The appeal of these high-protein, high-fiber products is quickly expanding beyond the gluten-free food market. Are any of them worth bringing home?
Published Jan. 8, 2020.
Chickpeas, lentils, and dried beans—edible seeds of plants in the legume family—are cheap, vegetarian, gluten-free, and packed with protein and fiber. On their own, they’ve been a nutritious and highly valued food source for thousands of years, but recently we've seen them popping up in everything from chips and burgers to bread crumbs and miso. Another massive food category they've invaded? Pasta. To find out if legume pasta was worth the hype, we tasted eight nationally available products.
To determine our tasting lineup, we surveyed the supermarket landscape to see how many products were widely available in the United States and gathered a broad selection. If a particular brand made multiple products, we tasted each product and included our favorite one in our final lineup, which eventually consisted of two chickpea pastas, four lentil pastas, one mung bean pasta, and one pasta made with both chickpeas and lentils. For one brand, we included two options in our final lineup. The pastas were available in an assortment of shapes, but for the sake of consistency, we settled on rotini or spiral shapes since these were most widely available. After determining the ideal cooking time for each product to ensure textural consistency across the samples (each pasta took longer to cook than the time suggested on its package), we asked 21 editors and test cooks to sample the pastas plain; with our Quick Tomato Sauce; and in our recipe for Pasta with Pesto, Potatoes, and Green Beans.
We wondered how manufacturers transformed these humble seeds into pasta, but they were tight-lipped about their specific processes. Through a bit of online research, we discovered that the legume pasta production process is very similar to that of wheat pasta. The dried legumes are milled and then run through fine-mesh sieves until only a fine-textured flour remains. Water is mixed into the flour, other ingredients are sometimes added (more on that later), and then the dough is kneaded and finally extruded through dies into various shapes.
At the start of the tasting process, many tasters didn’t know what to expect because they had never tried pastas made from legumes. Would they taste like chickpeas or lentils, or would they be indistinguishable from wheat pasta? The results were telling. In the plain tasting, the pasta made from mung beans was described as “bitter” and “grassy”—too strongly flavored for many tasters. The more subtle lentil and chickpea pastas scored higher, with tasters describing them as “earthy,” “nutty,” and “slightly sweet.”
Next, we served the pastas with Quick Tomato Sauce and i...
The mission of America’s Test Kitchen Reviews is to find the best equipment and ingredients for the home cook through rigorous, hands-on testing.
Carolyn is a senior editor for ATK Reviews. She's a French-trained professional baker.