18 Pizza Sauces That Shamelessly Break Flavor Traditions

Look at it, just sitting there. All saucy and tomato-y. It's suffocating a perfectly innocent pizza crust, trying to conceal itself beneath that rubbery, old shredded mozzarella, and those depressing excuses for fresh basil leaves.

How did we get to this place? We once had a torrid love affair with tomato sauce on pizza. Sparks flew as we chose the perfect slice, pulled it away from the pie — strands of cheese tangled in our fingers — and took our first breathless bite. We laughed for hours; there were too many memories to count. It seems like a dream, those long-forgotten days when a simple pizza sauce was all we needed to really feel alive.

But look at us now. (A finger traces the crust, and pushes the plate away.) We even used to call our time together ... pizza night.

Listen, it doesn't have to be like this! There is more to pizza sauce than regular tomato. There are exciting flavors. Thrilling textures. Sweet things. Spicy things. Cheesy things. Exotic things. There's even something from IKEA. It's a beautiful, saucy world out there, and you're about to taste every pizz-a it.

Sweet chili sauce

Do you love the look of traditional tomato sauce, but long for a little more zhuzh? We've got just the accoutrement: nam chim kai, a famous dipping sauce from Thailand. You can call it sweet chili sauce, though — we're all friends here. Not to oversell it, but this sauce might just kick tomato sauce to the curb forever. Once you try it, you'll never look back.

This one's gonna add a whole lot of supporting-character flavor to any toppings you like. Packing some heat with a sweet-yet-savory flavor profile, this tangy gal works well with chicken, veggies, and just about every cheese you could choose. With its own pizza-friendly punch, it brings all the red chili, ginger, garlic, vinegar, and sugar to the party. It's okay if you're suddenly wondering why you haven't been using this sauce the whole time. Same.

Impress yourself and your favorite people by making your own homemade version, or grab a pre-made brand from just about any grocery store. Then, simply use your sweet chili sauce on your pizza dough like you would with a tomato version. It has a mostly smooth texture, with a delightful balance of sour and sweet. Sweet chili sauce works for pizza fans of all ages.


Pizza bianca fans, you're about to get wrecked by a "mother sauce" of French cuisine — but on pizza, a food that's originally from Naples, Italy. Consider this dish Fritalian. And consider us sold because, well, béchamel is divine with literally everything. Bring it.

Class is in session. This velvety cream sauce (or roux) is made with milk, butter, and flour, and then seasoned with salt, pepper, cloves, bay leaf, onion, and nutmeg. The correct pronunciation for the sauce is bay-shuh-MEL, but with a very French chef de cuisine-type accent. With the amount of tastiness it brings, béchamel makes any pizza topping sing like a songbird in spring.

Of course, we have some mouthwatering topping suggestions if you want to turn things up a notch further. Mushroom and bacon would certainly double down on the savory-salty situation. Even though this sauce is creamy, there's no need to omit the parmesan and mozzarella. There could be an artichoke and spinach scenario that would work for the veggie lovers. Buttery, garlicky shrimp would work well for shellfish fans. We would also be down for a caramelized onion and sliced green apple pairing — with a scattering of bacon crumbles on top — to play tart and sweet against the beautifully savory sauce.


It's already good paired with rice, naan, Bombay potatoes, french fries, veggies, fermented rice noodles, and onion pakora, but you better believe curry was also positively born to be slathered on pizza. Pick your region, snag your favorite seasoning blend, and let your imagination run wild. With potentially thousands of different flavors of curry to choose from, this sauce is one you're going to come back to again and again.

While curry is typically associated with a seasoned sauce from India and Southeast Asia, it has become a global phenomenon. Specific curries often reflect the flavors of the country where it is served. Indian masala curry leans more toward a warm, fragrant, earthy sensation, while Thai green curry comes in hot with notes of lemongrass, kaffir lime, and green chilies. You could travel around the world and never taste the exact same curry twice.

