I’ve personally taste-tested a variety of marinara sauce substitutes to find the best one for every cooking occasion.
Whether you’re on the hunt for the closest flavor match, in need of a last-minute pantry substitute, or seeking an alternative tailored to your specific dietary requirements, rest assured that I’ve got you covered.
The best substitutes for marinara sauce are homemade marinara sauce and jarred spaghetti sauce. Ready-made pizza sauce also works in a pinch. If you’re craving a spicy kick, try making arrabbiata instead. And if you’re avoiding tomatoes, make a nomato sauce with butternut squash and beetroot.
Ready? Let’s jump right in.
I boiled lots (and lots) of pasta to put various marinara sauce substitutes to the test.
Marinara sauce is a classic Italian sauce made with tomatoes, herbs, and garlic. It’s simple, but it has a robust tomato flavor that goes well with plain carbs and proteins.
Here are the substitutes I tested and my verdicts:
|Homemade marinara sauce||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||10/10|
|Jarred spaghetti sauce||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||10/10|
|Ready-made pizza sauce||Replace in a 1:1 ratio, adjust seasonings to your preference||9/10|
|Arrabbiata sauce||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||9/10|
|Tomato gravy||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||9/10|
|Pomodoro sauce||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||8/10|
|Vodka sauce||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||8/10|
|Nomato sauce||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||7/10|
Common uses for marinara sauce and the best substitutes
Here are some common use cases for marinara sauce and the best substitutes for those situations:
- For pasta dishes: Try using homemade marinara sauce, jarred spaghetti sauce, or arrabbiata sauce. You can use ready-made pizza sauce, but you might want to add more seasoning.
- For proteins: Try using the homemade version, jarred spaghetti sauce, arrabbiata, or vodka cream sauce. For a more decadent meal, try tomato gravy.
- For soups and stews: Try using the homemade version or jarred spaghetti sauce.
- As a dipping sauce: Try using the homemade version, jarred spaghetti sauce, tomato gravy, or nomato sauce.
Homemade marinara sauce
Creating marinara sauce from scratch is incredibly simple, and you can find countless recipes online.
I explored five recipes that use different tomato products:
- Canned tomatoes – If you’re all about keeping it traditional, Sugar Spun Run’s recipe (video above) is the way to go. You only need half an hour to whip it up and you can use crushed or whole canned tomatoes. But I recommend avoiding diced tomatoes, because they have added calcium chloride that means they take longer to break down.
- Passata – If you want to stay true to marinara’s Italian origins, consider making your sauce with passata. This 100% tomato product has been strained, giving your sauce a bright and fresh flavor. Try this delicious passata-based recipe for a taste of Italy.
- Canned tomato soup – Did you know you can create a tasty marinara sauce using canned tomato soup? This recipe shows you how. It’s already seasoned, but you can always amp up the oregano and basil to make it taste more like marinara. It was initially a bit too sweet for me, but it’s nothing a splash of vinegar can’t fix.
- Fresh tomatoes– You can use fresh tomatoes to create marinara sauce! Remember to choose the ripest ones possible to achieve the perfect sweet-acidic balance. This recipe even skips the peeling process, providing extra fiber for your sauce.
- Tomato juice + ketchup + tomato paste – if you don’t have canned tomatoes, this recipe from Alyona’s Cooking is a quick and easy alternative. The tomato paste and ketchup are thickeners, while the tomato juice provides the base.
How to substitute: Replace marinara sauce in a 1:1 ratio with homemade marinara sauce.
Jarred spaghetti sauce
Jarred spaghetti sauce is a fantastic substitute for marinara sauce because of the similar base ingredients (tomatoes and herbs) and how convenient it is.
If you think your sauce is lacking flavor, it’s easy to add some extra garlic or even a splash of red wine to make it more special.
Plus, with so many different options available in the market, you can have fun experimenting to find your perfect match.
If you want something really hearty, go for a sauce with meat!
How to substitute: Replace marinara sauce in a 1:1 ratio with jarred spaghetti sauce.
Ready-made pizza sauce
Pizza sauce and marinara sauce are super similar, so it’s really easy to sub one for the other.
Marinara sauce is typically slowly simmered, while pizza sauce is a lot quicker to prepare and doesn’t use the same array of extra ingredients meaning it doesn’t have the same depth of flavor.
But I found adding a small amount of tomato paste can instantly add more body to a lacklustre pizza sauce.
