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Gluten-Free Pasta (Spaghetti)
Tired of gluten-free spaghetti that turns gritty or mushy? So were we.
What You Need To Know
For people who are avoiding gluten in their diets, finding good wheat-free pasta with the right texture and flavor is a challenge, one which has been met in a variety of ways by pasta manufacturers. We first evaluated gluten-free pasta several years ago, and the results were grim. The majority were gritty and grainy or dissolved into a mushy, gummy mess. Only one product, Jovial Organic Brown Rice Spaghetti, offered chewy yet tender noodles with a pleasant, neutral flavor.
We hoped that, given the number of new companies jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon recently, we might have better luck this time around. To find out, we pitted our top two scorers against six new products, tasting them cooked in salted water and tossed with canola oil, and a second time served with our favorite tomato sauce.
New Brands, Same Problems
To our dismay, the majority of the brands again failed to meet our expectations. As before, many products were unpleasantly “pasty” and “gummy” with “zero chew.” Even when we closely monitored their cooking time and strained them promptly, some of them practically disintegrated. But our old runner-up fell into the other end of the texture spectrum. Last time, we'd noticed a slight “rubbery” quality that we were willing to overlook due to its neutral flavor. But now that some brands are hitting the mark, our standards are higher. This time around, our tasters deemed it unacceptably “firm” and “chewy.”
Corn Worth Eating
A newcomer, made with a combination of corn and rice flours, joined our brown rice favorite at the top. When pasta is boiled, the starch granules absorb water and swell. If the protein network is not strong enough to hold those swollen granules in place, starch will leach out of the pasta as it cooks, resulting in soggy and sticky noodles (and very cloudy cooking water). The proteins in corn are more water-soluble than those in rice and therefore more likely to escape the pasta. We'd nixed corn flour pastas in our earlier testing because they had been especially clumpy and gummy, but this pasta remained “intact” and had an “al dente” texture. How had they done it?
We knew that the rice flour was helping, but we'd had poor results with a similar blend in our first tasting. A closer look revealed that this pasta also contains mono- and diglycerides. Corn pastas can be brittle, and these stabilizers help hold the starches together and keep the pasta tender.
The Right Ratio
For all types of pasta, protein is the most important factor in determining texture. More protein is generally better than less, but all of our spaghetti contained between 4 and 6 grams per serving, and those numbers didn't correla...
Everything We Tested
Our original favorite again emerged at the top of our rankings, thanks to a high ratio of protein to fiber. These delicate and thin strands had a “neutral, pleasant” flavor and “al dente texture” that combined for gluten-free spaghetti that was deemed “just like regular pasta.”
With four times more protein than fiber and helpful emulsifiers, this spaghetti boasted a cohesive and “springy” texture much like traditional pasta. Some astute tasters identified a cornlike sweetness, but since the corn flour is combined with rice flour, its flavor was deemed pleasantly “neutral.”
Recommended with reservations
The texture of these small, skinny noodles was pleasant enough, but our panel was ambivalent about the flavor. While some described it as having an “earthy” or “whole wheat flavor,” many tasters thought this spaghetti tasted “stale” or even “cardboard-y.”
Our old runner-up took a tumble in the rankings, thanks to stronger competitors and a “chewy” and “rubbery” texture that reminded tasters of Asian rice noodles.
These skinny strands broke into short fragments during cooking; no surprise since this pasta has a 1:1 ratio of protein to fiber that couldn't properly protect the starches for good cohesion. They also felt “gritty” and “grainy.”
Although these noodles kept their shape during cooking and looked appealing to our tasters (probably thanks to the emulsifiers), they felt “chalky” and “sandy” even when tossed with pasta sauce. Tasters identified subtle corn and rice flavor.
Stabilizers and other added ingredients weren't enough to save this “limp” and “mushy” pasta, which has a low ratio of protein to fiber and felt like it had “no substance.” The noodles clumped into unappetizing “globs” of spaghetti and tasted “musty” and unpleasantly “earthy.”
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