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Tips & Info

Selecting Good Quality Pasta

Pasta is one of the easiest weeknight meals because it’s quick and inexpensive. A plate of good quality pasta can also be very satisfying. But when browsing the pasta aisle at the supermarket, how do you know which pasta is the best when there so many brands to choose from? Here are some tips on what to look for when picking pasta:

First, look at the ingredients listing on the box. The number one ingredient (and the only ingredient, really) should be durum semolina wheat. Some brands will enrich their pasta with extra vitamins, so you may see additional ingredients like niacin, thiamine mononitrate and folic acid. However, the most important ingredient is durum semolina wheat. Durum is a particular variety of wheat called hard wheat, and semolina refers to the type of milling used to process the flour. Semolina flour is more course as opposed to the fine texture of a softer flour like all purpose. Lower quality pasta brands will attempt to extend their durum semolina by adding in softer flours. In the end, this lower quality pasta cooks up mushy and doesn’t have the same kind of bite as a high quality durum only pasta.

The next detail to look for on the box is to see how the pasta was extruded. Good quality pasta will be extruded through bronze plates and it will typically say so somewhere on the packaging. Bronze extrusion creates a more porous pasta that can absorb more sauce therefore becoming more flavorful. Many pastas today, however, are extruded via steel or a Teflon coated metal creating a smooth pasta that cannot easily absorb any additional flavors. High quality pasta is also slow dried at low temperatures. This helps the pasta retain its nutrients.

The next step takes a bit of math, but it’s very simple. Look at the nutrition label on the box of pasta, specifically the protein content. The higher the grams of protein per 100 grams of pasta (roughly 2 servings of pasta on the U.S. nutrition label), the better the quality of the pasta. A good quality pasta will have 12 or more grams of protein per 100 grams of pasta. By law, in Italy, a medium quality pasta must contain between 10.5 and 12 grams of protein. Any pasta containing between 12 and 13.5 grams of protein is defined as good quality pasta.

Finally, look at the pasta in the box, if you are able. The color of the pasta should be even. There shouldn’t be any great changes in coloration. That could indicate that it’s old or it wasn’t made well. It should also appear slightly rough.

Once you choose your pasta and take it home, there’s one final aspect to determine the quality of the pasta. When you boil the pasta in water, the water should remain relatively clear. If it becomes opaque and you can no longer see the pasta you are cooking, it means that the pasta has lost most of its starch and protein. Therefore it contains less nutrients that would otherwise be absorbed into your body had it remained in the pasta during cooking.

Brand names such as De Cecco and Delverde make their pasta in Italy. Therefore, their standards must conform to Italian legal regulations regarding pasta. Though Barilla is also an Italian brand of pasta, they make a majority of the pasta they sell in America within United States. Thus it may not necessarily meet the same quality standards set forth by the Italian government. However, by using the tips above, you are sure to find a good quality pasta, no matter the brand or where it is manufactured.