Pizza Sauce Vs Pasta Sauce: What Makes Them Different?

Pizza and pasta. Two of the worlds most popular food. The thing is, the sauce used to make these heavenly dishes are pretty similar. They’re both red and the main ingredient in both of them is tomato. So, they’re the same, right? Well, maybe not.

Pizza sauce vs pasta sauce. The difference between pizza sauce and pasta sauce is that pizza sauce is made with uncooked tomatoes, whereas pasta sauce is cooked. Pasta sauce is simmered with extra ingredients such as garlic and herbs. Pizza sauce is cooked on the pizza with the toppings.

Both pizza sauce and pasta sauce are usually made from canned tomatoes. This is because having quality fresh tomatoes available to you year round is hard to come by. They need a lot of sunshine after all. And simmering your own tomatoes is just an unnecessary step seen by most when canned taste so good.

You might think all canned tomatoes are made equal, but that’s not the case. Whole plum tomatoes are the highest quality – the pre-chopped and processed tomatoes are usually the less quality ones that can’t be sold as whole. They are all heated in the canning process, so are essentially cooked slightly.

Pizza Sauce

Pizza sauce is usually not cooked first so that the fresh flavor is preserved. The tangy, sweetness of tomato sauce on freshly cooked dough is the basis of a good pizza. That is why many Italian pizzas focus on minimal quality ingredients – like the margherita , the marinara and other sparsely topped pizza.

The sauce is cooked in the oven when it is on top of the pizza. Cooking the sauce first means it would essentially be cooked twice. If you were to reduce the sauce first then you lose this raw tangy flavor and get a more concentrated taste. It might end up too thick, or even brown and burn on top.

Some pizza sauce might seem a bit thin, so it is thickened with some tomato puree – this is more common in American style pizzas which need a thicker sauce like New York or Chicago style pizza. New York style pizza sauce is the only type that is sometimes cooked and reduced in recipes before baking. But this isn’t common in Italian pizza.

Pasta Sauce

Pasta sauce needs to be cooked first for two reasons. Firstly, it needs to be thickened so that the sauce can cling to the pasta. If it’s too watery then the sauce will slide off to easily. You want a nice thick sauce that can be eaten in unison with the pasta.

Secondly, it needs some cooking to add some depth to the dish, and to take the raw edge off. Unless it’s baked, the pasta and the sauce are not usually cooked together. So it at least needs to be heated in a pan before mixing with pasta.

I would say pasta is more bland than freshly cooked pizza dough – the sauce needs to be the star of the dish. That is why the sauce is usually simmered for a long time, with garlic, olive oil, herbs and anything extra like meat or vegetables. Follow a recipe like this one for a great marinara pasta sauce.

Best Tomatoes To Use

As I mentioned before, whole plum tomatoes in a can are the best. Plum tomatoes are meaty, with less liquid, and have a tangy, interesting taste that is not too sweet. Whole tomatoes are the best quality as they haven’t been processed to become more mushy. And there is no chance of receiving the scraps which probably end up in the chopped or ground variety.

San Marzano tomatoes are the holy grail of canned tomatoes. Grown on the fertile soil around Mount Vesuvius near Naples. These tomatoes have the perfect mix of sunshine and soil. They are the necessary tomatoes to make a Neapolitan pizza from the official AVPN rules (the international regulations for Napoli Pizza). You can find them in Italian supermarkets and delis.

Over hyped? Probably. They do taste fantastic, with an amazing fresh, almost sour taste. But they are very expensive from their famous nature. Any good quality plum tomatoes from Italy will do just fine if you can’t get your hands on them.

San Marzano tomatoes. Characteristic of their long shape.

How To Make Basic Pizza Sauce

This sauce works great for home oven pizza and wood fired pizza, and couldn’t be easier. Take a can of whole plum tomatoes and place in a blender. Hit the blend button maybe 2-3 short times to puree the tomatoes but keep some texture. If you blend it too much then it looses all texture and just becomes watery tomato liquid. Season with a large pinch of sea salt.

If you don’t have a blender then you can use a food mill or your hands. Just squeeze the tomatoes between your fingers until broken up. You can drain the tomatoes after if you think it is too watery, and then add some liquid back in until it is just right. You don’t want to put a sauce on pizza that is too watery – this can make a soggy crust.

How To Make New York Style Pizza Sauce

This sauce is thicker, sweeter and more like what a New York pizzeria would use. It suits pizza with more big flavor toppings like pepperoni, sausage and lots of grated mozzarella.

Blend your tomatoes like above until liquid but still with texture. In a saucepan, saute minced garlic, oregano and red pepper flakes in olive oil for 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, some tomato puree, a large pinch of salt and sugar, mix together and remove from the heat.

I prefer to not cook this sauce to keep its fresh tomato flavor and avoid double cooking it. But some recipes will simmer this for 20-30 minutes until reduced.

Other Sauce Tips

You can store the sauce for 5 days in the refrigerator in an air tight container. As with most sauces, it tastes better after a day or so for the flavors to merge together.

You can use up your pizza sauce by making it into a pasta sauce. Use it as the basis for a marinara sauce like this one.

I always have left over sauce. You don’t actually need that much sauce to make pizza. So I wrote this article on 22 ways to use up your pizza sauce, which has recipes for all ideas too.


There you have the differences between pizza and pasta sauce. I pretty much always use a basic tomato sauce, just blended with some salt. It is so easy and tastes great if you have good tomatoes. Then I add any extras like garlic, olive oil and oregano on top of the pizza when its baked. Getting the consistency of the sauce is key too – I find just a few taps of the blender is perfect.

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