Whole Wheat Pasta

whole wheat penne pasta
photo credit: gourmetsleuth

More Fiber And Less Meat

I've been on a quest to reduce my animal protein consumption and add more healthful grains to my daily meal repertoire. Although my normal diet is made up of a combination of fresh vegetables, fruits, and animal proteins; most of my meals tend to be centered around some form of meat.  My goal is to make a dietary shift away from so much meat and move to more whole grain foods which will help increase the fiber in my diet and at the same time lead to the killing of fewer animals on my behalf.  Clearly I am an "omnivore".  I do enjoy eating meat but as a culture I think we should work towards killing fewer animals by reducing our consumption to reasonable limits--a win win for us, health wise and for the animals.  Of course that is a personal choice but a concept worth being open to if you are an all "meat and potatoes" kind of eater.

Naturally my search for a main-course alternative lead me to pasta; a food I've shunned for years now, given its high glycemic index, high concentration of calories, and low fiber content. However; the grocery shelves are now laden with varieties of high-fiber whole grain pastas so it is a good time to venture forth and give them a try.  Actually I tried whole wheat spaghetti a couple of years ago but the experience was not a good one. The pasta was dry, crumbly and tasted like a mouth full of straw.  Based on that experience I steered clear of whole wheat pastas until recently when I decided to try again.

Flavor And Texture

Just like it may have taken you a little while to transition from white bread to whole wheat, you may not immediately love whole wheat pasta.  As I mentioned before my first experience was so offputting that it was about 2 years down the pike before I tried these pastas again.  Major improvements have been made in whole wheat pasta production leading to pastas with nice nutty flavors that are not overly pasty or, (worse yet) chunky or gritty.  Bionaturae produces an organic whole wheat pasta which has been lauded by many as the best textured and flavored product of the bunch and I recommend you go to their site and read about the production methods which have led them to this excellent white pasta alternative.

Nutrition And Top Brand Comparison

Our chart provides an overview of some good quality whole wheat pastas as well as some other, higher fiber, alternative grain pastas.  While the fiber and protein content is pretty similar with the pure whole wheat pasta it tends to be less for the alternative grain pastas.  Our favorites brands are Bionaturae and Gia Russa. The Cooks Illustrated article (see sources) voted the first three the pastas in the chart below as their top picks.

Note: The last item on the list is a typical white, semolina pasta, shown as a comparison.

Brand % Whole Grain Calories per 2oz Serving Fiber Protein Ingredients
Bionaturae 100% 180 6g 7g Organic whole wheat durum flour
Heartland 21% 200 3g 7g Enriched durum semolina, whole wheat durum flour
Barilla Plus Mulitgrain 0 210 4g 10g Semolina, grain and legume flour blend, [grains and legumes (lentils, chickpeas, flaxseed, spelt, barley, oats), egg whites, oat fiber], durum flour, niacin, iron (ferrous sulfate), thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid.

Gia Russa 100% 200 5g 8g Whole wheat durum flour
Quinoa Pasta 0 205 4g 4g Organic corn flour, organic quinoa *gluten free
Barilla Pasta* 0 200 2g 7g Semolina, durum flour, niacin, iron, (ferrous sulfate), thiamine monoitrate, riboflavin, folic acid
Mara's 100% 190 7g 8g Whole wheat flour Maragrain - proprietary flour blend 100% whole wheat.

Where To Buy

Try your local grocery store first for some of the top rated brands. Whole Foods and Raley's carries some of the Bionaturea pastas including the rigatoni, spaghetti and the chiocciole (key-ah-chole-lay).  We recommend you buy a few of the top rated brands and give them a try.  Once you find a pasta you like, check Amazon for some great pricing.  The pastas are typically sold in 6-packs (see links below).

Best Buy Sources

Amazon offers the following products at the best pricing we could find. 

