Whole-grain pastas have come a long way, since their mealy, crumbly beginnings.
When pasta makers first started stirring whole grains into the dough for the spaghetti, lasagna noodles and penne, there was only a slim chance they were going to make it passable, let alone pass it off as regular pasta.
If you haven’t given whole-grain pastas a whirl in the last little while, it’s time to try again. Whole-grain versions are better than ever and less prone to fall apart in the pan and collapse under the weight of a sauce.
The Spokesman-Review food panel compared the taste and texture of different penne pastas recently. Although the traditional pasta made from only semolina topped our test, pastas packed with fiber, whole grains and enriched with vitamins made a decent showing.
If you’re looking for a way to slip a little extra fiber, folic acid and a handful of vitamins past particular palates, reach for Barilla Plus pastas, Spokesman-Review food panel members said.
Tasters gave the enriched pasta three-and-a-half stars, and most were surprised to see the nutrition facts panel. That’s because Barilla looks almost identical to traditional pasta. But a cup of the uncooked noodles contains 17 grams of protein, 7 grams dietary fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids from flaxseeds. Barilla Plus is made with wheat, oats, spelt and barley flours, as well as ground flaxseeds.
“Nice and chewy, overall, not bad. Good texture and taste,” Laura Hollman said. “This pasta is better for you than it tastes. Go for this one.”
Marcia Oranen liked the Barilla Plus penne. “Good flavor; nicely done.
The Healthy Harvest pasta was ranked lowest by our tasters but still earned a decent three-star rating. With wheat, wheat bran and wheat fiber in the list of ingredients, the pasta is darker than traditional noodles.
“Definitely the best of the bunch and good for you, too. A nice substitute for those who watch what they eat,” said Skip Hubbard, who recognized the pasta right away because it’s the standard at his home.
Andy Hoye liked the taste that the whole grain imparted on the pasta. “(It) has that nutty, whole-grain texture and earthy flavor usually reserved for cereals and breads,” he said.
Although the texture was different from the traditional pasta, most tasters said they liked it. Others described it as “gummy” and “chewy.”
The Ronzoni pasta was still ranked highest by the panel in our blind tasting. Although he liked the other pasta served, Matt Quesnell said he still preferred the traditional penne to the whole-grain options.
“Definitely the best of the three pastas,” he said. “Smooth, softer texture, buttery; a classic.”
Barilla Plus, Penne
Price: $1.99, 1 pound
Nutrition per 2-ounce serving: 200 calories, 1 gram fat (no saturated fat, 5 percent fat calories), 10 grams protein, 38 grams carbohydrate, no cholesterol, 4 grams dietary fiber, 25 milligrams sodium.
Taste: • • • 1/2
Value: • • • •
Comments: “Not a bad pasta but a little stiff, and the taste is pretty bland. It’s not bad, though. I like it, especially since it’s good for you.” – Matt Quesnell
“Not much taste but holds its shape well.” – Nancy Robinson
“Not too bad. If it’s at all good for you, go for it.” – Skip Hubbard
“Good flavor, nicely done, al dente. Thicker and more chew to it than (the Ronzoni).” – Marcia Oranen
Ronzoni, Penne Rigate
Price: $1.79, 1 pound
Nutrition per 2-ounce serving: 210 calories, 1 gram fat (no saturated fat, 5 percent fat calories), 7 grams protein, 42 grams carbohydrate, no cholesterol, 2 grams dietary fiber, no sodium.
Taste: • • • •
Value: • • • •
Comments: “Definitely the best of the three pastas. Smooth, softer texture, buttery; a classic.” – Matt Quesnell
“Tastes just like any other pasta that I’ve had.” – Laura Hollman
“Pleasantly smooth flavor. Easy to like.” – Andy Hoye
“Clean-looking pasta, good flavor.” – Nancy Robinson
“Standard, run-of-the-mill pasta, very starchy.” – Skip Hubbard
Ronzoni Healthy Harvest
Price: $1.69, 13.25 ounces
Nutrition per 2-ounce serving: 210 calories, 1 gram fat (no saturated fat, 5 percent fat calories), 6 grams protein, 42 grams carbohydrate, no cholesterol, 6 grams dietary fiber, no sodium.
Taste: • • •
Value: • • •
Comments: “You know it is full of whole wheat grains when pasta is brown (and) specks of seven grains can be seen.” – Marilyn Moore
“Gummy, looks like it should be good for you… higher fiber.” – Nancy Robinson
“Whole wheat flavor, chewier than (the Ronzoni), not a bad flavor for whole grain.” – Marcia Oranen
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