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Taste-Off: The best spaghetti brands and the ones you’ll want to avoid

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You might think that it’s the sauce that makes the pasta dish, but the quality of the spaghetti matters a great deal. (Getty Images)
You might think that it’s the sauce that makes the pasta dish, but the quality of the spaghetti matters a great deal. (Getty Images)

By JOLENE THYM | Bay Area News Group, East Bay TimesPUBLISHED: October 5, 2021 at 6:45 a.m. | UPDATED: October 5, 2021 at 3:00 p.m.

If you’re reaching for the cheapest brand of white spaghetti noodles, convinced that all spaghetti noodles are the same, you are seriously missing out.

It’s true that the nutrition details and ingredient lists on pasta boxes are nearly identical. But don’t be fooled. Whether those noodles are dressed with pesto or puttanesca, that bowl will be exponentially better when it’s made with the best quality spaghetti.

Great dried pasta is made with extra-hard durum wheat ground into a semi-coarse semolina flour, which has a slightly nutty, sweet flavor. The flour is no good for baking, but the rough texture is perfect for making dense, textural pasta that’s stretchy and firm, with a rough texture that allows sauce to cling.

Here in the U.S., various kinds of wheat are used to make spaghetti, but in Italy, the source of flour used in pasta is regulated — it has to be durum. In addition, Italians have a long tradition of using bronze dies to make the noodles, as opposed to teflon dies, which make for slick, slippery strands.

The best dry noodles have a rough, floury surface and deliver a loud crack when they’re broken. They cook clean, losing little starch, and deliver a pleasant “al dente” noodle. And because they are both firm and intact, the spaghetti retains its texture in everything from saucy pasta to soup.

Make spaghetti from inferior flour and the result is flabby, soft, slippery and even slimy, when exposed to vinegar or other acids.

For this taste test, each pasta brand was cooked twice: in water, then in sauce. Rather than follow package suggestions for cook time, we cooked every pasta to the same al dente texture.

Here’s the scoop on the winners that will make your next pasta night memorable, and the losers that turn  the most delicious sauce into a failed dish. Nutrition information refers to 2 ounces of dry pasta, about 1 cup when cooked. All packages are 1 pound.

Rao’s Homemade Spaghetti

This dense, flavorful imported pasta is a terrific choice for all things saucy. The noodles are bouncy and textural, making for a delicious, chewable mouthful. 210 calories, 1 g fat, no sodium, 1 g sugar, 7 g protein. $3.49 at Whole Foods. (4 stars)

Garofalo Spaghetti No. 9

This popular brand has a firm bite and a semi-rough exterior that holds even the most liquid of sauces. Whatever your recipe, this brand is a great choice. 210 calories, 1 g fat, no sodium, 2 g sugar, 7 g protein. $2.49 at Lucky. (4 stars)

Montebello Certified Organic Italian Spaghetti

Unsauced, these imported, bronze die-cut noodles taste bland, but they shine when dressed with sauce. Note that these noodles are thinner than most. 200 calories,1 g fat, no sodium, 2 g sugar, 6 g protein. $3.49 at Whole Foods. (3½ stars)

De Cecco Spaghetti No. 12

This mainstream pasta is slightly less dense, but has great elasticity and a mild, fresh wheat flavor. The rough surface is also a bonus. 200 calories, 1 g fat, no sodium, 2 g sugar, 8 g protein. $2.79 at Whole Foods. (3½ stars)

Rummo Spaghetti No. 3

Fans of whole wheat noodles will fall hard for these extra-nutty Italian noodles. They’re hearty, chewy, and great for bold, meaty sauces such as ragu. 210 calories, 1 g fat, no sodium, 8 g protein. 210 calories, 1 g fat, no sodium, no sugar, 8 g protein. $3.19 at Whole Foods. (3 stars)

Barilla Thick Spaghetti

These wheat-forward noodles are firm and stretchy, but the noodle surface is slick, hampering the ability to score the perfect bite of noodles and sauce. 200 calories, 1 g fat, no sodium, 2 g sugar, 7 g protein. $1.50 on sale at Safeway. (2½ stars)

365 Spaghetti Product of Italy

There’s nothing off-putting about these enriched noodles, but the super-smooth surface texture is problematic. 200 calories, 1 g fat, no sodium, 2 g sugar, 7 g protein. 99 cents at Whole Foods. (2½ stars)

Trader Joe’s Italian Spaghetti

The flavor and texture of these noodles are fine, but they are so slick, most of the sauce slips to the bottom of the bowl. 200 calories, .5 g fat, no sodium, 2 g sugar, 7 g protein. 99 cents. (2 stars)

Sprouts Organic Imported Spaghetti

As promising as this pasta seems — it’s imported and it feels rough to the touch—it’s lacking. The texture of the uncooked noodles doesn’t hold up in the cooking process, resulting in slick, notably thin noodles. 200 calories, 1 g fat, no sodium, 2 g sugar, 8 g protein. $1.79. (1½ stars)

Sunny Select Enriched Spaghetti

These extra-thin, soft noodles are bland, tasteless and forgettable. They may stave off hunger, but they are entirely unworthy of a delicious sauce. 200 calories, 1 g fat, no sodium, no sugar, 7 g protein. 99 cents at Lucky. (½ a star)

Sprouts Durum Wheat Spaghetti

It’s hard to criticize the flavor of this, as it has none. It tastes like the water in which it’s cooked. The bigger issue with this imported brand is the texture, which turns soft and mushy before it’s fully cooked. 200 calories, 1 g fat, no sodium, 2 g sugar, 7 g protein. $1.79. (½ a star)

Signature Select Thick Spaghetti

These sad, slippery strings of enriched pasta break apart instead of twirling on fork, and the wheat is so inferior that cooking them al dente is impossible. 200 calories, 1 g fat, 2 g sugar, 7 g protein. $1.25 at Safeway. (½ a star)

American Beauty Spaghetti

This flabby white pasta is one cut below bland, and it turns to mush when tossed with anything acidic. This is the pasta to stuff in the emergency bin and hope not to use. 200 calories, 1 g fat, no sodium, no sugar, 7 g protein. 99 cents at Food Maxx. (No stars)

Reviews are based on product samples purchased by this newspaper or provided by manufacturers. Contact Jolene Thym at timespickyeater@gmail.com. Read more Taste-off columns at www.mercurynews.com/tag/taste-off.For more food and drink coveragefollow us on Flipboard.


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Jolene Thym

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