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Different types of pasta

There are many ways to look at the different types of pasta.

This article classifies pasta according to the types of flour used, and it includes a discussion on special types of pasta for people on the GFCF (gluten-free casein free) diet.

This has become an increasingly important issue today as more and more people develop sensisitity to food components such as gluten (grain protein) and casein (milk protein).

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Basic Italian pasta

Basic Italian pasta is not just made from wheat. By law, it has to be made from durum wheat flour or from semolina, a type of coarse flour that is only made from durum wheat. Durum is a special variety of wheat that has the higest content of protein and gluten amongst all the many types of wheat.

So in this sense, the different types of pasta in Italy arise mainly from their different shapes - and not from the type of flour used since they all use durum wheat flour.

Flavoured pasta

However, differences do arise from additional ingredients used to flavour pasta. Thse include:

  • egg pasta - these include fettuccine, linguini, tagliatelle and other pasta that come in the form of strips. They may not always contain egg but often do. Egg pasta will have the word all'uovo on the package.
  • spinach pasta
  • squid ink pasta

These are the more traditional flavours. Amongst them, I personally consider squid ink pasta to be quite special and it is about the only flavoured pasta that I might buy or order at an Italian restaurant.

In recent years, even more different pasta flavours have emerged - tomato, carrot, beetroot, green tea, seaweed and so on. These tend to be made by "health food companies" rather than by traditional pasta manufacturers.

They also tend to be more costly than regular pasta. For example, I recently came across one packet of pasta in three different colours and flavours. Not only did the packet cost nearly twice as much as other different types of pasta from the same company, but the content was less - at 300 grams instead of 400 grams.

To me, this is unnecessary waste of money. Once you add the pasta sauce, can you really taste the difference among the different types of pasta?

Wholewheat pasta

With growing health consciousness, wholewheat or wholemeal pasta has also become more widely available. Unlike regular pasta, these are made from wholewheat / wholemeal flours and they contain more fibre as well as certain vitamins and minerals, particularly the B vitamins.

Even big, mainstream pasta brands like Barilla now have wholewheat / wholemeal options.

The first time I ate wholewheat spaghetti, it tasted awful - like cardboard. But, as I later found out, that was due to the particular brand and not to the fact that all wholewheat pasta are like that. Later, I found other brands that tasted very much better.

As a compromise between wholewheat and refined wheat pasta, there is also semi-refined pasta made from partially refined wheat. These contain more fibre and nutrients than regular pasta while having a texture that is much closer to that or regular pasta.

The pasta is light brown rather than yellow in colour. Look for words like integrali or complet to identify wholemeal pasta, and semi-complet to identify partially polished pasta.

Organic pasta

Organic pasta, made from durum wheat that is grown without chemical fertilisers, pesticides and other agricultural chemicals, has also become more commonplace. And they are not necessarily more costly than non-organic pasta.

The French supermarket chain Carrefour, for example, has a housebrand semi-refined organic pasta that is cheaper than many of the other different types of pasta. Another affordable organic brand that I've come across is Baronia - except that it does not have wholewheat pasta. In Singapore where I live, both cost under S$3 (under US$2) for a 500 gram packet.

Another relatively inexpensive organic pasta brand to look out for is Alce Nero. It has organic, wholemeal as well as regular, non-organic refined pasta. Organic pasta and other European organic produce usually have the words agriculture biologique or just bio on the package.

'Exotic wheat' pasta

Two other different types of pasta, which I call 'exotic wheat pasta' have emerged from the health movement. These are Spelt pasta and Kamut pasta.

Spelt is an ancient species of wheat - said to be a sub-species of the common wheat - that was widely cultivated in parts of Europe from the Bronze Age to Medieval times. It is claimed to be rich in nutrition and to have many health-giving properties. In recent years, spelt gain new popularity in the organic movement, as the cultivation of spelt requires less fertilisers.

Kamut is actually not a type of wheat, but a trademark owned by Kamut International Ltd. The trademark is used to market a variety of wheat with certain guaranteed attributes, including certified organic production, not genetically modified and having certain nutritional specifications.

There is some evidence that people who are sensitive or intollerant to regular wheat can take both Spelt and Kamut - and hence Spelt and Kamut pasta as well. However, these grains still cannot be taken by people with Celiac Disease, an autoimmune disorder that is caused by a reaction to wheat, but is different to normal wheat intolerance or allergy. Symptoms of Celiac disease include chronic diarrhœa, failure to thrive (in children) and fatigue.

Gluten-free pasta

As increasing numbers of people suffer from Celiac Disease, Autism, and other medical conditions that either require or benefit from avoiding wheat products, many different types of pasta made from other types of grain have emerged.

For people sensitive to wheat, it is important that the wheat free pasta they buy are manufactured in separate plants, away from those that produce regular, wheat-based pasta. This is to avoid cross-contamination, as even the presence of tiny amounts of wheat can cause problems. For safety, look for pasta that has been ELISA-tested.

The most common are rice (or rice and millet) pasta, corn pasta and potato-filled pasta. When hot and freshly cooked, most are similar in texture to regular pasta. So you can use them in pasta recipes just like any of the different types of pasta.

But their characteristics change when they cool down or when they are re-heated. Rice pasta, for example, tends to be softer and more starchy. Corn pasta tend to turn tough once they cool down. There are also different types of pasta made with blends of different grains as well as potato but these usually have textures that lighter yet chewier, unlike the al dente texture of regular pasta.

So unless you need them for health reasons, there is no reason to buy these special wheat-free pastas as they also tend to cost more than regular pasta.

Instead, you would be better off with the many different types of pasta and noodles produced by the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans and others. Click here to read more.

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