Dictionaries did not help me. Collin's writes tomato sauce = tomato ketchup but not vice versa. There tomato ketchup is ketchup flavored with tomatoes. Furthermore, ketchup is sauce!

MM says ketchup is sauce and so does OALD. Times of India has good note on that but is understood and written by a non-native and so not sure. Wikipedia says ketchup is a table sauce. Phew!

What I understand (looking at the ingredients) - tomato sauce contains no garlic/onion in any form whereas tomato ketchup has them.

Enlighten me please.

  • 3
    As explained in the answers, a tomato sauce is just a sauce made from tomatoes and tomato ketchup is a specific kind of tomato sauce. It's very common for tomato sauces that are not ketchup to include onion and/or garlic. May 23, 2014 at 16:17
  • I'm a native American: If you asked me if I wanted tomato sauce on something and gave me ketchup instead, I'd never speak to you again. They are related but very different foods. Dec 11, 2014 at 21:25

4 Answers 4


Strictly speaking, the dictionaries are correct: Tomato ketchup is a form of tomato sauce, since a sauce is simply "a liquid, semi-solid, or cream food served on other foods".

Ketchup is very specifically a sweetened and thickened tomato puree that usually contains vinegar, onions, garlic, and other spices. The exact composition varies between manufacturers, but it always contains sugar and almost is always thickened, and it contains no lumps or non-blended components. The tomatoes are usually cooked completely before blending. It is most often eaten with fried foods, meat loaf, and hamburgers.

In American English, "tomato sauce" is generally distinct from "ketchup". "Sauce" would be the kind of tomato product you would eat with spaghetti, or put on pizza, or eat with chicken parmigiana. It generally does not contain much added sugar or other "sweet spices", and it may or may not be completely blended. The tomatoes may or may not be cooked before blending. (Wikipedia also notes an "incomplete" form of tomato sauce, which is simply blended tomatoes with no other additives other than salt. It is used as a base for more complete sauces and is not intended to stand alone.)

Ultimately, in American English, the difference comes down to application. Ketchup will rarely be eaten with pizza or spaghetti, and few people would eat tomato sauce with fries or hot dogs. It's not so much a matter of people deliberately distinguishing the words as that the distinction arose organically.

  • 3
    Great answer. Worth noting that in British English, it's quite common to refer to 'tomato ketchup' as 'tomato sauce' or just 'ketchup' since other varieties have fallen out of fashion. In some areas, people might call it 'Tommy K' or just 'Red Sauce'.
    – Ben
    May 23, 2014 at 15:09
  • Good point. May I copy that wholesale into the answer? May 23, 2014 at 16:12
  • 1
    @Ben I was going to add this, too. However, I don't agree that other varieties have fallen out of fashion: they're often referred to by their specific names instead. So, with pasta, you might have "Bolognaise sauce" or "a tomato sauce" - but if you said they were having "tomato sauce" with pasta, everyone would assume it was ketchup. And probably think you were slightly odd.
    – Bob Tway
    May 23, 2014 at 16:30
  • You're right in that tomato sauce is a generic term and could well cover pasta sauces etc. A bolognese is not a ketchup though. As Choster says in their answer, ketchup is a specific type of sauce that used to be commonly made from other ingredients like mushrooms, cucumber and anchovy. Only relatively recently, since the other types have mostly fallen out of fashion is 'ketchup' (almost) exclusively used to talk about the tomato variety.
    – Ben
    May 23, 2014 at 18:01
  • Are there Americans who would use ketchup as a substitute for tomato sauce on their pasta and pizza?! Your answer seems to imply this.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 12, 2014 at 2:53

Ketchup or catsup is a kind of sweet and tangy sauce which can be made from pureed tomatoes, mushrooms, anchovies, and many other foods. By far the most popular kind of ketchup in the English-speaking world is tomato ketchup, in no small measure thanks to the recipe and marketing acumen of H. J. Heinz. Dictionaries are not wrong to say ketchup is "usually made from tomatoes," and most people are unaware that any other kinds exist. Ketchup is not consumed directly; it is a condiment, used to enhance the flavor of other foods such as meatloaf or fried eggs.

