Pizza is one of the most important foods on the planet. We may not all agree on whether or not pineapple is an acceptable topping, but there’s a widespread consensus among eaters that some combination of dough, cheese, and sauce is a recipe for success.
Sometimes your love of pizza may have you thinking about ditching delivery and making your own. Once you have the right kitchen implements to properly cook a pizza, it isn’t necessarily that challenging. But there’s one crucial thing to keep in mind before you start to load on the cheese and toppings onto your perfect pizza: pizza sauce and pasta sauces like marinara are not created equal.
There’s one primary difference between the two types of tomato-based sauces that’s directly related to the disparate preparation methods. Pasta sauce from a jar is cooked (usually slow-roasted), and pizza sauce is uncooked, with ingredients combining over a period of hours.
It seems odd, but starts to make sense once you think about it. To make a pizza, you’re layering a sauce between uncooked dough and unheated cheese to create the delicious finished product. Conversely, a pasta sauce like marinara is added to the finished product of a cooked pasta (unless you’re making lasagna, but that’s a different story).
Putting an already-cooked marinara sauce on your pizza before it goes into the oven would therefore be a bit redundant. And indeed, it does affect the quality of the finished product. By only cooking the sauce once, you’re left with a fresher, more palatable tomato flavor once your pie is out of a hot oven.
Conversely, given that a pizza cooks at pretty high temperatures (think 400ºF-500ºF or higher), dumping a pizza sauce onto your plate of boiled spaghetti is going to make things feel a bit underdone, as a normal pasta sauce is meant to have its flavors properly developed by the time of packaging.
Get the recipe: New York-Style Pizza Sauce
There are other differences that come into play as well. Tomato sauces meant for pasta are typically going to feature a higher water content. That’s because, while a pizza sauce has a higher concentration of tomato paste, a pasta sauce will often instead turn tomato paste into a “tomato puree” by combining it with water. A pizza sauce has a greater thickness to it thanks to the use of undiluted tomato paste.
Watch: How to Make Easy Party Pizza Sticks
Pizza sauce tends to be somewhat simpler in terms of ingredients. While both feature tomatoes in one form or another, a pizza sauce’s add-ins are often limited to things like garlic, oregano, basil, and olive oil. Those ingredients then blend together into the sauce that makes your pizza what it is. On the other hand, a slow-roasted pasta sauce has room for many other ingredients. Alongside those ingredients, a marinara can occasionally include add-ins like olives and onions. Broaden the definition of pasta sauce beyond marinara and you’ll find peppers, salt, sugar, and even meats in the sauce. When it comes to pizza, you’re going to want to layer on those sorts of ingredients independently of the sauce, trusting your toppings to do the work.
So if you’ve learned one thing today, it’s that you shouldn’t dump that jar of marinara on dough and expect a beautiful, delicious pizza to emerge from the oven. Pizza sauce and pasta sauces are different things for a reason, and not just because the food companies are trying to scam you into buying more sauce than you need. Armed with this crucial knowledge, I urge you to go forth and make a pizza the whole world can be proud of.