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marinara sauce substitutes

What Can I Use as a Substitute for Marinara Sauce? 5 Best Tips

The answer to the question what can I use as a substitute for marinara sauce is quite diverse.

You can use a number of things if you discover that you don’t have marinara sauce:

  • tomato sauce
  • tomato paste
  • canned tomatoes
  • fresh tomatoes

You can even use sun-dried tomatoes.

The question is: can you use any of these substitutes just like that or is there anything more you have to add to make sure that your recipe turns out as delicious as it should? We’ll see about that when we talk about the recipe for marinara sauce.

The alternative to using marinara sauce to make pasta is that you can make Bolognese or ragu, especially if you love pasta with meat.

If you don’t want anything that involves tomatoes, there are a few substitutes for marinara sauce. You can make aglio e olio, carbonara or cacio e pepe pasta. Or use pesto.

What Is Marinara Sauce?

If you know exactly what marinara sauce is, the answer to the question what can I use as a substitute for marinara sauce will become more obvious.

Marinara sauce is mainly used for making pasta. You can use it just like that or, for example, use it as a sauce for spaghetti with seafood or for spaghetti with meatballs.

The ingredients for marinara sauce are:

  • olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 bottle passata
  • oregano
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • sugar
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste (optional)


Grab a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan.

On medium to low heat, add the olive oil and, if you have 2 tablespoon of tomato paste, add it to the olive oil and stir and cook these two together for about 1-2 minutes.

Add the passata and the onion and garlic gloves whole. Add the bay leaves and the oregano. Turn the fire to medium heat.

Put a lid on the pan.

Simmer for about 45 minutes. Stir occasionally. Add sugar, salt, and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Once the oil has separated from the sauce, you know that it’s done. Remove the onion and garlic and you’re done.

Passata is the ingredient we must substitute in a classic marinara sauce recipe

Thus, the thing that you’re really trying to replace is passata because onions and garlic cloves are pretty easy to come by.

Passata is thinner and less intense than tomato paste. Tomato paste has a more intense flavor and is more sour.

There are not many flavorings in marinara sauce, besides some onion, garlic, bay leaf, and dried oregano.

The main ingredient, passata, is just pureed tomato with a very nice consistency that doesn’t need more than a few minutes of cooking for turning into marinara.

On the other hand, tomato sauce is pureed tomato with more flavorings added, like onions, carrots, celery, bay leaf and it’s left to simmer until thickened and rich in flavor.

Nevertheless, passata can be easily replaced with fresh/canned tomatoes or tomato sauce or tomato paste since all these have the same flavor profile.

What Can I Use as a Substitute for Marinara Sauce?

Now that we know which ingredients go into making marinara, let’s see how we can you use tomato sauce, tomato paste, canned tomatoes or fresh tomatoes as substitutes for marinara sauce.

It’s simple: heat the oil, add the chopped onion and minced garlic, fry them, and then add whatever types of tomatoes you have in the house together with some pepper, salt, and sugar.

If you don’t have bay leaves or oregano, skip them.

Or just add the tomatoes as they are, tomato sauce, tomato paste, fresh tomatoes, canned tomatoes, to a heated olive oil and season them with salt, sugar, pepper, bay leaves, oregano. Then add fresh basil leaves and maybe parmesan cheese once the pasta is done and it will taste absolutely delicious.

1. Tomato sauce: easy-to-use substitute for marinara sauce

Tomato sauce can be used just like that because it already has many flavorings. You don’t need to add anything to it.

If you buy tomato sauce, you can just use it like that from the box or from the can.

I would say that tomato sauce is the easiest-to-use substitute for marinara sauce if you get the one one that is flavored with Italian herbs.

Or you buy a tomato sauce that is flavored with added ingredients like onions, carrots, celery, bay leaf and it’s left to simmer until thickened and rich in flavor.

2. Canned tomatoes

You can blend the canned tomatoes into a blender or add them to the pan just like that and mince them roughly with a wooden spatula. The same goes for fresh tomatoes.

