Pasta

Which Brand Makes the Best Whole-Wheat Pasta? We Found Out

May 11, 2018

The past few months, we’ve been taste testing our way through pantry staples to see which brand we like best. We found our favorite canned chickpeas for hummus emergencies. Our favorite natural peanut butter for afternoon snacks. And today, we’re finding our favorite whole-wheat pasta for dinner tonight.

Or are we?

Whole-wheat pasta—from spaghetti to fusilli—is my go-to at home. But as I chatted with more and more co-workers about this, something became clear: Not everyone is a fan. Why ruin pasta? they wondered. Eat pasta as it was intended to be eaten! they said.

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But there’s no denying the demand. When I was growing up—I’m in my mid-20s, BTW—whole-wheat pasta wasn’t even a thing. Now, I can pick between shapes and brands and, it seems, more shapes and brands are available all the time. So which company makes the best? And could any convert the naysayers?

I boiled many pots of salty water to find out. We tried six brands of whole-wheat penne. Each pasta was dressed with a splash of olive oil, to sidestep any sticking, and all were tasted blind. They’re listed below from least to most favorite.

Sort of. The biggest surprise here wasn’t the loser or the winner. It was the lack of clarity. Last and first place were clear, but the middle four earned neck-and-neck scores. Two theories why: 1) Because the pastas aren’t that different. 2) Because the taste testers are in two different camps. Some of us loved the nutty, grainy qualities. Others, hated ’em. Which means the same pasta was both liked and disliked for the exact same reason.


The Results

Ronzoni

This one was distinctly whole-wheaty, which, ironically, was its downfall: “Def taste the whole-wheat,” one wrote, “if you like that.” The flavor and texture were not appreciated, with critiques ranging from “bland” and “papery” to “mushy” and “pasty.” One person thought it tasted “like flax seed,” while another compared it to a “communion wafer.” On a more positive note, one person “loved how thin this was.”

Hodgson Mill

This brand boasts: “Our superior taste begins with #1 USDA premium wheat. 100% all natural. 100% made in America. High in fiber. Tastes great, too.” Some people agreed: “In that this has flavor, I think it’s my favorite,” wrote one. Others described its flavor as “whole-wheaty” and “very wheaty” and “earthy.” One person seemed surprised: “I actually like the taste.” Meanwhile, most were not impressed: “Most cardboard-y in flavor. No thanks.” The texture, too, proved problematic, from the thickness (“Maybe too thick?” and “Very, very chewy”) to the graininess (“Too grainy” and “like eating sand”).

DeCecco

So the trend begins: Many liked DeCecco because of its supposedly un-whole-wheaty qualities. For what it’s worth, DeCecco’s penne is, well, wholly whole wheat. But it defied expectations nonetheless: “Plain! Edible!” exclaimed one. “I would eat this plain, similar to ‘real’ pasta,” said another. Someone went so far as to declare it “the tastiest.” Others had a bone to pick, calling it “papery” and “chalky.” Some were perplexed by its texture: “For lack of a better word, mouthfeel is a little spiky.” Others got right to the point: “Not a fan.”

Whole Foods 365

Like DeCecco, this was applauded for not tasting like whole-wheat pasta: “Tastes like normal pasta,” said one. “Not the most nutty flavor,” said another. “Subtle wheatiness,” said another. At the same time, others still found it too whole wheaty: “heartier, grainier.” Two people described it as “chalky” and another two as “chewy.” One was torn between two comparisons: “Tastes like nothing OR a graham cracker.” Hm.

Barilla

Taste testers loved how much this whole wheat pasta didn’t taste like whole-wheat pasta. “At first bite, it tastes like real pasta,” wrote one. There was one “Pretty good!” and another “Not bad!” These fans appreciated its smooth texture and mild flavor. Meanwhile, many were not convinced. Our old friends “chalky” and “cardboardy” and “pasty” and “earthy” appeared again. There were a couple “gummy” mentions. And one—wait for it—“fishy.”

