10 False Myths about Pasta

Pasta from Campofilone, Le Marche images © Copyright Delicious Italy

AIDEPI stands for the Associazione delle Industrie del Dolce e della Pasta Italiane and is the Rome based ‘Association of the Italian Pastry and Pasta Industries’. To celebrate World Pasta Day & Congress during Expo2015, they produced a short press release debunking a series of commonly held myths about pasta.

Myth 1. Pasta Makes you Fat

Pasta does not make you fat. 100 grams of pasta provides an energy intake of approximately 360 kcal of which around 70% is in the form of complex carbohydrates and a protein content equal to 10–13%, and neglible fat content. Clinical studies have confirmed that it is not carbohydrates which make you fat or obese, but excess calories. Pasta is one of the the pilasters of the Mediterranean Diet.

Myth 2. Pasta was invented by the Chinese

The Chinese invention of pasta is a hoax fed to the world by the 1938 Gary Cooper film “The Adventures of Marco Polo” where you could see the young explorer return to Italy from China laden with noodles which were then commercialized as spaghetti. In fact, noodles were already available in Sicily two centuries before when the island was under Arab rule. Abu Abd-Allah Muhammed, cartographer to the Court of King Roger of Sicily in the 12th century, cites a dry pasta in the form of a strand called ‘itriyya’ and produced in the colony of Palermo. The difference between this pasta and that of the Chinese is that the latter is made with wheat flour or rice, and not durum wheat pasta.

Myth 3. ‘Al Dente’ means the pasta is not quite cooked

Pasta “al dente” is easier to digest because the gluten retains the starch granules making their assimilation more gradual. In addition, the right cooking time preserves the characteristics of the food and avoids dispersing the nutritional properties. Conversely, if the pasta is cooking too long, there is a progressive release of starch into water which makes it cloudy. An over cooked pasta is too sticky and difficult to digest especially if it is not chewed effectively.

Myth 4. The industrial manufacturing process makes worse pasta

Grinding the wheat is required to separate the bran (crusca) from the semola (flour). In industrial processes this separation is done neither crushing the crusca nor damaging the structure of the glutin and starch. Using the traditional stone grinding method this is not possible and you are left with a complete integral or ‘wholemeal’ flour.

Myth 5. Gluten free pasta is slimming

No. Unless you are celiac or hypersensitivity to gluten, then normal durum wheat pasta is fine. In fact, the risk of over compensating for the reduced carbohydrates by consuming more fats could lead to a greater calorie intake.

Myth 6. Adding salt makes the water boil faster

Salt should be added to the water only as it starts to boil and before adding the pasta. The effect of adding salt actually does not affect the boiling point. It is better to put the lid on the pan because the water boils in less time and less energy is consumed.

Myth 7. Pasta is made from wheat

In 1967 an Italian law obliged manufacturers to make all dried pasta with durum wheat respecting parameters such as moisture and proteins which determine acidity and product quality. It is this law which has allowed Italian pasta to become a symbol of the made in Italy. So much so that 57% of the national production of pasta is now exported.

Myth 8. All pasta is made with one type of flour

Pasta is made with a mixture of several varieties of flour, so regardless of the quality and quantity of a particular grain crop you can always get a pasta of a high quality and identical in appearance, texture, taste and cooking. This industrial production is flanked by pasta made with a single grain type, often ancient varieties such as ‘Senatore ‘Cappelli’ or ‘Saragolla’ which have a a lower yield and represent a niche market. Note that the latter do not differ at a nutritional level from pasta made with durum wheat blends. Likewise, pasta made with grains like Kamut, rice, and corn still only represent less than 1% of all pasta sold.

Myth 9. Better pasta is drawn ‘al bronzo’

All pasta is made by bronze drawing, but the inner mechanism may actually be teflon. If it is the latter the pasta is smoother and more yellow. Bronze makes the pasta look paler and tends to be rougher. Tastewise, bronze drawn pasta is more homogenous while teflon makes the pasta more crunchy. Each can be enjoyed best with slightly different sauces.

Myth 10. All pasta is now made with genetically modified grain

The grain used to make pasta today is the result of spontaneous and random cross fertilization of wild spelt (farro) and wild grasses. This created the first ‘modern’ grains or ‘faro dicocco’ and known to the Ancient Romans. Since then a natural genetic development in man’s hands over the centuries by trial and error has improved the durum wheat to create a more resistant and productive grain with more protein and a better quality gluten.

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Originally published at www.deliciousitaly.com.