The results are in. Google recently announced its most searched recipes of 2022 as it does each year. And what took the top spot? Sugo.
You’re probably asking yourself, “What is sugo?” and before you pause this story to Google it, do yourself a favor and don’t, because you might be misled.
As a first generation Italian American, self-taught chef, cookbook author, and someone who almost became an Italian language teacher (sorry for wasting your money, mom and dad!), I was pretty shocked to see that most Google search results describe sugo as a tomato sauce. I spent a few minutes scratching my head. What I’m about to tell you will burst your bubble, especially if you binge-watched six seasons of “The Sopranos” and it makes you feel a little “Italian.” Sugo isn’t just a tomato sauce. It’s just, well, sauce. Any sauce.
What Is Sugo?
Sugo means “sauce” in Italian. It can come from vegetables or meat—to quote an Italian dictionary, it refers to “the drippings or juices that are extracted when you cook certain foods.” Sugo di pomodoro is tomato sauce. Sugo all'arrabbiata is a spicy tomato sauce. Sugo without a descriptor following it means nothing more than sauce, not specific to anything at all.
We Need to Talk About Gravy
Why then is Google telling us that sugo is an Italian tomato sauce? Here, my friends, is the time to talk about a controversial word, especially for those who grew up in the Northeast: gravy. This word ignites a passion in most Italian Americans.
As both a food influencer and an Italian gal who grew up in Brooklyn, I’ve come to understand that there are several opinions. There are people who think all tomato sauces—marinara, bolognese, tomato and basil, should be called gravy, whether it contains meat or not. Then there are those who say only a meat sauce can be called gravy. And finally, there are people who swear on all that is holy that gravy is brown and eaten with turkey on Thanksgiving.
Here’s the clincher: Italy doesn’t have a word to properly describe gravy when talking about any type of tomato-based sauce that goes on pasta. In fact, in Italy, the word gravy doesn’t even exist. Sugo is the closest thing, so some people have adopted sugo to mean a traditional Italian tomato pasta sauce even though Italians do not use the word for the same purpose; they’d call it sugo di pomodoro. Whatever word you use—sugo, gravy, or red sauce—don't sweat it because it's just as delicious by any name.