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Folks who are not challenged by issues with gluten sensitivity don't think much about pasta other than possibly eating too much of it. We really take it for granted I think. Fettuccine, linguine, rotini, zita, and on and on. Cooked al dente it's just in a league of its own. The gluten in wheat pasta makes for a one of a kind ingredient that's hard to replicate with other ingredients.
But if you can't eat gluten, what works? There are a lot of pasta variations using different flour, including rice, buckwheat, corn and quinoa. Can any of them come close? After all, it's the gluten content of wheat flour that gives pasta dough its elasticity, and without it making a good pasta is a challenge.
De Boles makes a rice pasta that's enriched with flax. The test kitchen used their spirals (rotini). These cook fast as we found all rice pastas do. In our testing it became clear that there is a narrow tipping point of doneness. With wheat pastas you might have a minute or so where the pasta is cooked perfectly, but that's not true with rice pastas. They have to be watched carefully, because when it is overcooked rice pasta fragments quickly, falling apart into tiny little bits. The De Boles is one of the worst we encountered. It's just not very good with a dark color and a grainy texture.
In contrast, the Lundberg Family Farms products are generally speaking pretty good. Their Organic Brown Rice Pasta doesn't disappoint. We tested the rotini here as well. It's lighter in color than the De Boles, even though it's made from brown rice. It has 4 times the fiber, too, at 4 grams in a two ounce serving. There's also a little more leeway in the cooking, and when done this pasta is pretty close to wheat pastas, with a good bite and mouthfeel that's only slightly grainy when compared to wheat pastas.
I don't have many recipes on the Dr. Gourmet site that use buckwheat noodles, but I have always been a fan. It is one of my standby ingredients in my pantry and I have a tuna tartare recipe that uses this lovely pasta. I also often make a noodle soup using these noodles. It has a great texture, a fair amount of fiber and a great rich nutty flavor. You can easily overcook it, so be careful. (I'll admit that this is one that I didn't take before the tasting panel, because I have found that Eden is the best of the widely available brands.)
Quinoa pasta was the surprise to our tasters. The Andean Dream macaroni is pretty close in texture and flavor to the sorts of macaroni you'll find in boxed instant mac and cheese products like Kraft. The pasta cooks well and is a little more forgiving than the rice or buckwheat alternatives. The texture is grainy only if you chew it all the way to tiny bits (which you aren't going to do in real life). The flavor's kind of nutty, like quinoa, and all in all this one is a real winner.
Another brand that's available using quinoa is Ancient Harvest. This uses both corn flour and quinoa flour. As with the straight quinoa pastas, there's as much fiber as with whole wheat flours: 4 grams per serving. The corn flour is a nice addition, and the spaghetti that Ancient Harvest sells is quite good. It is a very forgiving pasta. Unlike the rice flour versions this won't fragment and it cooks to an "al dente" texture much like wheat pasta.
Reviewed: January 8, 2010