One of the most important things I try to do here at Maria’s Farm Country Kitchen is to make things like cooking — and organic living — simple and easy, and make them things your whole family will enjoy. And I think nothing can be worse than deciding you are going to make a positive change in your life — let’s say, switch to organic, whole wheat pasta — but picking the wrong one at the supermarket. What’s wrong with that? Well, you feed it to your family, and they all go “yuck,” and you never can get them to try whole wheat organic pasta again.
My goal is to get you from “yuck” to “yum!”
Now, whether you like it or not, we all know whole wheat pasta is healthier for us. In addition to the hundreds of studies showing whole grains have more fiber, more nutrition, and react better inside our bodies, I can share my own personal experience. Since I’m married to an Italian, pasta is a regular part of my cooking regime. The smooth, silky slide of spaghetti down the throat is a family tradition. Then, at some point, I decided to switch to whole wheat. It took a while for everyone to get used to it. It took a while for me to learn how to flavor it differently. But now, my whole family loves it, and we feel fuller longer, after eating less. But we didn’t get there right away. Once, I picked up a store brand of pasta that was truly horrible. It took me a while to find a brand that my family would all like. And not all people are as intrepid as I am when it comes to persistently looking for answers.
But I didn’t want to share just my own family’s preferences with you. I wanted to do a TASTE TEST! With kids! So, thanks to a great team at Rodale — including my digital assistant Dana, and the help of the Rodale test kitchen — we gathered five different brands of organic whole wheat spaghetti and about 10 volunteers, who tasted and rated the different brands.
The lovely ladies in the Rodale Test Kitchen cooked each package according to the manufacturer’s directions and brought them out to hungry testers in giant numbered bowls. We tossed the pasta with a bit of organic salted butter for sauce, to keep the taste as neutral as possible so we could focus on the “noodles” (as we Dutchies have always called them). We tasted. We breathed in the different fragrances of the pasta (surprisingly, they were different!). We listened to the kids, who shouted out unfiltered comments (hey, they ate them all!) while they also spontaneously made pasta bracelets.
Here are the results from our tasting:
Group favorite: Bella Italia
- Earthy and wheaty, with a nice al dente texture.
- Pasta held the sauce well, yet still tasted slightly salty and light in flavor.
- Light in color and appealing to the eye.
- Earthy and wheaty, with mixed feelings on the texture.
- Sauce slightly overpowered pasta. Strong salt flavor, as manufacturer had indicated to cook with 5 tablespoons of salt (But you don’t have to! This is the brand I use at home most often.)
- Kids didn’t like the texture; comments ranged from “It tasted like dirt” to “I didn’t like the inside.”
Oddball: Bella Terra
- Grain taste was slightly overpowering to some testers, although most agreed it cooked up to a good bite.
- Pasta had a unique, noticeable sweetness and fragrance.
- Kids liked this pasta and said it tasted most like “regular” (durum wheat) pasta.
Kid favorite: Dellalo
- Adult testers thought this tasted most like durum wheat pasta, although slightly mushy.
- Some testers noted the pasta was bland, and had a slight aftertaste.
- Kids liked this one the best for eating!
Least favorite: Hodgson Mills
- Pasta had a bleak paperlike taste; texture opinions ranged from “gritty” to “tough and chalky.”
- Retained sauce poorly, and was least appetizing in appearance, with a flecked, almost gray coloring.
- Kids commented it was bland or bitter. (Jury is out on whether 4-year-olds really understand how to use the word "bitter" correctly or not.)
Bella Italia was an all-around winner in each category we tasted for. It was flavorful on its own but not overpowering, it cooked up tender and al dente, held the sauce well, and had a lighter coloring for a whole wheat pasta that would stand out well in any dish. None of the pastas varied dramatically in cost; however, some varied in availability. Around these parts, for example, Bella Italia wasn’t available in stores, only online. Overall, our tasting was a success; everyone left with happy bellies, and some even left with leftovers.
Which pasta do you prefer? Do you have a go-to pasta brand? How about a favorite sauce or recipe?
And, hmmm, what to taste-test next?