Cooking Information & Tips

Whole wheat pasta is at its best when cooked al-dente (to the tooth).  Here are some tips to insure a healthful and flavorful dish:
  • Do not overcook, adhere to the package directions.
  • Reserve about 1/2 cup of the pasta boiling water to add to your sauce. This uses some of the starch from the pasta to make the sauce adhere to the pasta and you’ll be adding back in some of the nutrients you’re cooking out.
  • The longer you cook pasta the higher the glycemic index and the more like it is to cause weight gain.

Featured Recipe

Whole Wheat Rigatoni With Spicy Sausage, Spinach and Mushrooms

Ingredients

  • 4 cloves garlic clove, minced whole wheat pasta
  • 1/2 small onion chopped
  • 1 bunch spinach, trimmed and washed
  • 10 ounces mushrooms sliced
  • 2 ea turkey Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese freshly grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 tbs Italian seasoning
  • 8 ounces whole wheat pasta
  • 1/4 cup cream

Instructions

Bring a pot of salted water to boil for the pasta. As soon as it is boiling, add the pasta and cook according to the package directions. Don't overcook the pasta.

Meanwhile..

Heat olive oil in a saute pan and add garlic and cook about 1 minute then add the chopped onions and Italian seasoning and red pepper flakes. Break the sausage meat apart and add to pan and stir to cook; about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and continue to cook; about another 5 minutes. Add the spinach and cook until wilted. Stir in cream and the Parmesan cheese.

Place the pasta in a serving bowl; top with the sauce and toss gently to combine. Pass additional Parmesan cheese if desired.

Best Sauces For Whole Wheat Pasta

The whole wheat pastas tend to be hearty and go very well with a sturdy sauce. But don’t neglect your more subtle favorites. One of my favorite ways to eat pasta is with a little good quality olive oil, freshly grated Parmesan and a pinch of red pepper flakes. In fact, that is my favorite way to eat pasta leftovers by the way.  I tried Both the Bionaturae and the Ria Rossa with this simple preparation and I found them quite good.

Cooks Illustrated suggested a few recipes (March Issue, 2010) that focused on vegetables such as fennel, asparagus and zucchini but suggested steering clear of acidic tomato based sauces or pestos.  I've experimented with both and my pallet may simply be less discerning but I enjoyed them all.  Here are our suggestions:

Add cooked greens including rapini (broccoli rabe), kale or Swiss chard. The greens should be lightly simmered first, drained then chopped.

  • Top with your favorite meat sauce
  •  Make simple marinara with fresh ripe or good quality canned tomatoes, fresh garlic, parsley and a little olive oil. 
  •  Try a puttanesca sauce with capers, olives, anchovy and tomatoes. 
  •  A spinach pesto works very well with pine nuts, spinach, olive oil and Parmesan cheese.

Nutrition Information For Whole Wheat Pasta

Serving Size
1 oz
 
Calories
99
Calories from Fat
0
 
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 0g
0%
Saturated Fat 0g
0%
Cholesterol 0mg
0%
Sodium 2mg
0%
Potassium
61g
0%
Total Carbohydrate 21g
10%
Dietary Fiber 0g
0%
Sugars 0g
Protein 4g
10%
 
Vitamin A  0% Vitamin C  0%
Calcium  0% Iron  0%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

More Recipe Links

  • Cooks Illustrated – January, 2010. Product comparisons and tasting notes.
  • Bionaturæ® (bee-oh-na-too-ray) roughly translates to mean "organic nature."  Company site explains special processing needed for whole wheat pastas to insure a good flavor and texture.

More Recipes

Tasting Notes

Mara's Pasta - 100% Whole Wheat Spaghetti.  We served this pasta with a simple fresh tomato sauce and a sprinkling of chile flakes.  We cooked the pasta for 10 minutes rather than the 11 minutes most of the whole grain pastas recommend and it was perfectly cooked.  The flavor was pleasant, slightly nutty, not bland.  We will definitely purchase this brand again.

Bionaturae - I've tried most of the pastas produced by Bionaturae and they are quite good.   Their penne is particularly good.

author

Barbara Bowman graduated with degree in Foods and Nutrition from San Jose State University. As CEO of GourmetSleuth.com she spends most waking hours writing, cooking, eating, gardening and traveling.