Pizza Sauce VS Pasta Sauce: What Makes Them Different?

Amongst the many cuisines of the world, Italian is by far one of the most popular which is largely thanks to both pizza and pasta.

Although these are very different dishes – and there are lots of different variations of each – they often have one thing in common; tomatoes. 

The main ingredient for both (red) pasta sauce and pizza sauce is tomatoes, so that would make them both the same right?

Well, not exactly… as there are some pretty big differences between them both. 

What Is The Main Difference? 

What Is The Main Difference 

The biggest difference between pizza sauce and pasta sauce is the way in which the tomatoes are handled.

Typically, pizza sauce is made with uncooked tomatoes, as the sauce is cooked on the pizza alongside the toppings.

With pasta sauce, however, the tomatoes are cooked, and the sauce is simmered in a pan along with extra ingredients like garlic and herbs. 

You can make both pizza sauce and pasta sauce with canned tomatoes, as having access to fresh tomatoes all year round can sometimes be hard to come by as they tend to grow in warmer, sunnier conditions. 

There are, however, still differences between canned tomatoes – not all are created equal.

Typically, whole plum tomatoes are considered the highest quality of canned tomatoes, as pre-chopped, processed tomatoes are usually deemed lower quality.

It is worth noting, however, that they are all heated in the canning process which means they are slightly cooked. 

What Is Pizza Sauce? 

As mentioned earlier, pizza sauce is usually not cooked before it is spread over the pizza base so that the fresh flavor can be preserved.

The basis of every good pizza is usually a tangy and sweet tomato sauce on freshly-cooked dough, which is why many Italian pizzerias like to use as few toppings as usual.

The most common pizza topping is margarita as it’s very simple. 

Pizza sauce is typically made with a plain tomato sauce or pureed tomatoes and tomato paste which gives it a thick consistency.

The thick sauce prevents the dough from getting too soggy whilst the pizza cooks, otherwise, the base won’t have much texture to it.

It’s common to use a variety of spices in the sauce too such as oregano, garlic salt, onion powder, or Italian seasoning.

Some people even add sugar to the sauce to give it a tangier flavor that compliments the fats and oils in the cheeses used on the pizza. 

Once prepared, the sauce is then spread thinly across the top of the pizza and then cooked at the same time as the dough and the toppings.

If you cook the sauce first, it will end up being cooked twice. So, if you reduce the sauce beforehand you will end up losing the raw, tangy flavor which will give the pizza a more concentrated taste.

It can also make the sauce too thick – which will often make it brown or even burn on top of the pizza. 

If your pizza sauce seems a little thin, it can be thickened up with tomato puree, however, this is more common for American-style pizzas like Chicago or New York-style pizzas that need a thicker sauce.

New York-style pizza sauce is the only sauce that is sometimes cooked and reduced before it is baked with the pizzas, but this isn’t common for traditional Italian pizza sauces. 

What Is Pasta Sauce? 

Unlike pizza sauce, pasta sauce has to be cooked first. There are two main reasons for this, the first is that the sauce needs to be thickened so that it can stick to the pasta.

If the sauce is too watery, it will slide off the pasta, so you’ll need a nice thick (but not too thick) sauce to complement the pasta. 

The second reason is that cooking the sauce will add a depth of flavor to the dish. Unless baked, pasta and sauce are cooked separately, so you’ll have to cook them in separate pans.

With pasta dishes, the sauce is usually the star of the show – so you’ll want to make sure it’s top-notch. 

Pasta sauce is typically made using crushed tomatoes, which boosts the water content of the sauce. Because of this, it’s often thinner than pizza sauce.

Although you don’t want a watery sauce, you do want your sauce to be thin enough to cover each piece of pasta to give every bite a burst of flavor. 

Typically, pasta sauce will be made using basic seasonings such as salt, pepper, and dried oregano.

However, each sauce will be seasoned to complement the pasta and any additional ingredients added to the sauce.

Garlic, olive oil, and Italian herbs are other key ingredients, and quite often meat or vegetables will be added too. 

