Settle an argument - is it gravy or sauce?.

This is ongoing among my friends and in my family growing up my grandmother from Italy called it gravy.Could both be correct?

Jeannette Tyas


Smaug March 11, 2018
Use of the word "gravy" for tomato sauce sets my teeth on edge but language belongs to it's users- if the term is current in your area, or among people you know, then it's correct. Look at all the tomato soup with chili powder (and at least one spaghetti with chili powder) versions of chili, for example; you can hate it,, but you can't stop it.
Maddy P. March 11, 2018
Wrong. They don’t have or use the term “gravy” in Italian. If they say salsa, or ragu or sugo, they mean “sauce,” meat or no meat. In America, the term gravy referred to the sauce or dressing used for meat or fish. So it could be that the early Italian immigrants, cooking meat in their tomatoes, and when in America doing like the Americans did, did the trendy thing and called it “gravy.”
Lily W. January 21, 2018
I call it sauce but I personally don't like meat sauce. I have minimal authority, being Indian and Irish, but I did grow up in Northern New Jersey, so I know a bit about Italian American traditions. I think gravy is more common in the south jersey/ philly area.
PistolDee November 18, 2017
That doesn't matter Scruz... the question was which is correct. The answer is sauce. There is no such thing as gravy in Italy. Italian is a culture loved by so many because of its customs that go back hundreds of years. Yes fine if you want to call it gravy. But everyone that says gravy should know it's not correct to our beautiful italian (from italy) customs. The word gravy comes from an American tradition.
scruz November 18, 2017
it's up to the maker to call it what he or she wants.
PistolDee November 18, 2017
Sugo... meat juice; sauce
PistolDee November 18, 2017
Sono Italiana, volete smettere con questa parola GRAVY??? Non esiste in Dio mio smettetela adesso!!!!!
Lucille R. October 22, 2017
Red Gravy ~ sauce is to delicate for my pasta
italianguy September 4, 2017
It's easy to get confused. A gravy is something made with trimmings/drippings. A sauce is anything made from the juice(s) (liquid) of food item(s), or pureed/macerated/other into a liquid form. If we are talking about Italian cooking, every tomato sauce has a particular name, and none of them are gravy. BTW the word sugo is not gravy!! It's a derivative of succo, and that means juice and is ypically a simple tomato-only sauce. Also, salsa is the same as sauce...the stuff you dip your chips into is called salsa fresca/picada (fresh/chopped). I will offer the following as an Italian-American, and budding chef, who loves and appreciates the cultural history surrounding this topic. A pasta sauce can be with meat, or meatless. Italian tomato sauces with meat in it typically have particular names, and were birthed in specific regions. A gravy is reduced from meat trimmings to get thick and flavorful, or quickly thickened with flour. Personally, I add tomato to my beef gravy for amazing flavor, but it's still a gravy and should accompany meat/fish/poultry/pork. If you stew your meatballs in a tomato sauce, you are getting the meat drippings in your sauce but that is still not a gravy. I guess if you want to call it a gravy, that's your prerogative. To me it's simply, and wonderfully, adding beef/veal/pork flavor to your pasta sauce. The important thing to realize is that it's delicious, whatever you call it, and that families are sitting down together to have dinner :)
Rose August 8, 2017
Thank you so much Phil, for clearing that up. I'm sorry if I came on a little strong. But yes it does get to me. I have had friends tell me their grandmothers or mothers cooked their sauce all day, or even over night!!! That makes me crazy! But how you described it made sense, I do the same thing. I have lots or meatballs and sausage in my sauce too. I make my own bread too, for dunking!
Thanks again for your response.
PHIL August 8, 2017
Rose, this subject really gets to you. Regarding the "cooks all day" term , I should clarify, The process itself, frying the meatballs, making the brasciole , braising the meat started in the morning and then the sauce would cook for a while. Since Sunday dinner was no later then 3 the sauce didn't really cook all day. There was always extra meatballs, as sampling would take place throughout the day. Bread dunking was also a constant. Ahh the smell of garlic permeated the house!
Karen August 6, 2017
I totally agree with the vote on the best answer by Klrcon !!
Karen August 6, 2017
Great answer !!
Karen August 6, 2017
My husband's family is 1/2 Italian 1/2 Irish , ( his mother was full Italian)
They all call it gravy and after 30 years of marriage , I also call it gravy too ! ( I'm Irish, lol)
Being in an Italian family, it's definitely gravy! Haha!!
I love it though and my mother in law made some of the best gravy I've ever put in my mouth! Her ravioli was quite awesome too!! Everything, including the pasta was from scratch !