Trader Joe’s

Congrats to TJ’s whole-wheat penne for not tasting like whole-wheat penne. Hooray? “Light flavor, not super whole-wheaty,” said one. “Least chalky,” wrote another. We even got one, “Tasty!” And the ultimate compliments: “Can be used in place of white pasta” and “Close to normal pasta.” Which sums it up well. If you’re looking to eat more whole grains, but don’t like the taste and texture of them, this taste test is just for you. Or, if you’re like me—into the whole grains and all their grainy, nutty qualities—maybe flip this list on its head.

What are your feelings on whole-wheat pasta? Love it? Hate it? Tell us why in the comments!

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14 Comments

Patricia C. May 18, 2018
I have cooked several brands but the only one I like, actually love, is not listed — primarily because it is a small company owned by a restaurateur in Oakland, CA. Bob Klein made it his quest to collaborate with No CA owners of small wheat farms to create a company of ancient wheat grain — wheat grown from premier seeds. Non GMO of course. He sells the flours, makes breads and has a flour company, Community Grains, from which the pastas and breads are made. It is the only pasta I have had that does not taste gummy; has flavor that doesn’t overwhelm sauces but adds richness to the palate. Bob’s restaurant is Oliveto and he sources all ingredients carefully. His pastas and flours can be ordered through Market Hall Foods (google it) in Oakland. I feel fortunate to have this resource in town.
 
Javan H. May 17, 2018
No Baia?! They make the best WW pasta hands down. They make the best boxed pasta, regardless of grain type. Try Baia. It’ll change your life and how you think about WW/boxed pasta forever. :)
 
Cachola May 17, 2018
Count me with the people who find Barilla whole wheat pasta fishy.
 
marilyn May 17, 2018
When I taste-test my WW pasta of whatever brand when the instructions on the box say it should be done, it's generally pretty horrible. So I commit the sin of cooking another few minutes, then I'm almost certain to get it to a point of being able to enjoy it.
 
Christine S. May 17, 2018
Before I started reading, I wondered if Trader Joe's would be part of the test. Not at all surprised it was so roundly praised - we loooove their ww pasta! Makes me wonder who their private label resource is.
 
Jena May 14, 2018
Ohhh! I wish you’d tried Bionaturae. It’s my favorite ww pasta!
 
Noreen F. May 14, 2018
Put me down for Bionaturae, too.
 
beejay45 May 11, 2018
It would have been more practical to prepare the pastas the way they would normally be eaten. Would you normally sit down to a plate/bowl of penne dressed only in olive oil? Yummm??? They're not medicine. They're just pasta and meant to be eaten the way you would normally eat pasta. So, why not serve them all with the same Bolognese or whatever? And, whole wheat pasta has been around forever. We could (and did) get it in San Francisco when I was a kid, ahem. Just take my word for it that it was a long time ago. It was made by Golden Grain, IIRC, which also made several varieties of spinach pasta. It's harder to find either of those now than it was then. Of course, SF with its huge Italian community probably had more call for more varieties, but whole wheat pasta is nothing new, just a current foodie darling so people are more aware of it.
 
Steve May 11, 2018
Sadly, you did not include Garofalo Whole Wheat pasta.
 
HalfPint May 11, 2018
Not a fan of whole wheat pasta. I have issue with the texture of most WW products. I don't mind the flavor of whole wheat which, at its best, I find nutty and sweet. Get that texture to be like regular pasta, you'll have an enthusiastic convert to WW pasta.<br />
 
determined May 11, 2018
My favorite is Bionaturae.
 
Misty212 May 11, 2018
Disappointed you tested Barilla - I know they're ubiquitous but in light of the CEO's incredibly homophobic views I would've left them off this list.
 
Author Comment
Emma L. May 11, 2018
Hi Misty212, thanks for commenting. How our food relates to larger issues is important to us and we appreciate that it's important to you, too. The 2013 comments made by Barilla's chairman were inexcusable. But since then, the company has demonstrated initiative to move in the right direction, as CNN reported here: http://money.cnn.com/2014/11/19/news/companies/barilla-lgbt/
 
Misty212 May 12, 2018
Thank you for this - I still won't buy their product (Thanks TJ's) but I can see how others would feel they've made amends.