Combos that work well here are yellow Thai curry paired with fresh veggies and mozzarella, Murgh Makhani curry (also known as the sauce used in butter chicken) with chicken, pineapple, and mint chutney, or a coconut-based curry with red peppers, tomato, and sliced avocado. Hot tip: Save your avos from the heat, and place them on the pizza after it is done baking. Avocados look and taste better if they don't spend their free time in the oven.


If you grew up eating a diet of chicken nuggets, plain cheese pizza, and cheese-filled hot dogs, the introduction of pesto might have marked your entry into a culinary universe of foods that weren't just bread and beige. Originally from Genoa, Italy, pesto is a workhorse of a condiment that combines everything good in life: basil, garlic, and olive oil. And variations on that theme.

Of course, pesto already belongs in the pizza wheelhouse. Maybe you've enjoyed it dolloped on top of a pie, but we're giving pesto the starring role it has always been gunning for: the sauce layer, where it hits with every bite. It's pesto's world, and we're all just living in it. On a pesto pizza, the tomatoes go on top — that is, if they even go anywhere.

Pesto packs a hefty helping of vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. But this is pizza we're talking about. It's not like we're over here trying to detox. Pesto makes a great base for different cheeses and toppings, like goat cheese with mushroom and kale. (Wait, we thought we weren't doing healthy.) Another tasty combo might feature feta cheese paired with tomato, olives, and artichoke hearts. And for the true turophiles — or, cheese-lovers — among us, try topping your pesto pie with spinach, roasted chicken, sliced pears, chopped walnuts, and some seriously bangin' gorgonzola or blue cheese crumbles.


Nutella, food of the gods. You might be surprised to discover that Nutella on pizza is not an American invention ... a drunk, late-night, nothing-else-to-eat, American invention.

For the record, the Nutella dessert pie throws back to the spirit of innovation that marked the grassroots beginnings of pizza in Napoli. At least, we like to think so. After the cocoa and hazelnut cream hit the scene in 1964, thanks to Pietro Ferrero, the sweet spread became popular in Italy and was eventually stuffed inside Nutella-wrapped crêpes crafted for tourists. The pizza version found a home stateside as part of the standard menu at many Italian restaurants after the first Nutella pie — which was more like a promo stunt for Nutella — debuted in the '90s.

Anyone can order takeout. But only a true artist can bring the Nutella canvas to life. The sweet takeover starts once the crust has been fully baked, plain. That's when the magic happens. First, go to town with the Nutella. Then, top the pizza like it's hot. Our favorite suggestions include sliced strawberries, torched mini marshmallows, mini chocolate chips, confectioners' sugar, chopped toasted hazelnuts, graham cracker crumbles, sliced banana with a peanut butter drizzle, or shredded coconut. We can not be held responsible for what happens if you put Oreos and candy on it, but text us and we'll be right over.

Thai peanut sauce

Welcome to the wonderful world of Thai peanut sauce. Also commonly called satay sauce, you may have tasted it with fresh spring rolls, chicken satay, or on top of a piping hot bowl of Pad Thai. But have you ... pizza-fied it?

Before we get ahead of ourselves, let's get one thing on the table. Peanut sauce is not the same thing as peanut butter. Not even if you nuke it into a liquid consistency. While peanut sauce packs all of the nutty flavor of peanut butter, it also features a host of additional ingredients that rocket it into a whole new sweet and spicy dimension. Typically, you'll find peanuts, red curry paste, and coconut milk holding down the fort, with the addition of soy sauce, ginger, brown sugar, sesame seeds, rice vinegar, and spices, depending on the region.

An obvious jumping-off point for topping the PSP (Peanut Sauce Pizza — we're making it a thing) would be shredded chicken, green onions, shredded carrots, bean sprouts, and mozzarella, capped off with peanut crumbles and fresh cilantro. Add a quick spritz of fresh lime over the whole thing, and dinner is served.

Thousand Island dressing

It's getting a little crazy up in this pizza joint! You may not have realized it, but Thousand Island dressing is the alternative pizza sauce you've been searching for. It's a fancy salad dressing that was once prepared for bougie vacationers in the Thousand Islands in the early 1900s. Seventy years later, it had lost all of its relish ... pun intended. Because there's pickle relish in it. Okay. Anyway ...