You’ll just have to cook these 2 substitutes for a bit longer than 2-3 minutes but even 5-10 minutes can be enough, especially if you want to retain that fresh tomato flavor.

3. Fresh tomatoes

Make a small cut in each fresh tomato.

Add them into a pot with water and boil them until you can peel them with ease.

Add them to the olive oil and garlic and onion and cook them for 10 minutes or so until they soften.

If you want to speed up the cooking process, you can cut the peeled fresh tomatoes roughly before adding them to the pan.

4. Tomato paste

If you’re using tomato paste instead of marinara sauce, you’ll have to add water until it becomes more liquid and then boil it for a bit until the water and the paste are all blended in and they take the consistency of passata.

5. My favorite substitute for marinara sauce

My go-to recipe for pasta requires just:

Fresh basil leaves, chili flakes, parmesan cheese, and a few splashes of olive oil are added at the end, after I remove the pasta from the pan.

When I think about what I can use as a substitute for marinara sauce this is what I come up with.

I also freeze tomatoes for the winter and use frozen tomatoes to replace the fresh ones in this recipe. I do the same for bell peppers.

Best Marinara Sauce in a Jar

You can also buy your marinara sauce and skip the making of it, although it’s quite easy to make it.

But if you don’t have the patience, buy a bunch of jars and keep them in your pantry or a cupboard. They’ll keep for a pretty long time.

1. Rao’s Homemade Marinara Sauce

Since people describe Rao’s Homemade Marinara Sauce as being absolutely marvelous, I decided to recommend it first. It is at the top, indeed.

The ingredients are wonderful: Italian whole peeled tomatoes, olive oil, onions, salt, garlic, basil, black pepper, and oregano.

There’s no added sugar.

This is indeed an authentic marinara sauce, the perfect jar to try and have in your house.

2. Cucina Antica Garlic Marinara

I absolutely recommend this one as one of the best marinara sauces in a jar because it’s just as one review said: it manages to have a good balance between fresh tomato flavor and sweet taste.

It works well poured over hot pasta directly from the jar or you can use it as a base for other recipes. It’s great as a pizza sauce, too.

It is made with imported Southern Italian tomatoes. It also contains no artificial preservatives, no added sugar, no added water, no paste.

The other 2 flavors you can try are spicy arrabbiata and tomato basil. Those 2 sound just as good.

3. Prego Pasta Sauce

It doesn’t say marinara sauce on the jar but it’s an awesome pasta sauce with roasted garlic and herbs.

Just by reading the description: made with vine-ripened tomatoes that are blended with roasted garlic and herbs for a savory taste, it’s enough to make my mouth water and crave a bowl of spaghetti.

You can pour it over pasta or use it as a base for other recipes.

My only complaint is that they claim that 24 ounces is enough for a dinner for five. I don’t know which family they used for measuring this but, from my experience, that’s only enough for 4 when it comes to my family.

If it’s too sour for your taste, you can always add a bit of sugar. Even brown sugar works perfectly, if you aren’t comfortable with adding sugar to your dishes.

Another Marinara Sauce Recipe

You don’t have to wonder what can I use as a substitute for marinara sauce if you know how to make it.

You can make a bunch when tomatoes are in season and they have a decent price and then preserve it in jars. If canned food is not your thing, store it in the freezer in bags or containers.

For 4 portions, you’ll need the following ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 1/2 cups (600ml) passata
  • 1 tablespoon tomato puree (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • bay leaf
  • sugar, salt, pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil on medium to low heat, add the chopped onion and minced garlic and fry for about 6 minutes or until the onion has softened.

Add the passata, tomato puree, oregano, bay leaf, sugar, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil then simmer for 2-3 minutes.

And that’s it, it’s that easy to make your own marinara sauce.

The main thing to take away from this article answering the question what can I use as a substitute for marinara sauce is that there are many options to experiment with or you can choose to buy a good jar of marinara sauce.