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Best Substitute for Marinara Sauce (15 Expert Picks)

Marinara sauce is a must-use sauce for an Italian night. The sauce-heavy dishes and different meat sauce recipes need this delicious sauce. But what if you don’t have it on hand? Well, I’ve got you covered with several of the best substitutes for marinara sauce.

You can substitute marinara sauce with tomato puree, tomato juice, pizza sauce, and pureed tomatoes. But this isn’t all you can swap marinara sauce for, so let’s jump into every single one that you can use instead!

A pot of tasty marinara sauce.

🤷 What is Marinara Sauce?

Marinara Sauce is a classic Italian sauce commonly used in pasta dishes. It’s a tomato-based sauce typically made with tomatoes, garlic, onions, and herbs such as basil, oregano, and parsley. The sauce has a smooth and thick consistency that’s perfect for pasta dishes, dips, casseroles, or even meat sauce recipes, just by adding meat.

🆚 Pizza vs Marinara Sauce

Pizza sauce and marinara sauce, both tomato-based, differ in ingredients, consistency, and usage. Pizza sauce is a simple sauce comprising of pureed tomatoes, salt, and herbs like oregano and garlic, with a thicker texture for pizza. Marinara sauce is more complex, including onions, garlic, olive oil, and various herbs and a smoother and thinner consistency that’s perfect for various Italian dishes.

🧑‍🍳 How to Make Marinara Sauce

To make marinara sauce, start by sautéing finely chopped onions and garlic in olive oil until softened. Add crushed tomatoes, salt, pepper, and a blend of herbs like basil, oregano, and parsley. Simmer the mixture over low heat, stirring occasionally, allowing the flavors to meld and the sauce to thicken. After, adjust the seasoning to how you like it. You can also use the best ways to thicken pasta sauce for the perfect consistency.

📌 Difference Between Marinara Sauce and Other Types of Tomato Sauces

Tomato Paste vs. Fresh Tomatoes – Marinara sauce is often made by cooking fresh tomatoes until they become a thick sauce. Other tomato sauces use tomato paste, a concentrated form of tomatoes.

Simmering Time – Marinara sauce is typically simmered for a shorter period than other tomato sauces, giving it a fresher and brighter flavor. Tomato sauces like spaghetti or pizza sauce are often simmered for hours, resulting in a deeper and richer flavor.

Consistency – Marinara sauce is generally thinner and smoother than other tomato sauces. Other tomato sauces, like spaghetti sauce or pizza sauce, are thicker and chunkier.

Marinara sauce in a bowl next to garlic bread.

Best Substitute for Marinara Sauce

Homemade Marinara Sauce

Let’s start the list with a DIY version for those seeking an easy-to-make and tasty homemade marinara sauce. Preparing your own sauce is a straightforward process that requires only a few ingredients and a short time to make it. Here’s how to do it:


  • 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • 1 tsp. of salt
  • 1 tsp. of dried oregano
  • 1 tsp. of dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp. of sugar


  1. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Add the minced garlic and sauté for about 1 minute or until fragrant.
  3. Add the crushed tomatoes, salt, oregano, basil, and sugar to the saucepan.
  4. Stir everything together and bring the sauce to a simmer.
  5. Reduce the heat to low and let the sauce simmer for about 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning as needed.

Fresh Tomatoes

Just using fresh tomatoes can be a healthy and flavorful alternative to marinara sauce. With their juicy and tangy taste, tomatoes can be used as a base for homemade tomato sauces, sugar-free salad dressings, soups, and stews. Their versatility also allows them to be used in various dishes, from bruschetta to salsa. They can also be seasoned with herbs and spices to further level up their flavor.

A closeup of 3 fresh red tomatoes on a wooden table.

Pizza Sauce

Pizza sauce can be a tasty and convenient swap for marinara sauce. It has a delicious, rich, and tangy flavor with a smooth consistency that even pairs well with baked ziti or meatballs. While it may not be ideal for dishes that require a chunky texture, like salsa or bruschetta, pizza sauce can provide a fantastic twist to traditional recipes. You can even use different pizza sauce substitutes for varying flavors and pairings for your dishes.

Tomato Juice

Tomato juice offers a thinner consistency that’s ideal for soups, stews, and specific pasta dishes. This juice provides a rich tomato taste without the added thickness of the marinara sauce. This reduced thickness may not be your best shot if you want a similar consistency, but does have the same taste. You can even use some ways to thicken sauce to reach a similar texture as marinara sauce. The sauce’s simplicity of use and easy to find is why it’ll make a suitable marinara sauce swap.

A jar of homemade tomato juice.

