Q: Erika, how do I make whole grain pasta not taste like cardboard?
A: Man, you can’t.
I mean, you can, but you have to do a few things to your tongue, first. Like, you have to forget what white pasta tastes like.
No, really. I know it’s all soft and gooey and melt-in-your-mouth delicious, but let’s be honest. Actual-factual food…. doesn’t “melt in your mouth.” Chemicals “melt in your mouth.” (Sorry, M&Ms.) We’re not cooking chemicals on this site. We’re cooking food! This includes… restaurants. Yes, restaurants. So when you order your [insert favorite pasta dish] from [insert restaurant], ask the waiter if they offer it with whole wheat pasta… or find something else to order. Seriously, you have to abandon white pasta altogether.
So… once we get past that “Mmm, I miss white pasta” mentality, we embrace the things that whole wheat pasta give us. Nutrition, for starters! You’ll most likely eat less of it, because good whole wheat pasta is nutrient-dense, and offers up quite a bit of what you’ll need to help you feel satiated – fiber and protein being big ones.
So, let’s talk texture. It is chewy, a little thick and doesn’t automatically fade away once it touches your saliva. Yes, it requires work to chew. But the chewy brown stuff is superior to white pasta because instead of just carrying the flavors and textures of the other items in your dish, it actually brings some of it’s own… including that lovely cardboard thing you mentioned!
How do we combat the cardboard taste? Cook it with a flavored stock!
Vegetable stock, bean stock, chicken stock, beef stock… any of ’em. When I cook my black beans, I save the liquid in the pot and put it in large pitchers.. then using the leftover black bean juice to add flavor to my pasta. You can make an easy chicken stock by tossing carrots, cabbage, celery, onion and chicken in a pot with lots of water, and letting it cook the chicken all the way through on relatively moderate heat (maybe a 7 on a scale of ten). Not only will you have some good food for a dinner dish, but you can save the leftover liquid for future pasta attempts.
Vegetable stock? Easy. Feel free to toss the leftovers, rinds or unused pieces of vegetables – paired together to suit your tastes, though – in a pot with your favorite herbs and lots of water, and you can make your own vegetable stock.
Save your juices, and when you make your whole wheat pasta… use your stock! You could also use herbs and veggies in your pot when you boil your actual pasta, but depending on the veggie, it might take too long. The stock is generally the best way to prepare in advance and the fastest way to get your flavorful pasta done right, in my mind.
Bon appetit! 🙂
Anyone else got tips for hooking up your whole wheat pasta?
I love the idea of cooking with stock! I also think it depends on the brand you use. I’ve had some whole wheat pastas that were horrible, and others that are less cardboard-y. Personally, I like the Ronzoni brand. There’s one in a yellow box (can’t remember the name), that I stay away from. 🙂
I think there are a lot of brands that suffer from that “cardboard” syndrome, but sometimes the only thing that can help that is paying a little more for a “better” brand. Me, I’m cheap. LOL. So I’m always looking for new ways to work with what I’ve got.
I actually think I know which brand you’re talking about… yellow with the goldish writing? I might have that in my pantry riiiight now! LMAO!
Eunice I agree with you that cooking with stock is great. I just cooked a pasta today with whole grain noodles and my 14 y/o loved it. Couldn’t tell the difference. Since I have stopped eating meat almost a year ago, my palate has taken on a whole new dimension. I actually enjoy cooking and experimenting with different herbs. My friends can’t believe how some of my dishes taste when they taste different meals I cook.
I’ve come to really enjoy the taste of whole-wheat pasta and almost can’t stomach the starchy, pasty taste of white pasta anymore.
It keeps me full longer than the white pasta ever did and I like the chewiness.
I’ve never tried cooking it in stock, but will try that the next time we have a pasta dish.
Thanks for another great blog post!
Thanks! You should definitely try the stock. Especially the veggie stock – the celery and cabbage really add this nice salty-ish kick to it… withOUT the extra added salt. Yum. 🙂
Full disclosure: while yuppifying myself through psychotherapy I found out that my feelings and behaviors surrounding pasta qualifies as an addiction! I love the stuff and used to have it every day almost ritualistically. I lost a whole lot of weight while eating pasta every single day just by making it a priority, but have to cut it out of my diet completely every once in a while just to get back to normal. And no, whole wheat pasta will not cut it, so I always thought I was doomed to a life of puff n’ stuff fake processed bland noodles that would ultimately be the death of me.
But then I moved to Europe. You see, there they have laws about what’s allowed to be called champagne, a baguette, and of course pasta. In Italy, by law, pasta can only be made with 100% semolina durum wheat and water – that’s it (unless its otherwise flavored or colored). Semolina aka couscous aka cream of wheat is a whole grain, and when unprocessed is just fine. Think about it – Italians eat this stuff EVERY day and don’t have any national health or obesity problems while we stuff down fake crap labeled “semolina, durum wheat, refined wheat…” then some chemicals. Not only that, but the bleaching agents used in the US are illegal in Europe (and Japan for that matter) and I have to believe they’re one of the major culprits here.
All of this is to say that choosing a “whole” pasta doesn’t have to mean choosing a “whole wheat flour” pasta that has no business even existing. The latter is that cardboardy tasting stuff that the corporations have been trying to make to catch us being healthy, the former uses the same parts of the grain for a higher fiber and nutritional content than your average every day white. While there are a few whole durum wheat pastas made in the US that are promoted as “whole grain” pastas (I think Barilla makes one), if I have pasta I go all out – it’s worth $4-$6 per pound for me to eat imported pasta from a fancy cheese shop or better yet find some gourmet pasta in the food section at TJ Maxx or Marshalls.
