Visit any modern pizzeria and you’ll be spoiled for choice when deciding on a sauce-and-topping combination. We encourage you to bring that range into your own kitchen and experiment with pizza sauces other than tomato until you discover new favorites.
Here, we examine new pizza sauce alternatives for your repertoire of recipes, including recommendations from regions around the world. We also consider the key elements of good pizza sauce and how to ensure delicious at-home pizza regardless of what flavor of sauce you choose.
Eight pizza sauce alternatives
Pizza has remained popular for more than a century in part because of how easy it is to find substitutes for pizza sauce.What follows are eight pizza sauce alternatives worth trying:
- Basil pesto – A great starting point for experimentation with pizza sauce alternatives. The paste-like substance is typically made of crushed fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, coarse salt and hard cheese like parmesan. While basil is used most often, there’s nothing to stop you from crushing a different herb. The aroma elevates any dish pesto is combined with, including pizza and pasta. If you’ve opted for a basil pesto as your pizza sauce, consider pairing it with grilled vegetables and a lighter tasting cheese such as mozzarella. Other toppings with which basil pesto pairs especially well are grilled chicken or sausage.
- Béchamel – An integral part of many Italian dishes, béchamel also works well as a pizza sauce. Known colloquially as ‘white sauce’, béchamel combines butter, flour, milk and seasoning – any additional flavor you’d like to add. Some popular options include garlic, lemon juice, lemon zest and fennel. Pepper adds some kick to the mildness of a white sauce and if you’re fond of heat, red pepper flakes are a good option as well.
- BBQ sauce – Barbeque lovers are likely to enjoy a pizza sauce alternative with a smokier flavor. A homemade BBQ sauce that combines tomato, vinegar, dried mustard and a little sweetness from brown sugar is a great base for savory meats such as pulled pork or chicken. For the cheese topping, combine mozzarella with gouda for added depth of flavor.
- Curry – Done well, popular Indian dishes like butter chicken or chicken tikka masala can be effectively combined with dough and cheese to create an Indian-cuisine inspired pizza. You have the option to use traditional naan bread as a pizza dough base, or, a Neapolitan-style dough which has a similar texture to naan – though it’s achieved by different ingredients and baking techniques.
- Fig jam – This delicate fruit is a popular pizza topping on its own, but does just as well as a jammy pizza sauce alternative. Spread liberally atop an unbaked pizza dough, fig jam sets the stage perfectly for peppery arugula, a sharp-tasting hard cheese and salty prosciutto. The delicate sweetness of fig is enough to satisfy anyone with a sweet tooth without offending those who prefer more savory tastes.
- Harissa – This spicey, smoky paste is especially popular in African-inspired cuisine. Like pesto, it can be combined with tomato to form a more flavorful red sauce base on pizza. However, harissa also goes well with a range of vegetables such as carrots, cauliflower, spinach or roasted peppers. For a dramatic departure from tomato-based pizza sauce, consider blending cooked carrots and harissa on a dough base that’s then topped with select roast vegetables and a yogurt-dill drizzle.
- Vodka cream sauce – If you’re interested in a pizza sauce alternative that’s dramatic but still borrows from the classic foundations of tomato pizza sauce, try a vodka cream sauce. Vodka intensifies the tastes of any herbs, hard cheese and heavy cream that have been combined into a tomato base. It also acts as an emulsifier. The result is an intensely flavored pink-looking sauce with a velvety texture.
- Za’atar and olive oil – If you’re fond of herbs, try olive oil combined with Za’atar, a blend of spices that’s popular in many regions of the Middle East. Once you’ve covered the dough with an olive oil and Za’atar paste, consider adding grilled tomatoes and feta. If you’re inspired by Middle Eastern influences, blend tahini and Greek yogurt with some water and lemon juice and drizzle the pie lightly with it.
Pizza sauce vs. pasta sauce
If you find yourself returning to a tomato sauce base for most of your homemade pizzas, no problem. It has endured as the signature of classic pizza because of how well its deep flavor and acidity pairs with dough and cheese. Some aficionados go so far as recommending specific types of tomatoes, such as those from the San Marzano region, for a true Neapolitan pizza. They cite the area’s terroir as imparting a rich taste and carefully measure the ripeness of the fruit before harvest.
If you’re making a tomato pizza sauce at home, whether it’s a pomodoro, marinara, romesco or ragu, tomato type is less important than achieving the right moisture content. For pizza dough to bake properly, you’ll need a sauce with less moisture than is required for tomato-based pasta sauce. A good pizza sauce will have more of a paste quality than a pasta sauce quality.
Because they’re uncooked, canned ingredients work well for pizza sauce vs pasta sauce. On top of pizza, their flavors will deepen under the heat of the oven rather than being expressed prematurely while simmering on a stovetop where they may become overcooked or even burnt. Tempting though it may be to swap in a canned pasta sauce for your pizza base, its moisture content will be problematic for the dough.
Trying different pizza sauces is an easy way to experiment with flavors from international cuisines. Pizza dough and cheeses like mozzarella are mild enough to temper the tastes of any strong herbs or spices you may be trying for the first time. In time, you will discover new favorites by elevating a classic tomato sauce with a personal twist or by borrowing from culinary traditions from around the world.