Gluten-free Pasta Taste Test
I wanted to bake up a big mac and cheese that The Wee Man could eat, but let’s face it: gluten-free pastas aren’t always great and mac and cheese is a lot of work. I didn’t want to waste my time and energy for a lousy result, so off I went to Earth Fare and Whole Foods and bought four gluten-free pastas. (I know it seems like overkill, but the stores had different options, so I’m glad I did!)
Disclosure: I paid my own money for these and I did not pull my punches in the reviews….
I could bore you with the details of my taste test, but why prolong the suspense, right? You’re busy, I’m busy…
The best of the four I tried was Andean Dream Fusilli. It’s organic and made with two ingredients: white rice flour and quinoa flour. It has a neutral taste (which is what I want in pasta–something that will showcase whatever you put on it), no aftertaste, and good texture. It will break down to mush if you overcook it, so despite it saying to cook it for 14-16 minutes, I’d set your timer for 13 minutes and you’ll get a nice al dente pasta. (Side note: in Italian, “al dente” translates to “to the tooth” but what it means in cooking is that your pasta is slightly firm and a little bit chewy so it holds its shape and texture.)
Besides the neutral (yes, that really means bland) taste and good texture, it also looks the most like traditional pasta, so if you wanted or needed to pull the wool over the eyes of some unsuspecting children or spouses, this would work.
A 2-ounce dry serving (which should be about a cup of cooked pasta) has 210 calories, 1 gram of fat, 46 grams total carbs (43 grams net carbs when you subtract the 3 grams dietary fiber), and 5 grams of protein. Yes, it’s a high-carb food, but if it’s an occasional treat that doesn’t cause gluten-reactions, I’d call that a win. (Besides, if you make broccoli mac and cheese or cauliflower mac and cheese like I do you can cut the actual amount of pasta eaten way down.)
The second best option (which will be probably be my backup brand) was Modern Table Rotini. It has a better nutritional profile than Andean Dream, a good texture, and no aftertaste. It was a little hardier than the Andean Dream pasta (which could possibly make it better in a baked pasta dish) but it also cooks for 12-13 minutes as opposed to 14-16 minutes, so that could be the difference.
This one isn’t organic, but is non-GMO certified, and is made of red lentil flour, white rice, and pea protein. It’s got 190 calories (in the same 2 oz dry serving as the Andean Dream pasta), no fat, 37 grams total carbs (34 grams net carbs), and 11 grams of protein.
It looks distinctly orange when mixed with the Andean Dream fusilli, but on its own it looks and tastes enough like wheat pasta that I think you could slide it by any kids or spouses who object to giving up their “normal” pasta as long as you’ve got some kind of sauce on it.
I would not buy the other two pastas unless you have someone you don’t like and want to punish them. The Ancient Harvest one was flat-out terrible (made with corn and quinoa). I tried all 3 varieties than came in the box (plain, spinach, beet/red pepper) and I couldn’t bring myself to even finish chewing them. The texture was like chewed up fritos, and the flavor… ugh. I love the idea of using heirloom ancient grains if you’re going to have grains, but they have to taste good, or why eat them?
A man in Earth Fare (our local WF competitor) told me the tolerant red lentil pasta was the best gluten-free pasta he’d tried, so I grabbed a box, and while it was better than the Ancient Harvest brand I would not buy it again. It had a slightly grainy, refried beans-like texture when I chewed it and a yucky aftertaste. No thanks.
I know there are plenty of other brands out there that make gluten-free pasta, but I chose these four because out of the options I saw on the shelves, they seemed like the healthiest choices. I’ve never loved rice pasta, and with the whole arsenic-in-rice thing, and being mostly paleo/ primal in our house we try to avoid it except as an occasional treat. We pretty much avoid everything g-f pastas are made of though, so I tried to get a variety of options that would come as close as possible to making a delicious mac and cheese when the urge strikes us.
I hope this is helpful to those of you who want to make a good g-f mac and cheese, pasta salad, or similar. Let me know what you think and if you find any other brands that compete!