Time to reboot Thousand Island as a gastronomical secret sauce. It's orange, it got involved with some questionable salad bars in the '70s, but now it's ready for a makeover. Packing a uniquely tangy vibe, its signature flavor comes from mayo, ketchup, vinegar, relish, onion, and the occasional addition of a hard boiled egg. (No wonder it got stuck in a time-warp. Hard boiled eggs in a dressing? Whose idea was this?)

Even so, Thousand Island really knocks it out of the park, though we suspect it may be best-suited for a rather specific pie. The Reuben sandwich, done up as a pizza, provides us the perfect framework. Deconstruct the classic sando and build it back up from the bottom. Use Thousand Island dressing as your sauce, and top the pizza with deli-sliced corned beef, strained sauerkraut, shredded Swiss cheese, and pickle chips. One bite, and you may feel like you're hearing some guy behind you at the deli telling you to move it or lose it.


It looks kind of like pesto, but gremolata is its own thing. Instead of basil, gremolata is made with finely chopped parsley, freshly minced garlic, and insanely fragrant lemon zest. It's the brightest, cheeriest condiment you could ever taste, and it's perfect on pizza.

Since gremolata typically accompanies dishes with deeply rich flavor profiles, it is designed to cut through the heaviness of an osso buco alla milanese or savory mushroom pasta with its contrasting peppery parsley and floral citrus taste. Of course, the same theory applies to a pizza pie. Except we're choosing not to use it as a garnish, and keeping our eye on the dough.

Since the sauce is made with minimal oil from its ingredients, you'll be sprinkling this one on top of the dough instead of spreading it. Toppings might include shredded parmesan cheese, chopped pine nuts, and paper-thin lemon slices, all meant to bake in the oven like a pizza potpourri. Another combo could feature a green farmers market haul, like asparagus, fennel, peas, and a beautiful ricotta cheese to offer a soft landing for the zesty lemon gremolata. Is it weird if we sip a limoncello just to stay on theme? Is the yellow sweater too much?

Mayonnaise — sort of

You knew it was coming. Here lie the remnants of a pizza made with mayonnaise — and by all accounts, it was freakin' delicious. But before you start squeezing straight Hellmann's onto the dough like, "I dunno, they told me to do it," remember we're recommending you make your pizza with mayonnaise 2.0.

From mayoketchup to salsa golf, pink sauce, salsa rosada, and fry sauce, mayonnaise has found ways to flawlessly incorporate itself into much more flavorful mixtures, each offering a twist on the classic mayo-ketchup combination. (We're ignoring the whole Heinz "Mayochup" fiasco. #NeverForget.) While there will always be a place for a tangy standard mayo smeared onto a BLT, or tossed in a tuna salad, this isn't it. We're going to need the fun kind for our purposes. No matter what you call it.

While extra ingredients like fresh garlic or chipotle hot sauce can be added if you're preparing the sauce yourself, the basic rule is that the mayonnaise-ketchup combo goes with everything. Ever dipped a french fry or tostones in it? You get it. Hit a chipotle chicken high note with bacon, crispy jalapeños, chipotle Tabasco sauce, loads of shredded mozzarella, and a sprinkle of fresh cilantro.

IKEA Swedish meatball gravy

Emerging from the maze of Poäng armchairs, Malm beds, and Rens sheepskin rugs comes the behemoth of all pizza sauces: ALLEMANSRÄTTEN. Otherwise known as IKEA meatball gravy mix. Just add water and cream, and you're ready to rock.

Seasonings like onion powder, turmeric, paprika, garlic, and pepper give this gravy its signature flavor. And while you might typically find it generously poured on top of your favorite foods, here, we're taking advantage of its creamy texture and rich, earthy notes to play against our poppin' pizza toppings.

For atmosphere, we suggest scattering the contents of a newly-opened Billy bookcase unit on the floor, and chucking out two screws, a shelf, and all the directions. Then, we're going all-in on what many consider to be the national dish of Sweden: Swedish meatballs. With this rich cream sauce, cooked and sliced meatballs, shredded mozzarella, and lingonberry jam (you know we wouldn't forget the best part), it's all skysås (gravy) from here.

