Different types of Pasta

So many different types of pasta so little time. What exactly is the difference? From alternative grain pastas to wheat pasta. I’m Kira Volpi and this is my comparison. Here you’ll learn all about the different pastas because pasta is not just pasta! From the quality to the way it's made and what it's made from. This is your go to site for all things pasta.

Types of Pastas:

Have you ever had a pasta made with only semolina wheat? Or how about a wheat pasta or a pasta made with 18 egg yolks? That’s exactly what you’ll find in the Le Marche region of Italy. Depending on what section of Italy you’re in those regional traditions are still held as close to an Italian family’s heart as it is to their bellies. Here are some of the options for making your Italian pasta recipes.

All Purpose Flour Pasta: Yes there are some traditional Italian pasta recipes which require the use of all purpose flour and they are a very viable option for making or buying pasta. Just like all of these different types of pasta, it is a matter of texture and taste and depending on what type of pasta you plan to make, an all purpose flour pasta might be a requirement. Using an all purpose flour to make pasta yields a more silken pasta, doesn’t take as much time to knead and cooks a little more quickly.

Semolina Pasta: Semola in Italian means bran and the Latin word of similia means flour. Mix them together and you have a bran flour or meal flour made from durum wheat and that semolina flour is a very important part of Italian cuisine and pasta manufacturing. It has more of a yellow color, much more coarse and has a much more rich flavor then a standard all purpose flour. Italy is considered to have the best quality durum wheat in the world Italy depends on durum wheat as one of it’s prime export industries.

Blended Flour Pasta: Many Italians blend both semolina flour and all purpose flour to make their homemade pasta recipe. It is one of my favorite ways to make pasta. It creates a blended flavor, it’s slightly easier to knead and manage and it creates a really great texture. Many of the pasta brands you find in the market are blends of semolina and all purpose flour.

Whole Wheat Pasta: Whole Wheat pasta is made just like a semolina pasta but the wheat is milled with the hulls, which gives the pasta a darker color and a rich wheat and nutty flavor. Although wheat pasta is slightly higher in protein and fiber it's the flavor you should be after when making or purchasing your whole wheat pasta and not the fiber because the difference in fiber from a basic pasta dough and a whole wheat pasta dough is very slight. In Italy whole wheat pasta is called pasta integrale and it’s used for it’s flavor and adding unique color to traditional pasta recipes.

Egg Pasta: Egg pasta has a strong yellow appearance to it and although most (not all) pasta recipes require egg, an egg pasta or egg noodle you only use the yolk. In fact in the Le Marche region of Italy it is tradition to use only egg yolk and lots of them. Here is a traditional Le Marche pasta recipe that uses EIGHTEEN egg yolks!

Eggless Pasta: Is it possible to have a pasta without egg? Absolutely! In fact there are some pasta shapes, such as a trofie pasta shape, that are made specifically with just all purpose flour and water. Of course making it fresh yourself is the best way to do it but there are some brands out there that offer an eggless pasta.

Gluten Free Pastas: Gluten is the key ingredient that creates the starch and the flavor of most different types of pasta. So years ago for those of you with gluten intolerance or gluten issues, pasta was typically OFF THE MENU. Not today though. In speciality stores, health food stores or even in your local grocer there is a huge selection of gluten free pasta options. We cover many of them in detail here. Brown rice pasta, potato starch, corn, quinoa pastas, to name a few. So welcome gluten free pasta foodies!

Rice Pasta: Rice Pasta which are naturally gluten free are typically found in Asian cultures and cuisines and can always be found in asian markets. A traditional dish made with rice noodles that you might be familiar with is Pad Thai. However, you can in find many pasta brands offering rice pasta as a gluten free option and marketed as an Italian style pasta. They can be found in many organic markets as well as speciality stores.

Brown Rice Pasta: Pasta made with brown rice is also a gluten free and wheat free pasta option and in most cases naturally low in sodium. Unlike rice pasta you probably would not find this item in a Asian market. This type of pasta is marketed almost exclusively as a health food item or gluten free item and can be found in organic, health food markets and in many mainstream grocery stores.

Organic Pasta: Most different types of pasta that come from Italy are organic because of the general practices used to make food in Italy. Not to mention that preservatives aren't necessarily part of the typical ingredients used to make pasta. However to be considered organic here in America it has to be certified organic which means it has to come from an organic farmer that adheres to certain criteria that’s set forth by the USDA organic division and that certifies food as an organic product.

