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Tomato sauce is one of the most crucial parts of pizza composition. But is it really the tomato that’s important, or can any sauce anchor down the toppings? Pizza has a lot more range than we give it credit for. For instance, Roman style pizza can be sauceless, and not even round. I’m not trying to completely turn your pizza world upside-down (maybe a little), but let’s give tomato-based pizza sauce a break. Whether you’re not into tomato sauce, or you just ran out, you might be able to make an even better pizza with one of these alternatives.

Sweet chili sauce

A small pizza with sweet chili sauce on it.

A tablespoon of sweet chili sauce is plenty on my mini personal pizza.
Credit: Allie Chanthorn Reinmann

If you really want to send your taste buds on a journey, cover your crust with a layer of sweet chili sauce. There are a variety out there; some are garlicky or ginger-forward, and others are more spicy, but overall the flavor is mellow and sweet. Sprinkle on the cheese and top your pizza with something salty or acidic. Allow me to recommend pineapple and SPAM.

BBQ sauce

Tomato sauce can bring subtle balance, but barbecue sauce makes a bold statement. Trader Joe’s makes a lovely frozen version of barbecue chicken pizza, but you can easily pull this off at home with results that would put that store bought pizza to shame. Stretch out fresh pizza dough and slather it with your favorite bottled or scratch-made barbecue sauce. Scatter cheese, cooked chicken slices, and red onions over the top and cook as usual.

Baba ganoush 

Baba ganoush is less a sauce than a smoky and savory dip, but I’ll be darned if it isn’t great with bread and cheese. You can find a tub of baba ganoush in the refrigerated dip section of the grocery store, or you can make it at home with just a few ingredients. 

Jarred alfredo sauce 

Traditional alfredo sauce isn’t made of much besides cream, butter, and parmesan, which might not leave the biggest impact on your pizza. Store-bought alfredo out of a jar, however, is thick, creamy, and the perfect adhesive for pizza toppings. The jarred stuff can have a varied ingredient list depending on the brand, but they consistently have mild garlic, onion, and cheese flavors. You can pair this sauce with any topping, but I particularly like it with bitter green veggies. 


Pickles and cheese on a mayonnaise coated pizza crust.

A dose of mayonnaise coats this pickle and mozzarella mini pizza.
Credit: Allie Chanthorn Reinmann

Mayo has won my heart as a versatile sauce, and if it hasn’t won you over yet, give it a chance. The world already loves it as a French fry dip; we cover our grilled corn in the stuff; even grilled cheese has a love affair with the infamous emulsion. Why would we then frown upon mayo pizza? Coat your pizza with a couple of tablespoons of regular mayo and make yourself a pickle pizza with chopped hot dogs. You could even streamline it and go straight for a tartar sauce layer.

Coconut milk curry

A creamy coconut milk curry sauce is the perfect base to pack your pizza with a robust bouquet of aromatic flavors. You can buy your favorite jar from the grocery store, make your own from scratch, or buy a concentrated paste that you mix with coconut milk at home. A sauce that’s on the thicker side rather than watery will hang onto your crust better, but taste it first. Some curries can pack a punch, and if you want to mellow it some, stir in a couple of spoonfuls of coconut milk.


Pesto needs no introduction. This rich, verdant Italian sauce will add bright herbal flavor to your pizza and leave you with the best kind of garlic breath. You can make your own (it’s a great way to use up an abundance of basil during the summer), or buy it pre-made. My local Shoprite sells these tiny six-ounce jars that are perfect for weeks when I’m having a pesto kick.

Cashew cream

When you’re craving something creamy without the dairy, try cashew cream. It’s simple to make at home, and creates a wide canvas for a variety of flavors. Season the cashew cream with spices, or let it shine as its nutty self. This plant-based sauce makes for a great alfredo sauce replacement, so top it with your favorite vegan cheese (or dairy cheese—hey, it’s your pizza), and bitter greens. Try the cashew cheese sauce in this recipe.


A jar of harissa sits next to a small round of pizza dough.

Trader Joe’s harissa is chili-packed and spicy.
Credit: Allie Chanthorn Reinmann

Spice-heads, I didn’t forget about you. For heat that you can feel in your toes, substitute tomato sauce for a powerful layer of harissa. This vermillion sauce is primarily composed of blended chili peppers with smoky spices, herbs, and a little oil to loosen it all up. The heat level can vary dramatically depending on how it’s made, so try it first before committing your whole pie to it. If the harissa is too hot for you, dull the spice by layering tomato sauce on the pizza for more balance.

Olive tapenade

Olives make a great topping, but for some of us that just isn’t enough. Olives pack a salty, briny punch, and frankly, I’m tired of hunting for each meager olive ring. I’d rather have that flavor in every bite. Good thing there’s olive tapenade. Maybe you’ve seen it on charcuterie boards, but this spreadable paste of blended olives, oil, and brine can make itself at home on your pizza crust, too. 

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