If you're like me and have been eating gluten-free for a long time, then you know that the gluten-free pasta section of your grocery store has, to put it lightly, grown. Gone are the days of one type of gluten-free pasta on the shelves and while it's nice to have so many options, it can frankly be confusing and overwhelming.
What's the difference between corn pasta and rice pasta? Which pastas are healthier for me? Which types won't keep well as leftovers? We've got all of your info right here, and have also included our favorite brands as well as a few healthy, gluten-free pasta alternatives!
But before we start, we've got one thing we'd like to clear up. There is a common misconception that gluten-free pasta is healthier than regular pasta, and this is simply not true. Gluten-free pasta does not have fewer carbs and will not go easier on your waistline (unless you choose a vegetable-based version, which we discuss in more detail below). Pasta can be a healthy addition to your diet, but should be enjoyed in moderation. The good news is that there are plenty of tasty gluten-free options out there for you to recreate your most loved pasta dishes!
Gluten-Free Pasta Types
Rice: Rice pasta can be made from either white rice or brown rice. White rice pasta is pretty flimsy, can be easily overcooked and does not reheat well. It is also lacking in nutrients. Brown rice pasta, on the other hand, is completely the opposite. It is sturdy, absorbs flavors and spices well and is much more nutrient dense than white rice. Pay attention when buying rice pasta - you'll want to stick with brown rice. Our favorite brown rice pasta is Tinkyada Brown Rice Pasta - this pasta is the perfect texture al dente and comes in many different varieties, like lasagna, spaghetti, and tri-color rotini. It is a personal favorite brand because of how well it holds up. I love making baked pasta dishes and it is always my go-to!
Corn: Corn pasta has a mild flavor and for this reason pairs really well with lighter sauces. It has a texture similar to pasta made from flour, but can break apart easily in boiling water, making it preferable to stick with smaller pasta shapes like shells and elbows. Many people claim that corn pasta reminds them the most of traditional pasta. Our favorite corn pasta is Mrs. Leepers Corn Pasta. This particular pasta doesn't break apart as easily. Mrs. Leepers also makes delicious pasta dinner kits - my favorites are the creamy tuna and the chicken alfredo! A second option that I've had success with is Barilla Gluten-Free Pasta. Keep an eye out because Barilla Gluten-Free is often placed in the regular pasta aisle with other Barilla pasta products. This pasta is incredibly close to the real thing and we really love their spaghetti with a great homemade marinara sauce.
Quinoa: Quinoa pasta has a nice, sturdy texture and a great taste. Even better, quinoa is a complete protein, meaning that it has all nine essential amino acids. In other words, quinoa is a super food! With 6 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein per serving, it is by far the healthiest gluten-free pasta option, and is a favorite among many. We recommend Andean Dream Quinoa Pasta. It can be purchased as spaghetti, fusilli, macaroni or shells, and is great for making baked pasta with hearty sauces!
Blended: Some of the most loved gluten-free pastas are blends of various flours and starches. Be sure to check the protein and fiber content of these types, as you may not be getting the same amount as you would with quinoa or brown rice pasta. We really love Schar Pasta, which is a mix of corn flour, rice flour and pea protein. It is known for its similarity to traditional pasta and holds up well in all kinds of dishes. Another great blend option is Ancient Harvest Quinoa Corn Blend. Ancient Harvest offers a variety of shapes, is high in protein and fiber and many traditional pasta lovers say they can't even tell it's gluten-free. Trader Joe's also has some great mixed-grain gluten-free pastas!
Asian Noodles: The most common type of Asian noodles are made from rice, but there are also types made from tofu, buckwheat, tapioca, kelp and sweet potato. These noodles cook fast and are great for throwing together some gluten-free ramen, stir-fries, and pad thai. Rice noodles and soba noodles are the tastiest - and my favorite option is to buy the noodle squares made by Lotus Foods. Some of these come with flavor packets but I prefer the plain noodles and I season them myself.
You'll want to cook Asian noodles a bit differently than you do standard gluten-free pasta, because they can turn to mush pretty quickly. I find that pouring some boiling water over them and letting them sit for a few minutes does the trick. Also, always be careful when buying Asian noodles because they aren't always gluten-free, and even spice mixes can contain gluten. As always, be diligent about reading ingredients.
Beans: Pasta made from beans really is the best of both worlds - you can enjoy a healthy meal, high in protein and fiber, but at the same time make a delicious, comforting, home cooked meal and not have to worry about empty calories. While bean pasta often comes in non-traditional colors like purple, it is delicious and is a healthy alternative to other options. Bean pasta pairs best with spaghetti sauce. Our favorite is Explore Asia organic black bean spaghetti pasta.
Spaghetti Squash: This is one of my favorites because of how simple it is (you can make it in the microwave!) and because it isn't even pasta - it's squash! After roasting or cooking in the microwave, scrape the pasta-like squash out into a big bowl and toss with your favorite tomato-based sauce, especially hearty meat sauces. Delicious!
Chickpea: Chickpeas are a bit new on the scene and suddenly seem to be used for just about everything. Chickpea pasta will give you a whopping serving of protein, as well as give you a great base for lots of sauces. It has a bit of a nutty flavor which goes great with nutritional yeast based cheese sauces and creamy alfredos. Try Banza Chickpea Penne.
Gluten-Free Pasta Tips
* Cooking gluten-free pasta can be tricky, and you want to try and avoid that dreaded mushy consistency that can quickly happen if you cook the pasta for too long. Since pasta continues to cook even after it is taken out of the water, rinse the pasta off with cold water as soon as you drain it to prevent this from happening.
* Get a Spiralizer! Homemade vegetable noodles are a hearty and healthy pasta alternative. Try spiralizing zucchini, sweet potato, yellow squash, beets, and parsnips.
There you have it, folks! Avoiding gluten absolutely does not mean that you have to avoid pasta. Pasta can be a great part of a healthy, nutritious meal - especially if it is made out of vegetables! What are some of your favorite gluten-free pastas?