By Sarah Haan, for SparkPeople
Pasta is such a versatile food, it's no wonder it's so popular. A survey conducted by the National Pasta Association found that 77% of Americans eat pasta at least once per week. Used as a side dish or main entree, eaten hot or cold, topped with a variety of different items, pasta is a great source of energy (carbohydrates) that helps power your mind through a tough day at work or school and your body though a challenging workout at the gym. You might have already made the switch to 100% whole-wheat pasta, but that's not the only variety of whole-grain pasta. Did you know that a wide variety of other whole-grain noodles are readily available in grocery stores these days?
Flours from other whole grains, such as brown rice, kamut, quinoa, buckwheat, corn and spelt, can all be used to make high-fiber, heart-healthy pastas, which each has its own flavor and nutritional profile. Being precise in cooking whole-grain pastas is important, as the texture can change greatly if you accidentally undercook or overcook them. This is especially true when cooking gluten-free pastas, as they tend to fall apart a bit more because they lack the sturdy protein, gluten, which helps bind pasta.
Here's an introduction to some of the most common whole-grain pastas you can find at the supermarket.
Buckwheat is technically a grass, not a grain. It's gluten-free, so is wonderful for people with celiac disease. Buckwheat seeds are ground into a dark flour, which is used to make this pasta, also called "soba noodles." The noodles are a dark brown-gray color and have a nutty flavor. Some companies add wheat flour to ground buckwheat when making pasta, so be sure to check the label if you're trying to avoid gluten. They're often used in Asian cooking.
Couscous is a tiny, circular pasta from North Africa and the Middle East. It's becoming increasingly popular in America but is most often made with refined wheat flour. However, you can find whole-wheat couscous. Couscous is generally steamed or boiled in water and can be topped with stews, eaten plain, or flavored with various herbs and spices. It's commonly stocked in the grains section of larger grocery stores.
Brown rice pasta
Made from ground whole brown rice, brown rice pasta is lighter in color than many whole-wheat varieties and mild in flavor. It is touted as having a smooth texture that is firm and is generally found in the gluten-free section of grocery stores or health food stores. It has to be cooked slightly longer than wheat pastas but can be used just as you would any other pasta in hot dishes, salads, soups, casseroles or other dishes.
Kamut is a type of whole wheat. It contains gluten but is usually tolerated by those allergic to the common, crossbred versions of wheat. It has a richer, almost buttery flavor and can be found in many shapes, such as penne, spaghetti and fusilli.
Quinoa is the seed of a grass-like plant found in the Andes Mountains of South America. It is not technically a grain, but it is often referred to as a whole grain because it is nutritionally similar. It resembles couscous in size and shape but is ground into flour to make gluten-free pasta (often made with a blend of quinoa and corn flours). It's superior to traditional white flour pasta in amounts of protein, iron and phosphorous and is considered a complete protein, which is important to vegetarians.
What's your favorite kind of pasta?
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By Sarah Haan, for SparkPeople