Fig jam

This one almost bakes itself. Fig jam can be found cozied up with all kinds of cheese on charcuterie boards, from brie to gruyere to camembert. Plus, the fig-and-carbs combo has been in action ever since Fig Newtons went into production back in 1891. Still, a question remains. Why did it take us until now to turn this into pizza?

No, we're not crumbling up Fig Newtons as our pizza topping. At least, not in front of other people. Instead, we're highlighting the sweet, nectar-like flavor of a fresh fig, combined with the one ingredient that makes jams and jellies completely irresistible: sugar. With a mild tartness and a seed-studded texture, the light berry flavor of a fresh fig gets cranked up to an 11 once it's cooked down into a jam.

Don't you dare skimp on that jam layer. We want everything but the very edge of the crust to be perfectly sauced. As we know, toppings here can run the gamut, but we'd suggest pairing the sweet jam or preserves with goat cheese, topped with a mess of fresh, nutty arugula. Go haute cuisine with a smattering of caramelized onions, because we fancy like that.


Red sauce, but make it slap. Harissa may be a relatively new addition to the world of pizza, but its ancient roots go back to the seventh century, with the first harissa production line launching in Tunisia, in 1948. Now, you can get your harissa on just about everywhere. Including on top of your new favorite slice.

A beautifully spicy and dimensional complement to all sorts of toppings, harissa is typically a blend of roasted peppers, Baklouti peppers, garlic paste, caraway seeds, coriander, cumin, and olive oil. Sometimes dried peppers, chilis, and even rose petals are also incorporated into the mix, depending on the mood. Whatever's in there, it's a fine addition to pies of all kinds.

Harissa is generally considered to be hot and spicy, though, so fair warning: Apply accordingly. But the toppings you choose will definitely factor into your pizza's heat quotient. Pay homage to the harissa heritage with an African-spiced sausage, yogurt, shredded mozzarella, parmesan, and a mint leaf or pomegranate seed topping. Or, keep it simple with a fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced tomatoes, and fresh basil.

Nacho cheese

We love an ingredient that rises out of concession stand infamy and reinvents itself as the pizza sauce of the century. Yup, you can bet your pepperonis that this is exactly what you think it is. It's creamy, it's otherworldly orange, and it's as appropriate in a plastic baseball helmet stacked with tortilla chips as it is pumped straight into your mouth. It's nacho cheese. No looking back. We're doing this.

Since the term "nacho cheese" is kind of up for grabs as far as its true meaning, we're referring to the basic orange processed cheese goop just as it is. If you want, you can spike yours up with a few red peppers for beauty points. No one's looking. Come on, you can admit you kind of love it.

This cheese is begging to be invited to your next pizza party. It works crazy well on a pretzel crust. Duh. Just slather on the cheesy sauce and top your pie with shredded mozzarella and pepperoni. You can also do up a pretty legit breakfast pie with nacho cheese, Canadian bacon, scrambled eggs, and fresh chives. Obviously, you're going to want to drizzle more of that beautiful nacho cheese on top. No, we're not going to tell you to put hot dogs on it. But we're not not going to tell you to do it, either.


File this one under E for easy, effortless, and real-E awesome. Hummus fans already know the drill: This beloved condiment is made from a flawlessly smooth blend of chickpeas, tahini paste, lemon juice, garlic, and a little olive oil. It was only a matter of time before the flatbread-eating hummus lovers were like, wait a minute. Y'know what we could do with this? Roll that beautiful bean footage!

An original export from Syria, hummus blew up in the U.S. when the Sabra brand hit the shelves in 2008. And from the grocery store to your bed (where some of us might be watching "Real Housewives" in our jammies, with a glass of rosé, and a personal hummus pie we just low-key rocked out ourselves), hummus is life.

Naturally, hummus lends itself to a Mediterranean-style flavor combo. Spread a layer of hummus on your pizza dough, and top with feta crumbles, sliced olives, sun-dried tomatoes, and a post-bake drizzle of EVOO. Or, layer your hummus pizza with a Greek olive tapenade, toasted pine nuts, and fresh mint. Just about everything goes with hummus. It's almost as forgiving as your grandma.


