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Is All Pasta the Same?

From fresh pasta’s delicate chew to dried pasta’s toothsome al dente texture, take a tour of the pasta universe.

When somebody says “pasta,” most people think “spaghetti and meatballs” and call it a day. But the truth is, pasta is so much more than just one dish. It’s an entire universe of textures, flavors, and shapes that can transport your taste buds to the rolling hills of Tuscany or the bustling streets of Rome.

So let’s dive into the question I know is on your mind since you’re here: is all pasta the same?

The short answer is no. Not by a long shot. Pasta varieties differ in shape, mouthfeel, flavor, and ingredients. Each variety is specifically designed to hold different types of sauces, and is best used in specific types of dishes.

The type:

There are two types of pasta you need to know about: fresh pasta and dried pasta.

Fresh pasta is made with just a few simple ingredients, including eggs, flour, and water. It’s delicate, with a slightly chewy texture and a subtle eggy flavor. Because of its delicate texture, fresh pasta is best paired with light sauces, like a simple butter and herb sauce or a light marinara.

Dried pasta is made with durum wheat flour and water before being dried commercially, which gives it a long shelf life and a unique texture. Dried pasta should be cooked until it’s “al dente”, which means tender on the inside but firm to the bite on the outside. This type of pasta holds up well to any kind of sauce—whether it’s a rich, creamy sauce or a hearty meat sauce.

The shape:

Thin pastas, long or short, are for light sauces. Thicker pastas have greater surface area that heartier, meatier sauces, like slow-cooked marinara, to cling to.

But even long noodles aren’t all the same. Take three pasta varieties that you can find in any grocery store: spaghetti, fettuccine, and linguine. They may all look the same to the untrained eye, but they each have their own unique characteristics that set them apart.

Spaghetti is long and thin, making it the perfect vessel for lighter sauces like marinara or aglio e olio. Fettuccine, on the other hand, is wider and flatter, and it’s a great partner for richer, creamier sauces, like Alfredo. And linguine? Well, it falls somewhere in between; use it for lemon-garlic and light tomato sauces.

And these are just three of the tens and tens of shapes out there, my friends.

The ingredients:

And it’s not just the shape that sets pasta apart, it’s also the ingredients. Durum wheat semolina pasta, for example, is made from a special type of wheat that gives it a yellowish color and a distinctively rich, earthy flavor.

When it comes to pasta, don’t mess around with the cheap, knock-off brands. Instead, go straight for the good stuff: durum wheat, Italy-imported pasta. This is the real deal, the O.G. of pastas. Sure, it might set you back a dollar or two more than the cheap stuff made with all-purpose flour, but trust me, it’s worth every penny. You’ll taste the difference in every bite, and you’ll be glad you didn’t skimp on the quality.

Whole wheat pasta, on the other hand, is made from a blend of wheat flour and whole wheat flour, giving it a denser texture and a more robust flavor. And then there’s gluten-free pasta, which can be made from a variety of alternative grains like rice, quinoa, and even chickpeas, each with their own unique flavor and texture.

The production method:

It doesn’t stop at just the ingredients, either.

How the pasta is made also matters. The machines used to make the pasta can make all the difference. High-quality pasta made with traditional bronze dies and dried slowly will be springy and rough, allowing the sauce to cling to the surface, compared to the machine-made pasta with non-stick dies that is dried quickly.

Or, as Caputo’s Market & Deli describes it, cheap pasta made with cost-cutting production methods is “slippery and lifeless.” And, let’s be real, nobody wants that. The next time you reach for a box of dried pasta at the store, remember that pasta is so much more than just one dish.

It’s a diverse, delicious world just waiting to be explored.

Know your author

Written by

Dim is a food writer, cookbook author, and the editor of Home Cook World. His first book, Cooking Methods & Techniques, was published in 2022. He is a certified food handler with Level 1 and Level 2 Certificates in Food Hygiene and Safety for Catering, and a trained cook with a Level 3 Professional Chef Diploma.