Q: Why does whole-wheat pasta taste, on the whole, terrible? Is there hope to include more grains and fiber in my pasta dishes?
A: Our test kitchen tasters were disappointed by most 100-percent whole grain pastas, except for one impressive contender from Italy.
Given the push towards whole grains these days, it’s no surprise that the supermarket shelves now carry many new versions of whole‐wheat or multigrain pasta from just about every major pasta manufacturer. Intending to help pasta lovers reap the benefits of this crop of new products and find the best brand to pair with our healthy pasta recipes, we set out to separate the wheat from the chaff. We bought 18 nationally distributed brands of whole‐wheat and multigrain pasta and sampled them plain with olive oil, rating them on flavor and texture. After eliminating the worst of the bunch, we narrowed the field to just 10 finalists and tested them again with homemade marinara and pesto. Some were puzzlingly similar to white pasta while others were heavy, dense, and rough. Several were made entirely of whole‐wheat but many so called “whole‐wheat” pastas in fact contain a minimal amount of whole grain flour mixed with regular, refined white flour. What we learned is that the USDA regulates exactly what has to be in pasta called “100 percent whole‐wheat,” but not pasta that is simply called “whole‐wheat.” This means that without this labeling, manufacturers can call their product whole‐wheat when in actuality it is far from it. Likewise the government does not regulate the label “multigrain” beyond requiring that more than one type of grain be used.
So what did our tasting panel find? First, most of the 100 percent whole‐wheat and 100 percent whole grain pastas fell quickly to the bottom of the rankings, confirming what we had expected: pasta with “mushy” and “doughy” textures, with many tasting “sour” and “fishy.” But there was one dark horse in the bunch, Italian‐made Bionaturae Organic 100% Whole-Wheat Spaghetti (7 grams protein and 6 grams fiber per 2‐ounce serving), made entirely of whole‐wheat but with an appealingly chewy and firm texture like the pastas with little or no whole grains. Some tasters even deemed it “more flavorful than white pasta.” The manufacturer’s secret? Custom milling (which ensures good flavor), extrusion through a bronze not Teflon die (which helps build gluten in the dough), and a slower drying process at low temperatures (which yields sturdier pasta).