It’s not uncommon to find tomato chunks in your pasta sauce, as these add a little extra texture to the dish. Pizza sauce, however, will usually be pureed to reduce chunks to create a smooth sauce. 

What Are The Best Tomatoes To Use? 

What Are The Best Tomatoes To Use

As mentioned earlier, canned whole plum tomatoes are usually the best to use as they are deemed the best quality.

Plum tomatoes are kind of meaty in texture as they have a lower water content which gives them a tangy flavor that isn’t too sweet.

When using canned tomatoes it’s always better to opt for whole tomatoes as they haven’t been processed to become mushy, like chopped tomatoes. 

The holy grail of canned tomatoes is definitely San Marzano tomatoes. These tomatoes are grown in the fertile soil around Mount Vesuvius near Naples.

They’re also the tomatoes you’ll need to make Neapolitan pizza – according to the international regulations for Napoli Pizza. You can find San Marzano tomatoes in most Italian supermarkets or delis. 

Although San Marzano has the most amazingly fresh and sour taste, they can be a little on the pricier side. If you can’t get your hands on them, any good-quality Italian plum tomatoes will suffice. 

Pizza Sauce Recipe 

It can be pretty simple to make your own pizza sauce at home as you don’t need many ingredients or equipment to make it. 

Grab a can of whole plum tomatoes and pour them into a blender.

Next, hit the blender button about two or three short times – you only want to puree the tomatoes slightly as you want them to keep some of their texture.

Over blending will just create a watery liquid. Simply season the mixture with a pinch of sea salt and you’re good to go. 

If you don’t have a blender on hand you can use a masher or your hands to crush the tomatoes. Simply squeeze the tomatoes between your fingers until they’re broken up.

If you think your sauce is too watery, you can drain the paste and add a little bit of liquid until the consistency is right.

Remember, if your sauce is too watery your pizza crust will be too soggy.

You can also add garlic powder, onion powder, pepper, and sugar to your sauce if you want some extra dimension. Just make sure you mix them in so that they’re thoroughly incorporated into the sauce. 

You can either use pizza sauce instantly, or you can refrigerate or freeze it.

Pizza sauce can be refrigerated for up to five days in an airtight container and frozen for up to two months. Just remember to make sure it has thawed completely before you use it. 

How To Make Pizza Sauce Out Of Pasta Sauce 

If you don’t have any tinned tomatoes or tomato paste at hand, you may be able to use pasta sauce instead. 

Firstly, strain your pasta sauce to remove any excess liquid. Then add the pasta sauce to a blender until it has a smooth consistency. Add salt and any other seasoning you like for taste.

Pulse the sauce a few more times using the blender to make sure the seasoning is thoroughly combined. Strain out any excess liquid to make sure the sauce is thick enough for the pizza base. 

How To Make Pasta Sauce Out Of Pizza Sauce 

It’s pretty easy to make a simple pasta sauce out of any leftover pizza sauce you may have. 

Simply heat the pizza sauce in a saucepan and add garlic, leaving it to simmer on low heat. Add any other herbs and spices you want for taste.

Also, feel free to add some water to the sauce – pasta water is preferable – if you want to loosen the sauce slightly. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

What Is Marinara Sauce? 

Marinara sauce is a thick tomato sauce that can be used on pasta, sandwiches, or as a dip. It’s typically made by roasting garlic cloves in a smooth tomato sauce on a simmering heat.

It is most commonly served with penne pasta or spaghetti, but it is also a pretty common sauce used for meatball subs and cheesesteak sandwiches.

It is also used as a dip for mozzarella dippers and onion rings. 

Marinara sauce originated from Naples in the 19th century. It is thought to have come from a dish that was served to sailors – called “Marinaro” in Italian – when they returned from sea. 

What Can I Use Instead Of Pizza Sauce? 

Although pizza is traditionally made with a red tomato sauce, there are lots of experimental alternatives, such as:

  • Barbecue sauce
  • Pesto
  • Alfredo sauce
  • Buffalo wing sauce
  • Ricotta cheese
  • Ranch dressing 
  • Tapenade
  • Balsamic glaze 
  • Olive oil and garlic