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.
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.
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.”
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”).
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.”
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.
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.”
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!