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?

  • 29364 views
  • 42 Comments

29 Comments

Review our Code of Conduct
Don't send me emails about new comments
Lisi32
Lisi32 October 31, 2013

I believe both are correct, but if you are a true Italian you will call it gravy.

Review our Code of Conduct
Don't send me emails about new comments
David Goodwin
David Goodwin 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
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 Punwasi Passaro

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.”

Voted the Best Reply!

klrcon
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.

Review our Code of Conduct
Don't send me emails about new comments
pierino
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.

Review our Code of Conduct
Don't send me emails about new comments
Greenstuff
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?

Review our Code of Conduct
Don't send me emails about new comments
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.

dymnyno
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).

Review our Code of Conduct
Don't send me emails about new comments
pierino
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
dymnyno November 1, 2013

I didn't mean to exclude any other nationality...it'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!

bigpan
bigpan November 1, 2013

If either the sauce, or the gravy, is very good and tasty - then I call it a "beverage" !

Review our Code of Conduct
Don't send me emails about new comments
PazzoNico
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?

Review our Code of Conduct
Don't send me emails about new comments
PazzoNico
PazzoNico November 1, 2013

...Frig that was long and kind of jumbled..sorry folks.

Review our Code of Conduct
Don't send me emails about new comments
Greenstuff
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
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.

Pegeen
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.

Review our Code of Conduct
Don't send me emails about new comments
BerryBaby
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.

Soozll
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!

Review our Code of Conduct
Don't send me emails about new comments
charlieo
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.

Review our Code of Conduct
Don't send me emails about new comments
Rose
Rose August 8, 2017

Thank you!

David Goodwin
David Goodwin June 25, 2017

Sugo is gravy, spaghetti sauce is spaghetti sauce or marinara. Calling a sauce gravy is just an immigrant english misnomer.

Review our Code of Conduct
Don't send me emails about new comments
italiangirl13
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..

Review our Code of Conduct
Don't send me emails about new comments
Rose
Rose August 8, 2017

You are absolutely right! Not southern Italy, not northern Italy, NOT SICILY!

BerryBaby
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?

Review our Code of Conduct
Don't send me emails about new comments
PHIL
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.

Answer image

Review our Code of Conduct
Don't send me emails about new comments
Rose
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!

Karen
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 !



Review our Code of Conduct
Don't send me emails about new comments
Karen
Karen August 6, 2017

Great answer !!

Review our Code of Conduct
Don't send me emails about new comments
Karen
Karen August 6, 2017

I totally agree with the vote on the best answer by Klrcon !!

Review our Code of Conduct
Don't send me emails about new comments
PHIL
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!

Review our Code of Conduct
Don't send me emails about new comments
Rose
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.

Review our Code of Conduct
Don't send me emails about new comments
italianguy
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 :)

Review our Code of Conduct
Don't send me emails about new comments
Lucille Raybon Pizzuto
Lucille Raybon Pizzuto October 22, 2017

Red Gravy ~ sauce is to delicate for my pasta

Review our Code of Conduct
Don't send me emails about new comments
PistolDee
PistolDee November 18, 2017

Sono Italiana, volete smettere con questa parola GRAVY??? Non esiste in Italia...ma Dio mio smettetela adesso!!!!!

Review our Code of Conduct
Don't send me emails about new comments
PistolDee
PistolDee November 18, 2017

Sugo... meat juice; sauce

Review our Code of Conduct
Don't send me emails about new comments
scruz
scruz November 18, 2017

it's up to the maker to call it what he or she wants.

Review our Code of Conduct
Don't send me emails about new comments
PistolDee
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.

Review our Code of Conduct
Don't send me emails about new comments
Lily Wrynn
Lily Wrynn 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.

Review our Code of Conduct
Don't send me emails about new comments
Maddy Punwasi Passaro

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.”

Review our Code of Conduct
Don't send me emails about new comments
Smaug
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.

Review our Code of Conduct
Don't send me emails about new comments
Showing 29 out of 29 Comments Back to top
Recommended by Food52