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Tastings

How Does Trader Joe’s Cascatelli Compare to the Original?

The Sporkful’s Dan Pashman licensed his pasta shape, cascatelli, to Trader Joe’s. In the ultimate showdown, which version comes out on top?
By Published Sept. 13, 2022

If you haven’t heard of cascatelli by now, where have you been hiding? We’ll spare you the full spiel, but the TL;DR is that it’s a (relatively) new pasta shape designed by The Sporkful’s Dan Pashman and produced by Sfoglini, a New York–based pasta company. 

Recently, this curved, ruffled shape was licensed to Trader Joe’s. We decided to taste the original Sfoglini cascatelli and the Trader Joe’s cascatelli side-by-side to see if there were any discernible differences. 

Both packages highlight the cascatelli’s forkable, sauceable, and toothsinkable qualities, so how does Trader Joe’s measure up to the original? 

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Price

First, let’s talk price. At the time this article was written, you could buy a 6-pack of Cascatelli for $32.94 on the Sfoglini website, which comes out to about $5.50 per 1-pound box. At Trader Joe’s, a 1-pound bag retails for $2.99, making it 45% cheaper than Sfoglini. 

Cooking Method

When boiling the pastas, we sought to achieve an al dente texture. The Trader Joe’s package says to cook the pasta for 11 minutes and the Sfoglini package says to cook the pasta for 13–15 minutes, so we began checking the noodles at 10 and 12 minutes respectively. 

We recommend cooking the Trader Joe’s pasta for 11 minutes and the Sfoglini pasta for 14 to 14.5 minutes for an appropriate al dente texture.

The Tasting

We tasted both brands plain and in a simple tomato sauce. While tasters liked the flavor of both plain noodles, they noted that the Sfoglini noodles tasted more “complex, like fancy pasta,” while the Trader Joe’s noodles were a bit “lighter” and “sweeter.” The Sfoglini pasta had “more of a fresh pasta taste” with “notes of cream and yeasty bread.” 

The flavor differences were less notable on noodles with sauce, but the texture differences still stood out. 

Despite cooking the Trader Joe’s noodles for less time, they were much more delicate and more prone to falling apart. The hallmark feature of cascatelli is the ruffles that hold onto sauce, and that element fell off on many of the Trader Joe's noodles. Despite this, tasters found that a balanced amount of sauce readily adhered to both pastas.

We tasted both brands plain and with Rao's marinara sauce.

The Results

While we were hopeful that the Trader Joe’s cascatelli would be a less-expensive alternative to the original Sfoglini version, we found that its downsides weren’t quite worth saving a few dollars per box. Although pricier, the Sfoglini cascatelli was more reliably sturdy, lending itself to a wider variety of applications. 

At home, I’ve made the Trader Joe’s cascatelli with chunky ingredients that required more vigorous stirring to evenly mix than a loose tomato sauce (roasted tomatoes, eggplant, and ricotta), and the pasta fell apart even more in that application. Our recommendations for using Trader Joe's cascatelli would be similar to our guidance for substituting fresh pasta for dried.

Because each pasta is the same shape, has roughly the same nutritional information, and has seemingly identical ingredients (durum semolina and water), we were curious why the Trader Joe’s version was more fragile. Our science editor, Paul Adams, suggested that the source of the flour could be the reason.

On the Trader Joe’s package it says, “organic durum wheat sourced from the Puglia region of Italy.” As for the Sfoglini version, a representative confirmed, “All of the durum wheat used to make cascatelli is grown in North America and is milled in St. Louis." The flour sourced from Italy could be the reason for the more delicate texture of the Trader Joe's version.

The Bottom Line

We recommend springing for the original cascatelli. The Trader Joe's version breaks apart easily, defeating the purpose of the iconic shape.

If you do choose to buy the Trader Joe’s version, we would recommend sticking to a thin, loose sauce, such as marinara or vodka sauce, that doesn’t require as much stirring to coat each noodle.