When it comes to Italian cuisine, one of the most beloved and versatile ingredients is spaghetti sauce. This rich and flavorful sauce is a staple in many dishes, from classic spaghetti and meatballs to lasagna and pizza.

But did you know that spaghetti sauce goes by many other names? In this article, we will explore the various names for spaghetti sauce and discover the regional differences in its preparation.

The Many Names of Spaghetti Sauce

Spaghetti sauce, also known as marinara sauce or tomato sauce, is a savory blend of tomatoes, onions, garlic, herbs, and spices. It forms the base of many Italian dishes and adds a burst of flavor to any recipe. While it is commonly referred to as spaghetti sauce in English-speaking countries, different regions have their own unique names for this versatile condiment.

Marinara Sauce

In Italy, the term “marinara” refers to a simple tomato-based sauce that originated in Naples. This classic sauce is made with crushed tomatoes, garlic, onions, olive oil, and herbs such as basil and oregano.

It gets its name from the Italian word “marinaro,” meaning “sailor,” as it was traditionally prepared by sailors using readily available ingredients while at sea. Marinara sauce is often used as a base for pasta dishes or as a dipping sauce for crusty bread.


Ragu is another popular name for spaghetti sauce in Italy. Unlike marinara sauce which is made with fresh tomatoes, ragu is a meat-based sauce that typically includes ground beef or pork simmered with tomatoes and aromatic vegetables.

The slow cooking process allows the flavors to meld together, resulting in a rich and hearty sauce. Ragu is commonly used in pasta dishes like Bolognese or served over polenta.


In some regions of Italy, spaghetti sauce is referred to as sugo. Sugo is a general term that encompasses various types of tomato-based sauces, including both meat and vegetarian options.

It can be made with different combinations of vegetables, herbs, and spices, depending on the regional preferences. Sugo is often simmered for a long time to develop a deep and complex flavor.

Regional Variations

Just as there are different names for spaghetti sauce, there are also regional variations in its preparation. Each region in Italy has its own unique twist on this beloved sauce, making it a truly diverse culinary experience.

Northern Italy

  • In Northern Italy, the emphasis is on simplicity and freshness. Spaghetti sauce is typically made with ripe tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, and fresh herbs like basil or thyme. It is often served with pasta such as tagliatelle or pappardelle.
  • A popular variation in Northern Italy is the addition of butter in the sauce to create a creamy texture.

Southern Italy

  • In Southern Italy, spaghetti sauce tends to be spicier and more robust in flavor. It often includes ingredients like anchovies, capers, olives, and chili peppers for an extra kick.
  • Southern Italians also prefer their sauce cooked for a longer period to enhance the depth of flavors.

Central Italy

  • In Central Italy, spaghetti sauce is known for its simplicity and balance of flavors. It typically includes tomatoes, garlic, onions, olive oil, and herbs like rosemary or sage.
  • Central Italians often serve their sauce with pasta shapes that are able to hold the sauce, such as penne or rigatoni.

Regardless of its name or regional variation, spaghetti sauce is a beloved ingredient in Italian cuisine. Whether you prefer a simple marinara, a meaty ragu, or a flavorful sugo, this versatile sauce adds depth and richness to any dish. So the next time you’re cooking up a batch of spaghetti, remember that there’s more than one name for that delicious sauce!