Whole Grain Pasta Challenge

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Every time I’m at the market, it seems like I spot a new addition to the whole grain pasta category. I love pasta, and I love whole grains . . . but I admit to being less than impressed when the two have met in the past. Now that there are so many choices out there, though, I thought it was time to take a closer look.

The Ideal

I’ve found most whole wheat pastas in the past to be either gummy, with a sort of stick-to-your-teeth kind of feel, or so brittle as to break when spinning around a fork. In this test, my ideal texture was a true ‘al dente’ toothsomeness without being overly chewy or dry. And while I enjoy a strong, whole-wheat flavor for certain dishes, in this case I was looking for a neutral taste without being so bland as to risk muting the flavors of an entire dish.

In other words, in this taste test, I was searching for whole grain pasta that looked, acted and tasted as much like traditional pasta as possible.

The Results

I tried eight spaghettis in all, cooked precisely to their individual time specifications in a large pot of boiling, well-salted water. Here’s how they fared:

*** Best ***

bella-italia-thumbBella Italia Organic Whole Wheat Spaghetti
Bella Italia spaghetti tastes like what you’d find in Italy, and its minimalistic ingredient list—organic, whole durum wheat flour and water—is probably what makes it so. This spaghetti most closely resembled traditional pasta in both taste and texture, earning a 4+ out of a possible 5.

*** Late addition — Check out the new Jovial brand pasta, made from an ancient strain of wheat called Einkorn. It too merits best status.

** Very Good **

de-cecco-thumbDeCecco Enriched Whole Wheat Spaghetti
DeCecco is a bit darker in color with good flavor. While it has a nice bite, it did border on chalky; maybe because of a coarser semolina grind, or maybe because of the ubiquitous nutritional “fortifications” (niacin, iron, thiamine, riboflavin and folic acid) added in the US. 4 out of 5.

* Good *

barilla-plus-thumbBarilla Plus Spaghetti
Barilla Plus is the whole grain pasta that first won me over, and it still holds its own in a crowd. This pasta comes from a unique blend of legume/whole grain flour milled from lentils, chickpeas, spelt, barley, flaxseed, oat fiber and oats mixed with durum wheat flour, which gives it a nutritional edge over other pastas. Barilla Plus has double the amount of protein and fiber of traditional pastas and a fair amount of omega-3 fatty acids, an unusual component for pasta. This spaghetti has a mild flavor without being bland along with a decent texture, but it does fall on the crumbly side. 3+ out of 5.

barilla-whole-thumbBarilla Whole Grain Spaghetti
This version of Barilla is made with whole wheat flour (albeit just over the hump at 51%) enriched with oat fiber. The result is a neutral tasting noodle with a respectable bite, although it can tend towards too mushy. 3 out of 5.

Don’t Bother

The rest of the pastas I tasted brought back not-very-fond memories of whole grain pastas of yesteryear and all the shortcomings listed above. None scored above a 2. These included:

  • Eating Right Multigrain Spaghetti
  • O Organic Whole Wheat Spaghetti
  • Ronzoni Healthy Harvest Whole Grain Spaghetti
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Spaghetti Carbonara

This recipe was inevitable. Last week, while I was reviewing the whole grain spaghettis for this post, I had a dozen fresh eggs from a friend’s hens sitting next to a few slices of really tasty bacon in the fridge . . . the ingredients for a major carbonara craving. Carbonara is a rich dish, so I like to serve small portions alongside a generous green salad tossed with my go-to vinaigrette.


1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, minced
3 slices bacon, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch thick strips
1/2 pound whole wheat pasta
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 egg yolks
2 tablespoons low-fat sour cream
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons parsley, minced

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.

Heat olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat and add onion. Saute for 2 minutes; add bacon, and cook another 8-10 minutes until bacon and onion are well-browned. Transfer mixture to a paper towel and let cool while pasta cooks.

Add pasta to water and cook according to package directions. Reserve 1/4 cup of pasta water.

While pasta is cooking, whisk together cheese, yolks, sour cream, vinegar and onion mixture. In a separate small bowl, when pasta is nearly done, whisk together a tablespoon of the egg mixture with a tablespoon of pasta water and pour back into the egg mixture. Whisk remaining 3 tablespoons pasta water into the egg mixture.

Drain pasta and return it to the pot. Toss with the egg mixture and parsley, and serve immediately.

Serves 4

  • katflinn

    Thanks for this. My husband is convinced that all whole grain pasta tastes like dirt. In fact, he even calls it “dirt pasta.” I’m going to have to try Bella Italia.

  • http://nourishnetwork.com/members/liahuber/ Lia Huber

    You’re very welcome. I hope it changes Mike’s opinion of “dirt pasta!”