What is Marinara Sauce?

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  • Written By: A. B. Kelsey
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 06 March 2020
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Marinara sauce is a popular, robust Italian sauce made with tomatoes, onions, and herbs. This red sauce tends to be a bit spicier than other standard tomato sauces, with large amounts of garlic, oregano, basil, and even chili pepper. One reason for its popularity is that it is generally quick and easy to prepare. The sauce's simplicity also makes it a common, versatile base for many Italian dishes.

Although marinara has traditionally been used to naturally highlight the mild taste of pasta such as linguini or ziti, it is also a popular dipping sauce for finger foods like fried mozzarella cheese sticks and calzones. It can also be used to add a little zest to meat dishes such as chicken, veal parmigiano, pork steaks, and grilled seafood. Cooks can even spice up a burger or a chicken filet sandwich by using marinara in place of the more traditional mustard or mayonnaise.

Marinara sauce originated with sailors in Naples in the 16th century, after the Spaniards introduced the tomato to their neighboring countries. The word marinara is derived from marinaro, which is Italian for "seafaring." Many people mistakenly believe this sauce includes some type of fish or seafood because of the origins of the name. Loosely translated, however, it means "the sauce of the sailors."


One theory for the origin of the name is that it was a meatless sauce used extensively on sailing ships before modern refrigeration techniques were invented. The lack of meat and the sheer simplicity of making this sauce were particularly appealing to the cooks on board sailing ships, because the high acid content of the tomatoes and the absence of any type of meat fat resulted in a sauce that would not easily spoil.

Another theory on the origins of the sauce is that it was what sailors' wives made. The simple recipe made it easy to cook quickly once the ships were spotted offshore. That way, a sailor's wife could have a hot meal ready as soon as her husband returned home.

Even though the sauce has a reputation for being easy to make at home, there are currently several hundred different types offered on the market. Perhaps the increased popularity of marinara is due to recent research that revealed that cooked tomatoes are rich with lycopene. This is an antioxidant that may help reduce the risk of certain types of cancer.


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Post 13

The story of "sailor's wives" making "marinara" sauce is a myth. No such tomato-based sauce with that name exists in Italy. "Marinara" always refers to a seafood dish in Italy. "Sugo di pomodoro" would be the Italian name for any tomato-based sauce, although most have their own moniker depending on the ingredients (e.g., amatriciana, bolognese/ragu, etc.). It really is annoying that "marinara" is used for tomato sauce in America. Very misleading.

Post 12

Can I use marinara sauce for spaghetti? Is it or isn't it different from spaghetti sauce? What is the best generic and non-generic sauce (under $12) for spaghetti?

Post 11

to anon54341: Pizza marinara has nothing to do with salsa marinara. The 'salsa marinara' name is an american invention. The pasta with simple tomato sauce in Naples is called "spaghetti ca' pummarola" (spaghetti col pomodoro in italian) that translates in spaghetti with tomato. So, the point is the recipe is Italian but the name is not (is Italian-American.)

Post 10

So, after reading all of these comments, can you use marinara sauce when making a lasagna? I have tried every lasagna recipe that I find and have yet to love what I make. I think the secret is in the sauce.

Post 8

Marinara is a seafood sauce in Italy. The Marinara sauce as it is known in America more closely resembles the Napolitana sauce in Italy.

Post 7

Why is maranara sauce more expensive than spaghetti sauce? I buy Aunt Angie's Spaghetti sauce for around $4.50 a jar [26oz] It's thick and they even have a spicy sauce. It must just be in Missouri according to the label where it's made. I haven't tasted sauce this good since I was a kid in the old neighborhood.

Post 5

Marinara sauce is an American-Italian term for a simple tomato sauce with herbs—mostly parsley and basil—but, contrary to its name (which is Italian for coastal, seafaring) without anchovies, fish or seafood. In other countries marinara refers to a seafood and tomato sauce.

Post 4

Marinara isn't Italian, anon? Really? You may want to let the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana know that one of their three pizzas is not Italian, then. I'm sure they'd be glad to know.

Post 3

There is evidence that the original recipies were cooked to use up the last of the seafood catch before it spoiled and that the name Marinara means "of the sea" or loosely translated 'Sauce of the sea.'

Post 2

Hi. I'm from an Italian background and I have been making my own Italian sauce since I was a teenager. Growing up we never even heard of marinara sauce.

It is not a true Italian sauce. It is something that the restaurant industry has come up with to cut corners and keep it simple. Every restaurant serves the same sauce and I am sick of the same old crap every time I go to a so-called Italian restaurant. It's a shame that these restaurants just follow suit instead of coming up with their own Italian spaghetti sauce.

Please stop passing marinara sauce off as

real spaghetti sauce because it is an insult to those of us who are Italian and take pride in our sauces. Sincerely, Angry Food Critic.

Post 1

I prefer to make my marinara sauce myself. I have found that using stewed, canned tomatoes, instead of fresh is easier and better. It is good to make the sauce in advance, and freeze some of it for future use. I add just a dash of sugar to take away the acidity, but I like sweeter food in general. Marinara is an excellent, quick and inexpensive accompaniment to a variety of pastas, and polenta for those who like it.

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