Is Marinara Sauce Vegan? (Store-Bought, Restaurants, Homemade)


Vegan marinara

There are tons of recipes for vegan marinara sauce, but many people want to know whether the sauce they encounter in stores and restaurants is vegan-friendly. If you’re one of these people, you’ve come to the right place.

Marinara is an all-time favorite, and many vegans want to know whether they have to give up this classic when first adopting an animal-free diet.

Is it vegan? Yes, the standard marinara recipe is vegan. In its most basic form, it’s simply tomatoes, plant oils, garlic, onions, and a few spices. However, as with most foods, there are variations and not all are vegan-friendly. Always scan the label before purchasing a specific sauce.

As for what ingredients to look out for, we’ll cover those here.

Why Marinara Sauce Is Typically Considered Vegan

Standard Marinara Recipes Call for 100% Plant-Based Ingredients

Marinara sauce contains tomato (diced, tomato sauce, paste, etc.) along with ingredients like:

  • Water
  • Onions and garlic
  • Plant oils like canola and olive.
  • Spices—oregano, thyme, and basil are common.
  • Salt and sugar.

No problems here.

Commercial Marinara Usually Includes Vegan-Friendly Additives

Other ingredients, like preservatives, can be used. But these tend to be vegan. An example would be citric acid which is just an organic acid that occurs in fruits and veggies. Other examples of vegan-friendly additives and ingredients common to marinara sauce include hydrolyzed soy and yeast extract.

Potentially Non-Vegan Ingredients

The above is not to say that marinara never contains non-vegan ingredients.

Also, what’s considered a problematic ingredient can actually vary quite a bit, even within the vegan community. So, some of the below ingredients are down-right non-vegan, and others are conditionally vegan, or vegan with caveats.

Xanthan Gum (Unsuitable for Some Vegans)

Xanthan gum is a complex carbohydrate with many industrial uses, one of which being a food additive. It’s used as a thickening agent and to stabilize food products.

It helps the ingredients in sauces, soups, and stews to stay nice and dispersed as it prevents ingredients from separating.

It’s derived from a species of bacteria called Xanthomonas campestris, where it gets its name.

While it’s often produced from simple sugars like sucrose and glucose, it can be grown on lactose—another simple sugar that’s found in milk.1

Specifically, the subspecies of bacteria that can feed on lactose is used to process whey protein—a supplement and waste product from cheese production.

Not all vegans restrict xanthan gum, mostly because there’s usually no way of knowing which simple sugar was used. But, some vegans do like to play it safe and avoid the additive, so I’m mentioning it here.

Strictly Non-Vegan Ingredients Sometimes Present in Marinara Sauce

Parmesan

A lot of marinara sauces come with cheese as an ingredient. For example, Great Value (Walmart’s brand) put out an Organic Parmesan Romano Pasta Sauce which lists pasteurized milk cheese cultures as an ingredient.2

Meat

Keep in mind, sometimes meat flavoring is achieved with vegan ingredients like monosodium glutamate (MSG). These compounds impart the umami flavor characteristic of meat but aren’t actually derived from meat.

Umami is actually glutamate, which is an amino acid known for enhancing flavor in a way that resembles the taste of beef broth.3

It’s a synthetic compound as it’s modified by having sodium added to it.4,5

Glutamic acid itself is considered vegan as it’s found widely in seaweed.6

However, many marinara sauces do use actual meat flavors, so the ones that do are obviously off-limits for vegans.

Prego Sauce Flavored with Meat

Prego has a Flavored with Meat sauce which reads “Classic sauce accented with savory meat flavor.”7

Prego Spicy Sausage Meat Sauce

Another variety that uses meat is Prego Spicy Sausage Meat Sauce. Not only does it have meat flavor, but it actually uses Italian sausage as an ingredient.

This product includes tomato puree (water and tomato paste), diced tomatoes, tomato juice, Italian sausage, salt, seasonings, dehydrated garlic, water, onions, sugar, canola oil, and citric acid.8

Hunt’s Meat Pasta Sauce

Finally, Hunts has long had a meat variant of their traditional sauce.

