We Tried It: The Absolute Best Alternatives to Wheat Pasta in Every Category
Published on May 12, 2022
By Ariane Resnick
I’ve tried just about every alternative to wheat pasta on the market. Some I feed to my private chef clients, some I eat on my own because being a nutritionist doesn’t make a person exempt from wanting pasta for dinner, and some I absolutely steer clear of.
But when the pasta craving strikes and you want an option that’s more satiating than spiralized vegetables (which are great, but… don’t hit the spot every time) you may not know where to begin. That’s because there are ever more pasta alternatives available, all claiming to taste “just like the real thing.”
Read on to learn about all the best gluten-free pasta alternatives out there.
The Zero-Calorie Crowd
This category of pasta is ideal for those who have numerous food allergies, low-carb dieters (e.g. keto), or those who simply don’t want their daily calories to come from noodles.
Hearts of palm
Mark my trend-forecasting words: heart of palm is going to be the new cauliflower. As far as pasta goes, Palmini is available in shapes ranging from linguini to lasagna sheets, and it has a pleasant, mild taste. Cooking removes the crunch, making them far more pasta-like in texture than some others in this category. That said, because they are so low in calories, they aren’t super filling, but they do absorb sauces slightly. Trader Joe’s now sells hearts of palm linguine, which is proof it’s hitting pretty hard among low-carb eaters, but Palmini is the go-to brand.
Kelp noodles are big in the world of raw food. Sea Tangle is the largest brand, and they make both plain and green tea versions. Their noodles are made from seaweed (no surprise there), and they’re translucent in color. Once you open the package and rinse them, they’re ready to use. They’re crunchy, and while cooking them won’t remove too much of that crunch, you can soak them in salted lemon water, which will increase their softness significantly. Don’t expect much taste from these, or for them to absorb a lot of sauce. But hey, they’re nearly calorie-free, and that counts for…something?
As crunchy as kelp noodles are, shirataki ones are soft and squishy. They’re made from the fiber of konjac, a Japanese yam, and are available in assorted shapes, from fettuccine to rice. They’re packaged as “Miracle Noodles” because they miraculously manage to exist despite not containing any calories. They taste like nothing and they don’t absorb sauce well, but I’ve had multiple clients over the years who go wild for them. Ignore the fishy smell when you open their packaging, rinse thoroughly, and add to sauce — they give you something to eat pasta sauce with, so if you’re someone who thinks pasta is just a vehicle for tomato sauce or pesto, you’ll love these.
Healthy and Delicious, but Won’t Fool Your Grandma
This category of alternative pasta is dominated by pulses, some of which are enhanced with vegetables. All of the options below absorb sauce nicely, and are available in various shapes including penne, rotini, and spaghetti.
Peas are tiny little powerhouses of nutrition, and if you’ve ever looked for vegan protein products, you’ve probably noticed that they’re ingredient number one in many of those. Peas are smooth and creamy, lending themselves perfectly to pasta formation. ZenB makes pasta out of yellow peas, so their pasta looks more like regular wheat pasta, which is visually a plus. I honestly love this stuff.
Lentils and beans
Chickpeas, lentils, and black beans are the key ingredients here, with Banza pasta being the leader for chickpeas, and Tolerant for lentils. The category has grown so much that lentil and bean pastas are available at big box stores like Walmart, and health food grocers like Whole Foods sell their own house brand. They’re slightly more digestible than pulses in their whole form, but if you have long-term trouble with beans, do not expect a free ride here. I’ve tried them all, and none went down kindly. Provided that’s not a problem for you, these are highly nutritious, tasty pastas that deserve to meet your dinner table.
Bean and vegetable combos
When eating your beans as pasta isn’t healthy enough for you, why not throw some cauliflower or zucchini in there? That’s what Veggiecraft does, and for any fan of bean and lentil pasta, that’s a huge bonus. The taste is similar to any other high-protein pulse pasta, with the added benefit of nutrients from dried produce. They’re very filling, and the texture is decent, being similar to a whole wheat pasta. As with all bean and lentil pastas, you have to cook them on the al dente side, as it’ll turn to mush if overcooked.
Almost The Real Thing
This is the categoery I eat from regularly, and it’s where I’ve sneakily fed scads of people over the years without ever mentioning they were eating gluten-free noodles. These are made from whole grains, absorb sauce beautifully, and are quite healthful.
Gold star, prize winner — give brown rice pasta a medal. It’s my number one favorite. Brown rice pasta can do everything under the sun except be eaten cold as leftovers. But it reheats well, so that’s a moot point unless you eat your meals directly out of Tupperware while standing in front of the fridge (real talk: welcome to my life). I use it for everything from a complex macaroni and cheese with a mornay sauce and six cheeses to simple cacio y pepe. No one ever knows it’s not wheat pasta, my own warmed heart included. It can even stand up to considerable overcooking, though no Italian would recommend that. While there are numerous elite brands available for this product, I find both the Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s store brands to be excellent.
For fans of this grain that’s really a seed, quinoa pasta is a delight. Andean Dream makes it in a variety of shapes, all of which hold up well to cooking. Quinoa pasta can be a tiny little bit gritty, so I recommend a heavier sauce over a lighter and thinner one, and it also is a little bit persnickety about how long you cook it for. Always follow package directions, and treat it gently to avoid it breaking down. Its taste and texture are similar to a whole wheat pasta, which is impressive work for an ingredient with such a stellar amino acid profile.
You don’t have to be a fan of corn chips or tortillas to enjoy pasta made from corn. Like quinoa pasta, you’ll need to cook it exactly according to manufacturer instructions to avoid it turning to mush, but provided you do that, it tastes pretty “regular.” Corn isn’t anti-inflammatory like choices here such as peas and brown rice, but if you have a family member with Celiac or you avoid gluten for other reasons, it’s a breath of fresh air that tastes quite similar to wheat pasta, and comfort factor is important in life. Le Veneziane is a delicious choice.
Grain + starch
The gluten-free fresh pasta category is generally made from a blend of rice flour and tapioca starch. It’s not nearly as healthy as any of the above pastas, and people who are sensitive to starches and gums won’t do well with it. But did you see the words “fresh pasta?” That’s a food group wholly off limits to gluten-free eaters, as all the rest of these pastas are shelf-stable, so the ability to again have a food you thought you might’ve lost forever is huge. Capello’s makes everything from fettuccine to butternut ravioli. Slathered in marinara, you’d never know their gnocchi and tortellini weren’t wheat. Big box groceries also make their own brands now, so they’re quite affordable.