PHIL July 28, 2017
I think it is a Neapolitan thing especially in NY- NJ area. We call it gravy too although the term seems to be fading out. Also it usually specifically refers to the Sunday "gravy" which is with various meats and cooks all day.
Rose August 8, 2017
"Cooks all day" is another sticking point for me! Unless you're making 50 gallons of SAUCE, cooking it all day will give you MUD! A good Italian tomato SAUCE, for home consumption, shouldn't have to cook more than 2-3 hours. Anything longer, will give you bitter, tomato mud!
BerryBaby July 27, 2017
Never heard it called gravy always sauce...first heard it called gravy at an Italian restaurant on the west coast owned by soneone from the east coast who insisted east coasters call it gravy. Really?
italiangirl13 July 27, 2017
I heave lived in Italy half my life... as a true Italian, no none there refers to it as gravy... the Italian American's are the only ones..
italiangirl13 July 27, 2017
Rose August 8, 2017
You are absolutely right! Not southern Italy, not northern Italy, NOT SICILY!
CD October 13, 2019
I say gravy. The native born Italians posting here are harsh and condescending . Don’t worry, we Italian Americans know we are American and we are not trying to usurp your authority and sense of superiority as real, true Italians. We are talking about an American cultural topic. We know that no one says gravy in Italy. This is our thing, born out of our families’ immigrant experience. You are not part of that. Italy was a very different place when our ancestors left it. Italian American cuisine is distinctly American, as is the term gravy. Regardless of the origin of the term many people use it to this day. I am a native English speaker and it is part of my lexicon. There is nothing wrong with that. Get over it! Call it whatever you want.
David G. June 25, 2017
Sugo is gravy, spaghetti sauce is spaghetti sauce or marinara. Calling a sauce gravy is just an immigrant english misnomer.
charlieo February 21, 2017
In all the years I have spent in Italy, I have never heard "ragu" or tomato sauce referred to as gravy. In addition, my grandmother, born and raised in Italy never called any kind of sauce that went with pasta gravy.
Rose August 8, 2017
Thank you!
Soozll November 2, 2013
I always think of gravy as something started with a roux. A sauce, to me, is thickened by reduction. Well...that's the way I think of it!
Pegeen November 1, 2013
PazzoNico, not to worry. (And who knows where that phrase came from!) These threads are always great, reading everyone's responses. How we learn.

ALL of my Italian friends call it gravy and now that I have to think about it, they're all from southern Italy or Sicily. And they all know that calling tomato sauce "gravy" makes me crazy, because in my background and family, gravy means a lot of work based on beef, pork or lamb drippings, onions, a roux, etc. quite a bit of tending.