Every organic brand of pasta I've had has been great. Stick to this guide and judge the texture, read the ingredients and you should walk away with a really good tasting, organic pasta.

Alternative Grain Pastas: There are several different types of pasta made with alternative grains, which have tried to take the seat of durum wheat. Of course that is soooo not going to happen.

Here are some different types of pasta using alternative grains:

  1. Kamut Pasta
  2. Amaranth Pasta
  3. Spelt pasta
  4. Quinoa Pasta
  5. Millet Pasta
To name a few.

Some are purchased for their gluten free qualities, but all giving a very unique texture, appearance, and of course the most important feature, the flavor. These different types of pasta are completely a matter of taste, preference, and dietary need. Just to keep the record straight, you would probably have a difficult, if not impossible, time finding any of these different types of pasta in Italy.

Different Types of Pasta Dyes:

An extruder is how most pasta shapes are manufactured today unless of course you are lucky enough to have an Italian grandmother around to make you some homemade pasta. The dough is pushed through the extruder during the pasta manufacturing process. This is the step where pastas like penne, fettuccini, spaghetti and rigatoni take their shape. Depending on what material that extruder is made with will greatly effect the texture and ultimately the quality of the pasta.

As you can see from the image here, the two shapes on the right are more yellow and shinny and the pasta shapes on the left are more of a creamy color and have a texture to them. Here's why…

Bronze Dyes: Bronze dyes have a more course surface texture and will create a more porous and chalky texture to the pasta. This is considered a more desirable texture for a pasta. The porous texture allows for the pasta sauce to adhere to the pasta and absorb the sauce.

Teflon Dyes: Teflon has a smooth, slick surface and thus creates a smooth, shiny texture to the pasta. Less likely for the pasta to absorb the sauce or adhere to it. Pasta made with a teflon dye also has a more prominent yellow color. Not to mention that teflon is a synthetic material. So why do manufactures use it? It's much easier to clean and it extrudes the dough more quickly thus producing more pasta in the same amount of time.

Tell that to the Italian Grandmothers that are still making their pasta shapes by hand and they are likely to chase you out of the kitchen with rolling pin in hand.

Different Types of Pasta Brands:

A great Italian pasta recipe is a marriage between both pasta and sauce. So it's very important, as in all Italian food recipes, to use the best quality ingredients when preparing your meal. That includes and primarily goes for the pasta type as well. A great sauce will not cover up the taste of a cheap pasta. A good quality pasta will also produce a better cooking result. Some just soak up the water and bloat up no matter how little you cook it. But a good quality pasta will not.

You can use my cooking pasta guide to make sure it's al dente every time.

There are probably more choices in America today for different types of pasta brands then there has ever been. The selection in your standard grocery store, depending on which store you shop, can be very impressive and confusing. Some specialty grocery stores or specialty Italian shops carry the more exclusive pasta brands and in green markets everywhere you can even find some boutique pasta brands that are produced at home or locally.

Then there’s the internet which provides us the worlds bounty in the comfort of our living room. There's an abundance of websites that offer boutique brands of pasta products in addition to the different types of pasta they offer from international suppliers.

A standard brand of pasta will cost a couple of bucks per pound or box. A higher quality brand will cost about double that and a select few gourmet brands will cost in the range of five or six dollars, sometimes more. But consider that the choice you make could make the difference between a good meal and a great one!

I think I'm worth the extra few bucks and so are you!

Then there are the different ways pasta is packaged.

  1. Pasta made fresh and sold in the cold case or deli area.
  2. Frozen pasta, which is usually made fresh then packed to be frozen.
  3. Dried pasta. The primary and most popular retail choice and offers the greatest selection of pasta types and pasta shapes.
  4. Then there is the, BITE MY TONGUE, canned pasta. I have nothing to comment on this because I don’t consider it a real option.
I don't list any specific brands here because it is all a matter of taste and preference. But I hope that I've provided you with some really good and helpful information for you to make the perfect choice for you and your Italian pasta recipe.

Remember that pasta is fundamental!

Vivere, Amare, Ridere e Mangiare Bene
Live, Love, Laugh and Eat Well!
Kira Volpi

Do you have a pasta recipe to share? Just like this different types of pasta page I will post it right here on this site for a whole page dedicated to your Italian pasta recipe.

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