaghetti Sauce?

Yes, marinara sauce is different from spaghetti sauce. Marinara is a simple tomato-based sauce with garlic, onions, and basic seasonings. Spaghetti sauce is a more complex sauce with more ingredients, including vegetables and meat. Despite these differences, you can use them interchangeably in most recipes.

Is Marinara Sauce Sweeter Than Tomato Sauce?

No, marinara sauce is not usually sweeter than tomato sauce. In fact, tomato sauce is sometimes sweeter. After all, some manufacturers add sugar to tomato sauce. Classic marinara sauce, on the other hand, is savory and tangy.


Marinara sauce is a classic tomato-based condiment with a versatile and comforting flavor that complements many dishes.

When looking for a substitute for marinara sauce, you may use canned tomatoes, tomato ketchup, tomato sauce, and tomato paste. Tomato juice, tomato soup, pizza sauce, or spaghetti sauce are also decent choices. If you want to avoid tomatoes, you may even use pesto or Alfredo sauce.

Whether you’re out of this delicious sauce or seeking a twist in your recipes, these alternatives will help you achieve the flavor you like in your dishes.

More Ingredient Substitutes

Jars with marinara sauce on the shelf at the grocery store.

Substitute For Marinara Sauce

Natalia-Flavorful Home
If you are looking for a substitute for marinara sauce, you’ve come to the right place. Here's a basic recipe for homemade marinara sauce. This classic tomato sauce is versatile and can be used in various pasta dishes, as a pizza sauce, or as a dipping sauce for breadsticks. You can customize it with additional herbs and spices to suit your taste.
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Prep Time 30 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Course condiment
Cuisine American


  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small Vidalia onion finely chopped
  • 3 small cloves of garlic minced
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes 28 ounces
  • 1 can diced tomatoes 14 ounces, optional for texture
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme


  • salt and pepper to taste
  • brown sugar to taste aprox. 1 tsp
  • balsamic vinegar to taste aprox. 2 tsp


  • Heat the Olive Oil: In a large saucepan or skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
  • Sauté Onions and Garlic: Add the finely chopped onion to the pan and sauté for about 3-4 minutes until it becomes translucent. Add the minced garlic and sauté for an additional 30 seconds to 1 minute until fragrant, being careful not to let it the garlic burn.
  • Add Tomatoes: Pour in the crushed tomatoes (and diced tomatoes if using) and stir well to combine with the onions and garlic.
  • Season: Add the dried basil, dried oregano, dried thyme, salt, and pepper to the sauce. Stir to incorporate the seasonings evenly.
  • Simmer: Reduce the heat to low and let the sauce simmer uncovered for about 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. This allows the sauce to thicken. If the sauce becomes too thick, you can add a little water to reach your desired consistency.
  • Adjust Seasonings: Add sugar and balsamic vinegar to balance the flavors, taste and adjust as needed.
  • Finish and Serve: If you have fresh basil leaves, tear or chop them and stir them into the sauce just before serving. This adds a burst of fresh flavor. Remove the saucepan from the heat.


Use the marinara sauce immediately in your favorite pasta dishes, as a pizza sauce, or for dipping.
If you’re not using it right away, let it cool and store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week or freeze it for longer storage.
Feel free to customize this basic marinara sauce recipe by adding other herbs like fresh parsley, or even a pinch of dried fennel seeds for a unique twist. Add a pinch of red pepper flakes to your preferred level of spiciness. 


Calories: 575kcalCarbohydrates: 76gProtein: 14gFat: 30gSaturated Fat: 4gPolyunsaturated Fat: 4gMonounsaturated Fat: 21gSodium: 1160mgPotassium: 2450mgFiber: 16gSugar: 45gVitamin A: 1412IUVitamin C: 95mgCalcium: 398mgIron: 12mg
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Natalia | Flavorful home
Natalia is a recipe developer, food photographer, and home cook. She started Flavorful Home to document her recipes and share home cooking tips. She loves creating flavorful and nutritious meals while keeping the cooking process simple and joyful!
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