Pizza sauce can also be a bit thicker than marinara sauce – so I thinned it out with a tablespoon of stock for my pasta.
How to substitute: Replace marinara sauce in a 1:1 ratio with pizza sauce, adjusting the seasonings to your preference.
Find marinara sauce a bit boring? Make arrabbiata sauce instead.
It’s made the same way as traditional marinara, but the red pepper flakes simmered in butter make all the difference.
They add heat (but not too much) and a pleasant toasty flavor that’ll instantly jazz up your plain old pasta.
It’s also delicious as a dipping sauce for mozzarella sticks!
How to substitute: Replace marinara sauce in a 1:1 ratio with arrabbiata sauce.
Tomato gravy is a tasty Southern alternative to your usual marinara sauce.
It’s still made with tomatoes, but what makes it stand out is the roux base, which gives it a luscious creamy texture you won’t get with regular marinara sauce.
Plus, adding bacon drippings brings a rich, meaty essence that’ll keep you coming back for more.
Pro tip: want to make your own bacon drippings? It’s super easy and they last ages in the fridge.
How to substitute: Replace marinara sauce in a 1:1 ratio with tomato gravy.
Pomodoro sauce is another Italian sauce you can try instead of marinara if you prefer a simpler alternative.
It has a chunky consistency and boasts a more tomato-centric flavor and uses lighter herbs like basil instead of oregano.
My go-to recipe is from Billy Parisi, which takes about 45 minutes to make.
But if you have an afternoon to spare, I recommend letting your Pomodoro sauce simmer for longer for a deeper, more robust flavor.
How to substitute: Replace marinara sauce in a 1:1 ratio with Pomodoro sauce.
I LOVE vodka sauce.
It’s got a creamy texture, but the vodka bring a subtle sharpness that balances out all the rich tomato flavors.
Serious Eats says you can make this sauce minis the vodka, but I don’t think it’s the same!
Psst… one of my favorite ways to eat vodka sauce is with toasted ravioli.
How to substitute: Replace marinara sauce in a 1:1 ratio with vodka sauce.
This is the perfect alternative if you want to avoid tomatoes altogether.
It uses pureed butternut squash, beets, celery, and carrots to achieve a vibrant red faux marinara sauce.
I was so surprised by how similar it looked and tasted to the real deal.
I know beetroot is a scary ingredient, but the sauce definitely doesn’t taste like beetroot. And they’re essential to give the sauce its color.
How to substitute: Replace marinara sauce in a 1:1 ratio with you nomato sauce.
Other substitutes to consider
The suggestions above are my top picks for marinara sauce substitutes, but here are other options you can go with if you feel like switching things up or if you prefer to skip the tomatoes:
- Jarred salsa – this isn’t an exact substitute for marinara sauce, but it’s still made with tomatoes. It’ll bring a bright, Mexican twist to your dish, but you might want to puree it first.
- Romesco sauce – this is made of roasted tomatoes and red peppers for a rich, smoky flavor. If you’re not fond of tomatoes, you can skip them and use pure bell peppers, like with Minimalist Baker’s recipe.
- Pesto – this Italian paste is made with fresh basil and olive oil as the base, resulting in a bright green sauce that’ll bring a zestier flavor than marinara. Or you can go with sun-dried tomato pesto.
- Alfredo sauce – this is a cream-based sauce made with butter, cheese, and heavy whipping cream. It’s the perfect option if you’re craving something more decadent.
Avoid using ketchup
Ketchup alone is a terrible a substitute for marinara sauce!
Especially in pizzas and pasta dishes.
It’s super sweet and has no real depth. I think it’s a crime to use ketchup as a pasta sauce
It’s okay as a dipping sauce, but I think it’s disappointing if you were expecting marinara sauce.
16 Best Marinara Sauce Substitutes + A Homemade Version
- 28 oz crushed tomatoes
- 1 cup finely chopped yellow onion
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tbsp minced garlic
- 2 tbsp finely shredded basil
- 2 tsp sugar
- ¾ tsp dried oregano
- ¾ tsp ground sea salt
- ¼ tsp finely cracked black pepper
- ¼ tsp red pepper flakes
- In a large sauce pan, heat olive oil until shimmering. Add the onions and cook until soft and translucent. This should take you about 3 minutes.
- Add garlic and cook until fragrant. Add in the crushed tomatoes, basil, sugar, dried oregano, sea salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Mix until everything is well-combined. Reduce the heat to low and let the sauce simmer for 15-20 minutes.
- Serve immediately.