When I was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) last year, my first thought was, I’m going to starve. Though there’s no clear cause for IBS, it can be triggered by many things, including frequent antibiotic use, bacterial overgrowth in your small intestine, or just stress. In my case, my IBS was brought on by a slew of newly developed food intolerances: Anything containing onions or garlic — the two great Pillars of Flavor — would result in a sprint to the nearest bathroom. And onions and garlic, as it turns out, are nearly impossible to avoid. Salad dressings, seasonings, salsas, barbecue sauces, hot sauces, pestos, pasta sauces (even ketchup!) — all contain onions and garlic.
For that reason, I went without so much as a bite of pasta for months, finding my sauce options (or lack thereof) uninspiring. While I could prepare my own — albeit, bland — marinara with tomatoes and olive oil, I couldn’t find a single store-bought pasta sauce that both tasted good and wouldn’t cause an IBS flare-up. Finally, I asked my mom, who also has IBS (thanks, Mom!), if she’d found any pasta sauces that she could tolerate. She mentioned that Rao’s, my go-to brand before my IBS diagnosis, makes a “sensitive” marinara sauce that’s formulated without gut-irritating ingredients. It’s the only pasta sauce she could find, she told me, that has yet to cause her any digestive problems.
“Sensitive” is a gentle way of saying that the sauce doesn’t have garlic or onion. Instead, it’s got celery and carrots, which give it an earthier, root-y flavor than the regular marinara. It’s also a little smoother than the original sauce, but by some miracle, it’s just as flavorful. Served with gluten-free pasta — and topped with vegan Parmesan and fresh basil — the dish is tangy, creamy, and slightly sweet: just how a plate of pasta should taste. I’ve found the marinara to pair well with all kinds of dishes, from spaghetti to minestrone to pizza. (My roommate prepared a mean Shakshuka with it just last week, thinking it was a jar of regular Rao’s, and couldn’t taste the difference.)
While normal marinara sauce would send me straight to the toilet, this one hasn’t caused any GI issues when paired with other IBS-friendly foods. It’s also lower in salt than other Rao’s sauces, which is an added bonus if, like me, you prefer to mix your sauce with salted pasta water. And for those who might be cooking for a friend, a partner, or even a whole family, you’ll no longer have to make a separate sauce (or a dairy-free-butter concoction) for yourself, since this one’s flavorful enough to satisfy everyone. I will note, though, that it’s tricky to find in stores; to save yourself the trip, I’d recommend ordering it online and — if you happen to live with three roommates, as I do — ordering in bulk.
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