In honor of National Noodle Month, I though it’d be a good time to talk about the wheat-free pasta situation. Is it a situation at all? That’s for you to decide.
Pasta and sauce has always been the go-to meal for the time and cash strapped individuals and families out there. Spaghetti is cheap (about a dollar a pound for the basics) and a sauce can be anything from seasoned crushed tomatoes to olive oil with a little Parmesan cheese. It’s a satisfying meal, no question. And who hasn’t loved gooey mac & cheese at some point in their lives, right?
With many people looking to get whole grains in their diet, whole wheat pasta has secured a place on the shelves and–while not always as tasty as the refined durum semolina products out there, many of us accept it as one of those little steps we can take to be that much healthier.
When you go wheat free (like I did when I switched to a Low-FODMAP diet), pasta is one of those things you automatically kiss goodbye, usually with a heavy heart.
That doesn’t have to be the case, however, if you’re willing to give some alternate grains a try.
Rice, corn, and quinoa are the major players you’ll find when you hunt down the non-wheat pasta possibilities in your local grocery store. Some brands (like Heartland’s pretty blue and yellow packaging) can be found alongside the usual suspects in the pasta and sauce aisle. Their gluten-free pasta features a blend of corn and rice flours which taste very much like what we’re used to from their what counterparts. The only down-side I’ve experienced with this brand is that they tend to get dry and crumbly when refrigerated. They still eat fine, the texture just doesn’t hold up as well for leftovers. Still, when I made Macaroni and Cheese for our family of relatively picky eaters, I used their elbow macaroni noodles and no one had anything bad to say about my substitution.
Others, like Ancient Harvest’s quinoa pastas are more likely to be found in the specialty foods section of larger stores. We’ve been big quinoa fans for a while, and it’s such a great food on it’s own, but those unfamiliar with quinoa might need to get accustomed to this pasta’s flavor. It is a little heavier (akin to whole wheat pasta) than the corn and rice versions, but very tasty and probably comes in the most variety of sizes and shapes, though it’s usually the specialty stores that carry more of those options.
Or you can look for rice noodles in the ethnic foods section. These range from the usual cellophane noodles (though not much of a substitute for spaghetti) to almost clear rice pastas that offer substance if not a lot of flavor, to the Tinkyada brand of brown rice noodles. These noodles, to me, have the best flavor and texture of all the “substitute” pastas we’ve tried over the last several months and also reheat the best–important if you like to cook extra for leftovers. I’ve yet to find a local source that carries the variety that the product picture, below, shows, but we can usually find the elbows, fettucini, and spirals even in our local Wal-Marts tiny gluten-free section.
To get the best results from a wheat-free pasta, it’s very important not to over-cook them. Almost all of the noodles we’ve tried can get a little mushy, a little less than al dente, a little quicker than the sturdier wheat noodles. I’ve also found that it doesn’t always take the time the package says for them to reach perfect doneness, so don’t get distracted the first time you make a particular brand to avoid unpleasant results.
The other downside to these alternative noodles is that they cost about twice as much as the old standbys, sometimes a little more that double in fact. Still, if it’s a matter of being able to eat the foods I love without becoming ill afterwards, it’s a price I’m willing to pay (at least on occasion). After all, the other option is to make your own gluten-free pastas and while that’s something on the list to try one of these days, it’s nice to know that’s not my only option.
This post is based solely on our own experience with the brands listed above. We have received no compensation (direct or product-in-kind) for mentioning these brands and as food is strictly a matter of taste, your mileage may well vary. I encourage anyone on the hunt for gluten-free pasta to use this only as a starting point and get out there and explore the possibilities. Going wheat-free doesn’t have to mean giving up the foods you love.