This product contains tomato puree (water and tomato paste), water, beef, HFCS (high fructose corn syrup), salt, regular corn syrup, soybean oil, carrot fiber, sugar, dried onion, hydrolyzed soy, proteins from corn and wheat, spices, citric acid, natural flavors, yeast extract, garlic juice, and beef fat.9

Anyway, that pretty much wraps it up for non-vegan friendly ingredients used in marinara sauces.

Vegan-Friendly Marinara Varieties

Ragu Simply Chunky Marinara Pasta Sauce

The “simply” varieties are always a good bet as far as being vegan. They try to keep the ingredients to a minimum which reduces the chances that potentially problematic ingredients will be used.

Ingredients include tomato puree, diced tomatoes suspended in puree (diced tomatoes, tomato puree, calcium chloride, and citric acid), sweet potato, onions, olive oil, carrots, salt, garlic powder, dehydrated onions, and spices.10

Prego Pasta Sauce, Traditional Italian Tomato Sauce

This product contains tomato puree (water and tomato paste), diced tomatoes, tomato juice, sugar, canola oil, salt, dehydrated garlic and onions, spices, citric acid, garlic and onion extracts.11

Hunt’s Traditional Pasta Sauce

Ingredients include tomato puree (water and tomato paste), water, HFCS (high fructose corn syrup), salt, regular corn syrup, soybean oil, carrot fiber, sugar, spices, citric acid, and natural flavors.12

Rao’s Homemade All Natural Marinara Sauce

This one only contains a few main ingredients and appears to not have any additives. Ingredients include tomatoes, olive oil, onions, salt, garlic, basil, black pepper, oregano.13

So, that’s about it for vegan marinara sauces. There are absolutely hundreds of homemade vegan marinara sauces out there, some of which I’ve made myself, and are really good. They usually include a lot more whole plant foods like mushrooms, green and red peppers, etc. But, if you’re like me and too lazy to be bothered with making marinara from scratch on a regular basis, the above brands should have you more than covered.

Also, keep in mind that the vegan status of a food item like spaghetti is limited by its least vegan ingredient. For that reason, maybe we’ll cover pasta and spaghetti noodles next. Thanks for reading. Until next time.

References

  1. EFSA Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources (14 July 2017). “Re‐evaluation of xanthan gum (E 415) as a food additive”. EFSA Journal. European Food Safety Authority. 15 (2): e04909.
  2. Great Value Organic Parmesan Romano Pasta Sauce. https://www.walmart.com/ip/6-Pack-Great-Value-Organic-Parmesan-Romano-Pasta-Sauce-24-oz/492029089
  3. Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 3). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011
  4. Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 58). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011
  5. O’Donnell CD. Proteins and gums: The ties that bind. Prepared Foods 165(4):50–51, 1996.
  6. Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 114). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011
  7. Prego Sauce Flavored with Meat. https://www.prego.com/sauces/favorite-sauces/flavored-with-meat-italian-sauce/
  8. Prego Spicy Sausage Meat Sauce. https://www.walmart.com/ip/Prego-Spicy-Sausage-Meat-Sauce-23-5-oz/22098493
  9. Hunt’s Meat Pasta Sauce. https://www.walmart.com/ip/Hunt-s-Meat-Pasta-Sauce-24-oz/20554617
  10. Ragu Simply Chunky Marinara Pasta Sauce. https://www.walmart.com/ip/3-pack-Ragu-Simply-Chunky-Marinara-Pasta-Sauce-24-oz/700046172
  11. Prego Pasta Sauce, Traditional Italian Tomato Sauce. https://www.walmart.com/ip/Prego-Pasta-Sauce-Traditional-Italian-Tomato-Sauce-67-Ounce-Jar/15529694
  12. Hunt’s Traditional Pasta Sauce. https://www.walmart.com/ip/Hunt-s-Traditional-Pasta-Sauce-24-Oz/20554615
  13. Rao’s Homemade All Natural Marinara Sauce. https://www.walmart.com/ip/Rao-s-Homemade-All-Natural-Marinara-Sauce-24-Oz/31008715

Drew Davis

Hi! I'm Drew and this is the place where I nerd out about vegan and plant-based diets. I have a BS in Nutrition and Dietetics from the University of Alabama and have taken dozens of classes in areas like organic and biochemistry, food science, medical nutrition therapy, nutritional genomics, and vegetarian diets. I'm still learning every day, and on this blog, I'll be sharing everything I discover about vegan diets as I go.

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