There are several reasons you might find yourself standing in a grocery store aisle, juggling packages of gluten-free dried pastas, trying to decide which one to get. Maybe you have celiac disease; perhaps you have a gluten-free guest for dinner and want to make something everyone can enjoy; or maybe you’re trying to follow in the steps of tennis star Novak Djokovic, who says eliminating gluten from his diet is a reason for his success.
As more types of gluten-free pasta become commercially available, you might also be wondering: black bean spaghetti or wild rice penne? Brown rice fusilli or brown rice and golden flax angel hair? Imported or domestic? And for the love of all things pasta, can someone please explain why rotini are in the box labeled “mini fettuccine”?
A panel of six judges from the Food team, none of whom are gluten-intolerant, tried just-cooked samples of 10 gluten-free dried pastas with one goal in mind: to determine whether any of them could stand in for a wheat-based one.
In a preliminary taste test, these six other brown rice-based varieties did not move forward to the final round: Lundberg Family Farms Organic Brown Rice Rotini; Jovial Foods Organic Brown Rice Fusilli; Tinkyada Brown Rice Fusilli (With Rice Bran); and Trader Joe’s Organic Brown Rice Spaghetti, Brown Rice and Quinoa Spaghetti, and Brown Rice and Quinoa Fusilli. They produced results similar to those of Trader Joe’s Brown Rice Fusilli, which we ultimately decided to pit against the other non-brown rice pastas.
Each pasta was rated on a scale of 1 to 10, with the latter being the best; only two scored a 6 or above. Texture and taste were the most important aspects judged, but appearance also played a role. Here they are, in order of ranking, with some of the judges’ comments included:
Anna Penne Rigate
Average score: 6.8
Price: $2.99 for 8 ounces at A. Litteri.
Ingredients: Corn flour, corn rice, corn starch.
Comments: “Looks the most normal”; “a little bite, decent texture, no vegetal aftertaste”; “a little on the starchy side”; “would be decent with a ragu.”
Trader Joe’s Brown Rice Fusilli
Average score: 6.3
Price: $1.99 for 1 pound at Trader Joe’s.
Ingredients: Organic brown rice, water.
Comments: “Impressive facsimile!”; “I might have believed this was normal pasta until the finish, where the texture let it down”; “no off flavors”; “texture’s passable, seems like it might fall apart with certain sauces.”
Mrs. Leeper’s Rice Vegetable Twists
Average score: 4.3
Price: $3.49 for 12 ounces at MOM’s Organic Markets.
Ingredients: Organic brown rice flour, organic spinach powder, organic beet powder.
Comments: “Rubbery”; “would be good for a hearty sauce”; “not as vegetal as I expected”; “looks pretty at least.”
Rizopia Wild Rice Penne
Average score: 4.2
Price: $4.49 for 1 pound at MOM’s Organic Markets.
Ingredients: Organic wild rice, organic brown rice, water.
Comments: “It has a faint nuttiness that I like”; “texture seems about right”; “they look like earthworms in a bowl”; “tastes better than it looks.”
Explore Asian Black Bean Spaghetti
Average score: 4.2
Price: $4.99 for 7.05 ounces at Balducci’s (Bethesda location).
Ingredients: Organic black beans, water.
Comments: “Texture is a little springy but overall, not bad”; “acceptable”; “the most edible of the black bean ones”; “I would eat this.”
DeBoles Rice Plus Golden Flax Angel Hair
Average score: 2.8
Price: $2.99 for 8 ounces at Whole Foods Markets.
Ingredients: Whole grain brown rice flour, rice flour, golden flax, vitamin mix (ascorbic acid, niacinamide, ferrous sulfate, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid).
Comments: “No sauce could rescue this one”; “really ricey flavor”; “sticky.”
Tolerant Red Lentil Mini Fettuccine
Average score: 2.5
Price: $7.99 for 12 ounces at MOM’s Organic Markets.
Ingredients: Non-GMO organic red lentils.
Comments: “These put the ‘glue’ in ‘gluten-free’ ”; “what I imagine Play-Doh pasta would feel like”; “this looks more like fusilli, not fettuccine”; “strong lentil flavor.”
Andean Dream Organic Quinoa Shells
Average score: 2.3
Price: $4.49 for 8 ounces at Whole Foods Markets.
Ingredients: Organic white rice flour, organic royal quinoa flour.
Comments: “The quinoa flavor is distinct but not unpleasant”; “dry texture”; “tough”; “nope.”
Ancient Harvest Bean & Quinoa Elbows
Average score: 1.5
Price: $3.69 for 8 ounces at Whole Foods Markets.
Ingredients: Black bean flour, brown rice flour, organic quinoa flour.
Comments: “That is . . . beany”; “terrible texture”; “bitter”; “just totally disintegrates in your mouth”; “visually distressing.”
Tolerant Black Bean Rotini
Average score: 1.5
Price: $6.49 for 8 ounces at Whole Foods Markets.
Ingredients: Non-GMO organic black beans.
Comments: “Olive oil cannot save this, sauce cannot save this”; “no, no, no”; “dry, gritty, crumbly”; “wouldn’t serve this to anybody.”