It all started out humbly enough, with white rice ground to a flour and shaped into slightly mushy versions of penne rigate, but then quinoa pasta—and chickpea pasta!—began making appearances. Now, every time I walk through the grocery store it feels like there’s another gluten-free pasta available.
From left to right: Quinoa with corn flour, white rice, brown rice, and chickpea pasta. (Photo: Alpha Smoot/Food52)
While all of these pastas can be rounded up and categorized into “gluten-free pastas,” I learned after a very starchy taste test that each variation tastes incredibly different—and takes to different sauces in different ways. Here’s what to use each gluten-free pasta for, and what we liked—and didn’t—about each variation:
Our Gluten-Free Pasta Test Taste
Chickpea Pasta (Banza): This pasta started out promisingly. As soon as I put the chickpea pasta into the pan, it sunk to the bottom and formed a line across the center of the pot. When I fished a few chickpea soldiers out at five minutes, they were still chewy, but another couple of minutes did the trick.
Verdict: The pasta retains its shape very well and doesn’t stick together once plated and dried—unfortunately, it leaves a distinct chickpea aftertaste, and once chewed, it’s difficult to differentiate the pasta from a mouthful of chickpeas. It’s not such a strong flavor that it would overpower a flavorful pasta sauce, but it may not be the best if you’re making a simple aglio e olio.
Try it with: Heavy meat sauces—or a chickpea sauce, if you can’t get enough (but really, this pasta has enough chickpea flavor to last you a good long while).
Recommended cook time: 7 minutes, 30 seconds
Related: 10 Decadent Gluten-Free Desserts
We quinoa believe how tasty quinoa can be. (Photo: James Ransom/Food52)
Quinoa with corn flour (Ancient Harvest): The instructions on the back called for a 6 to 9 minute cook time and warned me, “DO NOT OVERCOOK” so I set my alarm for 5 minutes… and then 9 minutes… and then 10, at which point they were still almost inedible. (Almost immediately, the water became so murky that I couldn’t see the pasta.) By 12 minutes, they were done and extremely mushy. Once I took them out, I saw that they had left a film on the entire pan that I had to scrub to get off.
Verdict: These are extremely delicate and taste much more like corn than they do quinoa—almost like a corn tortilla that’s been dipped in water, which is kind of fun to eat in pasta form, but I’d definitely prefer it in chip form. On the plus side, they held their shape when chewed.
Try it with: A tomato sauce, or olive oil with sun-dried tomatoes—basically pasta salsa.
Recommended cook time: 11 to 12 minutes
All-cap warnings marked nearly all of the bags of pasta (NOT MUSHY and DO NOT OVERCOOK). (Photos: Alpha Smoot/Food52)
All-Quinoa Pasta (Pereg): Many quinoa pastas, like the one listed above, contain corn as the first ingredient, but this brand lists whole-grain quinoa flour at the top of its list (followed by potato starch, egg white, and vegetable oil). Once in the water, it cooked extremely quickly (roughly 5 and a half minutes to 6 minutes, at most).
Verdict: While I’m impressed with the extremely quick cook time and liked the flavor—it tastes exactly like quinoa and has that same grainy earthiness, which was fine except that I couldn’t get past the texture. It disintegrates almost as soon as you start chewing. I don’t think I would make these again because if I ever craved them, I would just make quinoa.
Try it with: Other earthy flavors, like a mushroom sauce, or as macaroni and cheese—which you can eat while wishing you had actual quinoa.
Recommended cook time: 6 minutes, at most
The most well known gluten-free pasta. (Photo: Bobbi Lin/Food52)
Brown Rice (Tinkyáda): At 12 minutes, this pasta took slightly more time to cook than the other gluten-free pastas, and as soon as I took it out, it was extremely slimy—so much so that I couldn’t grab one noodle—but that luckily wore off as it dried!
Verdict: This pasta looks the most like regular, gluten-graced pasta, but the difference becomes immediately evident as you eat it—it doesn’t taste like anything, and it squeaked as I chewed, which was off-putting.
Try it with: Pesto, to take an edge off the squeak.
Recommended cook time: 12 minutes
White Rice (Melotti): As soon as I put the pasta into the pot, it started to boil over, so the cooking process required a bit of vigilance.
Verdict: It tastes like a mushed-together ball of sticky rice, which was not extremely appealing—if given the option, I would prefer to just eat white rice. Or even an actual ball of mushed-together sticky rice. It also had a slightly slimy feel to it.
Try it with: If you’re determined to eat this pasta, try it with a flavorful, creamy pasta sauce.
*Recommended cook time: 11 to 12 minutes
And the winner is… (Photo: Alpha Smoot/Food52)
Cut to the Chase:
Best shape-retention: Chickpea
Best flavor: Quinoa with corn flour
Best look: Brown rice
Best overall: It depends on what you’re cooking and what your flavor preferences are! But we would pick a tie between the brown rice and quinoa with corn flour.
By Leslie Stephens.