Tomato sauce is any sauce made primarily with tomatoes— but what kind of sauce is referred to will vary by audience. In the UK and in most Commonwealth countries, tomato sauce is more or less a synonym for tomato ketchup.

In North America, however, tomato sauce is never used to refer to a tomato-based condiment, whether ketchup, pico de gallo, or sauce piquante. At the consumer level, it almost always refers to cooked, seasoned tomato-based sauces such as marinara sauce used for preparing Italian and pseudo-Italian pasta and pizza dishes. Commercially, it refers to a specific grade of unseasoned concentrated tomatoes used as a cooking ingredient. Unlike ketchup, which is pureed, packaged tomato sauce is pulpier, and may contain chunks of garlic, onions, and other ingredients.

  • Ketchup and catsup are alternative names for this kind of tomato sauce. Ketchup is believed to be a bit closer to the original Chinese (Amoy) term (see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ketchup), which was not tomato-based. The Reagan administration classified ketchup as a vegetable for the purpose of school lunches.
    – Phil Perry
    May 23, 2014 at 16:44
  • 2
    Tomato sauce is definitely not a synonym for ketchup in all varieties of British English (source: I'm a native speaker in Southern England). I'd interpret tomato sauce to mean something like the last paragraph of this answer.
    – dbmag9
    May 24, 2014 at 9:10
  • People in the UK make pasta with different types of sauces, tomato sauce is but one type, but there are also cheese sauces, and meat sauces (ragù). In Italy, la salsa di pomodoro is NEVER the same as la salsa di ketchup!
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 12, 2014 at 2:47

Out of context, tomato sauces have high liquid content (e.g. those for pasta or for drizzling) while ketchup have very low liquid content (McDonald's tomato sauce)

Ketchup is a type of sauce but sauces may not refer to ketchup-types.

In context: With pasta, it is always tomato sauce. No one says pasta with ketchup! With burgers or finger food, it is usually also known as sauce but you will be served with ketchup and not the liquid ones as with pasta. I think the evolution from ketchup to sauce is largely based on laziness and may also be based on country. To asians, ketchup is such a western/american word. We just say sauce :P

But tbh, ketchup and sauce is best defined/differentiated by it's liquid content.

  • Only voting this down because there are much more rounded answers that help with the differences between America and other countries. Also ketchup has Asian origins (Amoy Chinese), though it's drifted further and further from those origins. May 25, 2014 at 11:53
  • Wait... You're down voting me because of other people? Uhm... are you the type who upvote the answer you like and then down-vote everyone else because of other people? Uhm, nvm. /sigh Besides, the difference between Ketchup and Sauce really is in the liquid content.
    – Zoe
    May 25, 2014 at 16:15
  • No I'm downvoting because I don't agree this is the right answer, especially after learning more by reading the other answers. In the English native speaking country where I live the difference between ketchup and sauce is that the former is one type of the latter. The former is generally regarded as an American word too. It is used on some product lables but is not much used in ordinary speech. May 26, 2014 at 0:23
  • +1 for "With pasta, it is always tomato sauce. No one says pasta with ketchup!"
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 12, 2014 at 2:49

A Ketchup will be more pickled based. A Sauce is generally made up of a much larger percentage of the main ingredient. A Tomato Sauce will have a LOT more tomato in than a Tomato Ketchup for example.

Sauces are usually served hot, whereas Ketchup is usually served cold.

  • 1
    cold means from the refrigerator or room temperature/normal as in McDonald's sachet of sauces/ketchup?
    – Maulik V
    May 23, 2014 at 9:35
  • @MaulikV I'm curious too, so I asked it on ELL: ell.stackexchange.com/questions/24088/… May 23, 2014 at 15:57
  • Commercially-made ketchup will keep at room temperature just fine, and no harm is done by refrigerating it. If you're putting it on hot food (hamburger, hot dog, etc.), you'd probably prefer that it be room temperature. If it's going to be baked in (used as a sauce), it doesn't matter.
    – Phil Perry
    May 23, 2014 at 16:46

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