Growing up with an Italian mother, I consumed endless amounts of pasta as a child. So naturally, an article in the New York Times about whole-grain pastas caught my attention. The pasta I have eaten for most of my life has been the white, refined variety, by no real choice of my own. This is of course the type that covers the majority of the shelves in the supermarket. Whole-wheat pastas are relatively new to the market, but are increasing in popularity due to the rising number of health conscious consumers. However, not all wheat pastas are created equal.
White pastas are usually made using high-yielding durum wheat. Wheat pastas need more texture to hold together, which can be done one of two ways. Either low-yielding wheat varieties are used or high-yielding wheat is used and fortified with additives like flaxseed, and legume powder. Unfortunately, the latter is more common because low-yielding durum wheat and ancient types of wheat like farro, spelt, and einkorn are less profitable to produce. This parallels the corn industry in that farmers are forced to grow modern high-yielding varieties of seeds to be profitable and meet the demands of food processing companies.
Ancient wheat naturally contains healthy nutrients and proteins, but industrial agriculture has hybridized this wheat into modern, nutrient depleted varieties. High nutrient and fiber contents not only make the pasta healthier, but also better tasting. It is a shame that we have taken something naturally good for us and evolved it into something of lower quality to make products like Kraft macaroni. There are selective brands that make wheat pasta from these ancient varieties, but the pasta comes at a high price.Since I first noticed the whole-grain pasta options in the grocery store, I was excited to try them. Now I always buy whole-grain when I can. In general the wheat pastas with additives are often not as tasty as those without. Marion Nestle, a nutrition professor at NYU interviewed in the article, recommends eating whole-wheat pasta high in fiber with no additives. The growing demand for whole-grain pastas has pushed companies to develop better tasting varieties and has increased the selection of whole-wheat pasta in the stores. Hopefully whole-grain will continue to gain popularity in pasta as well as other products. Today pasta remains one of my favorite meals and I particularly enjoy the Barilla whole-grain pastas.