It makes a lot of sense that it was an Americanization by Italian immigrants to call sauce "gravy" ... maybe it started when Italian immigrants began to open restaurants and wanted to make menus familiar to other groups.
BerryBaby February 23, 2017
I'm Sicilian and we always called it sauce. Never heard it called gravy until moving out west from the midwest.
Glenda G. September 24, 2020
My Italian side is from Tuscany (Grandfather) and the northeast, above Venice (Grandmother). My mother and I haven't ever heard of Spaghetti Sauce (with or without meat) called 'gravy'. All I can see when I hear gravy is browned meat drippings and flour! Why the back east Italian Americans think it's cool to have their new tradition is beyond me and everyone I've talked to. It does explain why the food is so much better in the north!
PazzoNico November 1, 2013
...Frig that was long and kind of jumbled..sorry folks.
Greenstuff November 1, 2013
Not to worry, some of us love this kind of discussion. Language, culture, immigration, food. Of course it's long and delightfully jumbled.
pierino November 1, 2013
No it wasn't. My friend Nico il Matto makes some really good points here. The "dialetto" being one of them. Another late an lamented friend, the actor Vincent Schiavelli wrote a wonderful book "Bruculinu,America" which is about growing up Sicilian in Brooklyn. I hope it is still in print. A kind and generous man, now interred in Sicilia.
Recently I interviewed Gustavo Arellano the author of the column "Ask a Mexican!" and in discussing food I would use the word "real" as opposed to "authentic". Immigrants to our country bring along with them ideas about food and not "recipes". It becomes an adaptation to what you find here. Think of the tomato as traveling from America to Spain and onto Italy and then coming back again with some new insights along the way.
PazzoNico November 1, 2013
In Italian, it is called 'ragu' or 'sugo' ('o rau' in Neapolitan dialect). Sugo came from the word 'succo', which means juice, implying the sauce is flavored with the juices (drippings) of meat (the base of any ragu, sugo, sauce, gravy, etc.) This holds true with any ragu from any region of Italy. My guess is that 'gravy' came into play because it is the closest English word with the same meaning (as it is known in America; i.e. 'biscuits and gravy' - where the gravy is made from the pork drippings). Keep in mind, many of the immigrants were from Southern regions of Italy (Calabria, Sicilia, Naples, etc.) where they speak a very different dialect from proper Italian (spoken mostly in the North). That's the main reason for all these Italian-American terms (gravy, gabagool, fazool, etc.); they're mostly just mispronunciations of how they heard it from their grandparents because, as mentioned, most of them were not taught Italian as kids (they just heard it spoken among the adults). So, it's pretty much "slang" that comes from "slang" (it's all screwed up. lol.).
And 'salsa' is a word used in Italian that can refer to (literally) ANY sauce, tomato-based or not. It's a very generic term.
So to answer your question, there's no 'right' or 'wrong' answer. But that doesn't mean you can't tell all your friends you asked a bunch of people over the internet and they ALL agreed with YOU...white lies right?
bigpan November 1, 2013
If either the sauce, or the gravy, is very good and tasty - then I call it a "beverage" !
dymnyno November 1, 2013
Gravy probably happened when they wanted to sound more American. My generation of Italian Americans were never taught to speak Italian, even though their grandparents spoke no English. They were fiercely proud of being American. (at least in Marin County in the 50's).
pierino November 1, 2013
And don't forget the Japanese, Mexicans, Koreans and so many others who think of themselves as proud Americans. I salute you my brothers and sisters!
dymnyno November 1, 2013
I didn't mean to exclude any other's just that the area where I grew up was Italian and were proud to be American. If anyone asked about their ancestry it was Swiss Italian...not just Italian, but Swiss Italian!
Greenstuff November 1, 2013
There's a wonderful cookbook by Nancy Verde Barr called We Called it Macaroni: An American Heritage of Southern Italian Cooking. She grew up in Providence, Rhode Island, where many Italian-Americans called south Italian ragu "gravy" and all their pasta "macaroni." I think ragu is sugo with meat, is that right pierino?
pierino November 1, 2013
Chris, Italian-American is almost "suis generis", that being it's own thing different from the exact regional cuisines of Italy. The great wave of Italian immigration to the US began before the first World War so there is more than 100 years of history behind us. Northern v Southern as a distinction is almost meaningless, at least in this context. Ragu (or is it the French ragout?). Yes, ragu does imply meat. How "gravy" got into it I don't know. It's an American thing. That's what happens when people dare to cross borders and bring their ideas with them.
pierino November 1, 2013
I completely agree with kircon's answer. This is a case of Old World meets the New World. And unless you live in New Jersey or Queens it's not "gravy". The generic term in Italian would be sugo or salsa. How "gravy" entered into it, I don't know. But it is an interesting piece of food history.

Voted the Best Reply!

klrcon October 31, 2013
Both are fine - it's English, not Italian! The "true" Italian name of whatever version you're talking about will vary depending on the region of Italy it comes from and the type of sauce/gravy you're making. And there are a million versions because Italian cooking is so regional and so diverse. So it's kind of a silly debate among Italian-Americans. In general I've noticed that northern Italians like my family call it sauce while southern Italians call it gravy so there may be some regional difference that started the debate but I really don't think that makes anyone less truly Italian.
Call it whatever your grandmother called it and don't sweat it.
Lisi32 October 31, 2013
I believe both are correct, but if you are a true Italian you will call it gravy.
David G. June 25, 2017
Wrong! Sugo is gravy, spaghetti sauce is spaghetti sauce or marinara. Calling a sauce gravy is just an immigrant english misnomer.
Rose August 8, 2017
WRONG! I was born in Italy, in Italy we call it SAUCE. There is no such word as "gravy" in the Italian language.
Maddy P. March 11, 2018
Wrong. They don’t have or use the term “gravy” in Italian. If they say salsa, or ragu or sugo, they mean “sauce,” meat or no meat. In America, the term gravy referred to the sauce or dressing used for meat or fish. So it could be that the early Italian immigrants, cooking meat in their tomatoes, and when in America doing like the Americans did, did the trendy thing and called it “gravy.”
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