Tomato Ketchup

Ketchup and tomato sauce aren’t exactly the same, but ketchup can still be a quick and easy alternative to use. Its thick and sweet consistency can add a rich flavor and consistency to many similar dishes. It’s not the most conventional choice, but since most kitchens have it, you can throw in other ingredients to make it more similar to marinara sauce. 

Tomato Paste

Tomato paste is an especially common ingredient found in most modern kitchen pantries. It provides a concentrated and intense tomato flavor that’s similar to marinara sauce. Although it may not replace marinara sauce directly, it can be an excellent alternative for adding a rich, thick tomato taste to your dishes. Throw in some other spices and herbs, and you have a near-perfect marinara swap.

A long bowl of tomato paste.

Tomato Salsa

Tomato salsa offers a vibrant and zesty twist when used in pasta dishes. Its chunky texture and bold seasoning add a rich depth of flavor to pasta. While salsa may vary in heat levels and ingredients, its tomato base provides a very comparable tanginess to marinara sauce, creating an exciting variation for those looking to spice up their pasta dishes.

Pureed Tomatoes

Pureed tomatoes have a nearly identical texture and consistency to marinara sauce. Just throw in some other ingredients, and you’ve got the perfect marinara swap. Its concentrated tomato flavor and minimal additives are a convenient swap with tons of customizability.

An opened jar of pureed tomatoes.

Tomato Soup

Tomato soup has a creamy and smooth texture that can add a rich and savory taste to dishes like casseroles, meatloaf, and pasta bakes. While it may not be ideal for recipes that need a chunky texture, like pasta sauce and spaghetti sauce, this soup can still provide the tomato flavor you’re looking for.

Tomato Passata

Tomato passata is an ideal substitute for marinara sauce mainly because of its pureed consistency, offering a smooth texture similar to marinara. With its concentrated tomato flavor and minimal seasoning, its simplicity and purity make it a convenient and authentic choice for recipes calling for marinara sauce.

A tasty bowl of smoother tomato passata.

Carrot Sauce

Carrot sauce can be an interesting alternative to use. Yes, while it doesn’t have the tomato flavor you’re looking for, its sweet and earthy flavor is the perfect veggie twist for pasta, risotto, and roasted vegetables. It’s a light and healthful option that lacks the tomatoey flavor but makes up for it with a boatload of flavor. It can be an awkward swap for most, but you can add other herbs and spices to bring its flavor closer to that of marinara sauce.

Canned Tomatoes

Canned tomatoes are the most convenient and cost-effective alternative to marinara sauce. The rich and tangy flavor can be doused with additional seasonings, spices, and herbs to bring it even closer to marinara sauce. They’re also long-lasting and available in most, if not all, retailers and stores. A perfect, flavorful swap for your pasta dishes. Even some chili sauce substitutes use them in their recipes.

An unopened can of tomatoes with a bowl of canned tomatoes in it.

Spaghetti Sauce

Spaghetti sauce can be a perfect swap for marinara sauce thanks to its similar tomato base. Both sauces contain similar herbs and spices, with spaghetti sauce have a thicker consistency that provides a heartier and richer texture to dishes. With both sauces sharing common ingredients and flavors, this sauce provides a convenient swap without compromising taste or texture.


Pesto is a viable alternative to use. It’s made from fresh basil, pine nuts, garlic, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil. This gives it a flavor that, while it doesn’t resemble a tomato flavor, still gives a nice taste. It can be used as a dip, spread, pizza topping, and even as a low histamine sauce. When choosing a pesto, look for high-quality ingredients, consider the texture, and pay attention to the flavor profile.

A jar of wrapped garlic pesto on a wooden table.

Alfredo Sauce

Alfredo sauce is a velvety, creamy pasta sauce that comes from Italy. Its rich base, often made with butter, heavy cream, and grated Parmesan cheese, gives it a luscious, indulgent texture. While it may not be ideal for dishes that require a tomato-based flavor, it can still provide an equally delicious taste to traditional recipes. If you want a similar taste to alfredo sauce but can’t find any, you can try using some alfredo sauce substitutes.

🧐 FAQs

How long does marinara sauce last in the fridge?

Marinara sauce can last up to 5-7 days in the fridge if stored properly in an airtight container. It’s important to make sure the sauce is cooled down completely before storing it in the fridge.

What is a good substitute for marinara sauce when making lasagna?

One option is to use a bechamel sauce, which is a white sauce made with butter, flour, and milk. Another option is to use a meat sauce, such as Bolognese. You can even also try using a pesto sauce or a cream sauce.

What sauces are comparable to marinara for use with cheese sticks?

One popular option is to use a ranch dressing or dip. Another option is to use a garlic butter sauce. You can also try using a honey mustard sauce or a spicy mayo.

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