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This article is about the sauces often used with pasta or pizza. In some countries, "tomato sauce" means ketchup.


A tomato sauce is any of a very large number of sauces made primarily out of tomatoes, usually to be served as part of a dish (rather than as a condiment). Tomato sauces are common for meat and vegetables, but they are perhaps best known as sauces for pasta dishes.

Tomatoes have a rich flavour, low liquid content, very soft flesh which breaks down easily, and the right composition to thicken up into a sauce when they are cooked (without the need of thickeners like roux). All of these qualities make them ideal for simple and appealing sauces. The simplest tomato sauces consist just of chopped tomato flesh (with the skins and seeds optionally removed), cooked in a little olive oil and simmered until it loses its raw flavour, and seasoned with salt.

Water (or another, more flavourful liquid such as stock or wine) is often added to keep it from drying out too much. Onion and garlic are almost always sweated or sautéed at the beginning before the tomato is added. Other seasonings typically include basil, oregano, parsley, and possibly some spicy red pepper or black pepper. Ground or chopped meat is also common.

In countries such as Australia and New Zealand the term 'tomato sauce' is used to describe the condiment known as 'ketchup'.

Sauce tomate

The sauce tomate of classical French cooking, as codified by Auguste Escoffier, consists of butter, salt belly of pork, flour,onions, bay leaves, thyme, tomato purée or fresh tomatoes,roux, garlic, salt, sugar, and pepper.

Italian tomato sauces

The misconception that the tomato has been central to Italian cuisine since its introduction from the Americas is often repeated. Though the tomato was introduced from the Spanish New World to European botanists in the 16th century, tomato sauce made a surprisingly late entry in Italian cuisine: in Antonio Latini's cookbook Lo scalco alla moderna (Naples, 1692). Latini, not unsurprisingly, was chef to the Spanish viceroy of Naples, and one of his tomato recipes is for sauce alla spagnuola, "in the Spanish style".

Outside of Italy, the role of tomato sauce can be quite exaggerated: many people know little of Italian cuisine beyond pasta with tomato sauce. Italian varieties of tomato sauce range from Pasta Puttanesca sauce, seasoned with anchovies, capers, garlic, chilli peppers and black olives, to Bolognese sauce, a predominantly minced or ground meat sauce which normally contains a small-to-moderate amount of tomato.

Most often, Italian tomato sauces can be switched with more authentic white sauces; cavatelli is best served with traditional Italian white sauces (consisting of mostly fresh Parmesan and cream), and many other traditional ingredients.

Some Italian Americans on the East Coast refer to tomato sauce as "gravy", "tomato gravy", or "Sunday gravy", especially sauces with a large quantity of meat simmered in them, similar to the Italian Neapolitan ragù. "Gravy" is an erroneous English translation from the Italian sugo which means juice, but can also mean sauce (as in sugo per pastasciutta). The expression for "gravy" in Italian is sugo dell'arrosto, which is literally "juice of a roast" and is specifically not tomato sauce.

Mexican tomato sauces

Tomato sauce was an ancient condiment in Aztec food. The first person to write of what may have been a tomato sauce was Bernardino de Sahagún who made note of a prepared sauce that was offered for sale in the markets of Tenochtitlan (Mexico Citymarker today). Then, Spaniards brought the use of tomato to Europe.

Basic Mexican tomato sauces are tomato sauce (salsa de tomate rojo o jitomate) and green tomato sauce (salsa de tomate verde). The tomato sauce is stock for spicy sauces and moles.

Tomato sauce in the United States

In most of the U.S., "tomato sauce" refers to a tomato purée with salt and small amounts of spices sold in cans. This product is considered incomplete and not normally used as it is. Instead, it is used as a base for almost any food which needs a lot of tomato flavour, including versions of many of the sauces described on this page.

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.

American supermarkets commonly carry a variety of prepared tomato sauces described as "spaghetti sauce" or "pasta sauce". Common variations include meat sauce, Marinara Sauce and sauces with mushrooms or sweet red peppers.

Louisiana Cajun and Louisiana Creole tomato sauces

A spicy tomato sauce known as sauce piquante is common in Louisianamarker Cajun cuisine, that can contain any seafood, poultry, or meats such as wild game. It is typically served over white rice. In Louisiana Creole cuisine, there is a tomato sauce known as a Creole sauce. It is similar to Italian tomato sauce, but features more Louisiana flavours derived from the fusion of French and Spanish cooking styles. They both usually contain the traditional holy trinity of diced bell pepper, onion, and celery.

Indian tomato sauces

Indian curry, especially as it has been exported out of India, is recognizable for heavily spiced sauces, often made from a tomato base.

Tomato gravy

Tomato gravy, which is distinct from the term as used by northeastern Italian Americans when referring to tomato sauce, is a gravy common in most rural areas where tomatoes were a staple food. Tomato gravy is prepared in a method similar to white gravy. The cooked tomatoes, some fat (usually cured pork fat) and flour are cooked together until thick, and seasoned with salt and pepper. Typically, tomato gravy is served over eggs, toast and biscuits.

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