If ever there was a humble condiment that has reached a sacred status, it would be chimichurri. Its fuzzy origin stories — possibly involving a guy named Jimmy McCurry, British soldiers jonesing for curry, or the Basque sauce "tximitxurri" — only heighten its cherished lore among Argentinians, as well as fuel a stone cold obsession in the rest of us.

A fragrant blend of chimis and churris (kidding), chimichurri is actually made from a finely minced combo of flat leaf parsley, chili, red jalapeño, garlic, shallot, red wine vinegar, cilantro, oregano, and EVOO. It's the perfect complement to your pizza toppings du jour.

Chimichurri brings a dimensional herbal flavor to the dish, so no need to worry about that rogue jalapeño swimming around in the sauce. Keep your chimichurri pizza on theme with an Argentinian barbecue vibe, topped with Spanish chorizo and mozzarella. Or, go for a nice chopped steak and mozzarella combination, finished off with arugula and pickled red onion.

Olive tapenade

If you love black olives, you probably can't get enough of their sweet, smoky, pickle-ish flavor — almost like a fine glass of wine you can stick onto the tips of your fingers. Olive tapenade — which typically boasts a beautiful blend of black olives, capers, anchovies, garlic, parsley, thyme, and EVOO — then becomes the pizza sauce of an olive fan's dreams.

Likely invented in France — home of "it's only champagne if it's from Champagne, France" — the term "tapenade" technically refers only to recipes that feature a strict ratio of black or green olives, and other ingredients. Still, in America, we tapenade with abandon. Let's just say that if you're using mostly olives, you're on the right track.

Spread your olive tapenade over the dough, leaving a clean border around the edge, and then go Greek-inspired with onion, feta, fresh basil, and a drizzle of olive oil. Or, showcase a seasonal fruit with fresh fig halves, goat cheese, and a last minute swirl of balsamic glaze.


Za'atar (pronounced ZAH-tahr, for non-Arabic speakers) might just be the most ancient pizza sauce to be featured on our list — and we've got receipts. It has been spun into a perfume for the ruling class in the first century A.D., its plant version was used as a therapy for leprosy in the Bible, and spices from the seasoning blend were even discovered in King Tut's tomb.

And here we are, in the year 2023, making pizza with it. Long live za'atar! This Middle Eastern rock star traditionally boasts the following ingredients: dried thyme, oregano, sumac, marjoram, salt, and toasted sesame seeds. But since this is a dry spice blend, for our purposes we suggest mixing it with a little olive oil to give it some sticking power as a pizza sauce.

Layer the za'atar atop your dough, then spread your topping wings and fly. Go for simple mozzarella and feta crumbles to give it an Ackawi cheese feel — a popular cow's milk cheese from the Middle East — or top it with paper-thin sliced red onions, ripe tomatoes, and mozzarella like it's going out of business and everything's gotta go (into your mouth).


The most hallowed sauce anywhere on the planet (according to our informal, saucy study ... and kids who hate broccoli) would have to be ranch dressing. Specifically, Hidden Valley Ranch dressing. More precisely, Hidden Valley Ranch dressing on top of this pizza right here.

But not, like, on top. We aim for the bottom of the top. To say that you've eaten pizza, and yet admit that you have never dipped a slice or a crust into a refreshing pool of ranch dressing, is an unforgivable travesty. It's time to make amends, and use ranch dressing as your pizza sauce.

Admittedly, ranch dressing is the comfy La-Z-Boy of sauces. The creamy, tangy, lightly-seasoned American classic sets you up to easily spike that flavor ball over the net. Top your ranch pizza with buffalo chicken, bacon, red onions and mozzarella. Or, get your veggies in with fresh sliced tomatoes, broccoli florets, mushrooms, and shredded mozzarella. You could even try something out of the box with sautéed garlic, mozzarella, and sliced dill pickles, topped off with a drizzle of your favorite hot sauce. Zing. As Hidden Valley accurately states, ranch dressing isn't just a topping, "It's a way of life."