New Twists on Pasta (A Guide to Alternative Noodles)
Whether you're looking for a gluten-free pasta, trying to eat more whole grains or experimenting with ancient grains, you can find all kinds of alternative pastas lining market shelves these days. Here's a quick primer.
Quinoa is a high protein whole grain (technically, it's a seed) that has become very popular. The grain provides hefty doses of B-vitamins, potassium, magnesium, selenium, iron and zinc. Quinoa pasta has a nutty flavor and a dense consistency. Although quinoa is gluten-free, the pasta can be blended with other flours, including whole wheat flour, so be sure to read labels carefully.
This pasta has a soft texture and light and airy flavor most closely resembling traditional enriched pasta. Sam Mills makes corn pasta made from two ingredients: 100% corn flour and water. This makes it free of gluten, wheat, eggs, dairy, sugar and soy—perfect for folks with multiple allergies. On the down side, it doesn't contain as many nutrients as some of the other pasta alternatives.
Spelt is an ancient wheat species and was widely cultivated in parts of Europe during the Bronze Age. As such, it's not gluten-free. Spelt pasta has an even nuttier flavor and denser texture than quinoa pasta. A 2-ounce serving contains 190 calories and provides 8 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber.
The ingredients here include brown rice flour and water. The color is a pale yellow-brownish color while the flavor is similar to brown rice. The pasta is free of gluten, eggs, nuts and milk. Jovial Foods makes a line of brown rice pasta that's also processed in a facility free of gluten, peanuts, tree nuts, eggs and milk-–making it a good choice for those with celiac disease or food allergies. Nutritionally, however, it doesn’t have as many nutrients as spelt or quinoa.
The consistency of this legume pasta is pretty flimsy, while the flavor isn’t very tasty. The ingredient list includes golden soybean and water. As soybean is high in protein, it's no surprise that one serving (1.75 ounces) provides 20.5 grams. However, given the option I'd choose spelt or quinoa pasta which both just taste better.
Other pasta varieties you may find include kamut (another ancient form of wheat) and bean. Many pasta blends can also be found on shelves including Barilla Plus made from a combo of wheat and legume flour blend. If you're looking for gluten-free alternatives or just a pasta with a better nutrient profile, it's always a good idea to carefully read labels before purchasing.