“But then I moved to Europe. You see, there they have laws about what’s allowed to be called champagne, a baguette, and of course pasta. In Italy, by law, pasta can only be made with 100% semolina durum wheat and water – that’s it (unless its otherwise flavored or colored). Semolina aka couscous aka cream of wheat is a whole grain, and when unprocessed is just fine. Think about it – Italians eat this stuff EVERY day and don’t have any national health or obesity problems while we stuff down fake crap labeled “semolina, durum wheat, refined wheat…” then some chemicals.”
This is SO RIGHT ON, that I don’t even know where to begin. I touched on this briefly when I talked about white rice, but I suppose that getting into detail with pastas as well is a good idea, too. Hmmm….
Thank you SO MUCH for sharing!
Erika! I love you! You gave my question a full shout out! I dont know any other web master that would have done that!And to think I kept saying “dang when she gon answer my question?!” LOL
Thank you for answering with such detail. I am going to give these tips a try.
P.S. I am dying laughing at how everyone can relate to the “cardboard” taste! LOL
Ok, I cannot stomach whole wheat pasta, taste wise. I’d rather have a little bit of semolina pasta every now and then and stick to brown rice pasta for the majority of my pasta dishes. Brown rice pasta takes some getting used to but I found that I liked it better than whole wheat pasta. Of course, when I’m getting “that” craving for gluten pasta–I turn to a good semolina, yum!
I find that if you cook whole wheat pasta longer than you would white pasta that helps a lot. FYI: You can get Whole Wheat fettucine at Olive Garden. Just be aware that’s the ONLY type they have so if you order spaghetti with their whole wheat pasta, you’ll get fettucine. At least that’s the way it was last I was there.
Ugh, that’s so lazy – if a dish is supposed to have angel hair… why not keep some healthier angel hair on deck? Or better yet, just offer up the right versions of the pasta – as described by Thembi – anyway? Sigh.
I don’t know what took me so long to post on this site but here goes. I second Thembi’s suggestion but I do use Barilla pasta and it’s fantastic. I bought a box (of boxes) from Costco. Blue boxes, “Whole Grain* on the front. After reading these posts, I went to get a box and the ingredients are: Whole Durum Wheat Flour, Semolina, Durum Wheat Flour, Oat Fiber. It doesn’t taste like cardboard at all. I add some olive oil to the water (gonna try that stock, Erika!) and make a salmon pasta salad with cherry tomatoes, spinach, garlic, basil and a sprinkle of feta or make it with tomato basil pasta sauce and turkey meatballs from Trader Joe’s. If I wasn’t being lazy, I might make it with ground turkey but the one’s from TJ’s are flame-broiled meatballs and Good Lawd, it’s the bomb. Thanks for all you chimed in and thank you, Erika, for a great blog! See you on Twitter. LOL!
Well, Thembi challenged me to make my own darn pasta, so once I can figure out how to shoot video, I’m going to give that a shot, LOL.
I don’t want to co-sign any US pasta brands just yet, because I know that one of those kinds of flours we see is a wolf in sheep’s clothing… I just have to figure out which of my books explains it, lol. I’ll be coming back to share, though!
And thank YOU! I truly appreciate all your kind words. 🙂
I too love the brown rice pasta!!! I also love Thai food and since rice pasta is in most dishes, I make them at home with the brown rice pasta. I make spaghetti for my kids with it- no complaints. I even make a broccoli pasta salad with it. I too am a pasta-holic!!! I can eat brown rice pasta, spinach sauteed in garlic and stewed tomatoes- EVERY DAY!!! lol
Have you tried FiberGourmet? You have to cook it a tad longer, but it tastes exactly like white pasta, but is nutritionally better for you. Ingredients are short and sweet: Durum Semolina Flour, Modified Wheat Starch, Wheat Gluten. …And it comes in a variety of flavors. ( I hope this doesn’t violate rule #1 of posting, I just love the stuff!)
Every now and again, I let it slide. It’s at my discretion. 😉
WHOLE Durum Wheat Flour ….AND Durum Wheat Flour… Oat Fiber (?). Hmmm… stretching ingredients are we, Barilla? Suppen’s fishy.
Hey! I love your site and the advice you give. I can make a mean whole wheat pasta with sauteed veggies. I put low sodium soy sauce and roasted chilli paste in a bit of evoo a little garlic and any veggies under the sun. Sauteed kale, spinach, sweet peppers, broccoli, mixed veggies, cauliflower… Taste delish!
everyone needs to try quinoa pasta. while it is not whole wheat, it is made from a whole grain, helps you feel fuller faster and longer because of all the fiber and because of the protein naturally present in quinoa, and definitely DOES NOT taste like cardboard.
the only tricky thing about quinoa pasta is that it cooks much faster than whole wheat or rice pasta and you have to keep stirring it (can’t leave it unattended or it sticks together/turns to mush).
it’s not my personal goal to have a grain every day, but on the days I do want to plan one, a small serving of quinoa pasta can satiate me without triggering the urge to start eating processed flours again
I find that 100% whole wheat pasta is really hard on my stomach (a lot of bloating and pain), so I buy pasta that is 1/2 whole wheat and 1/2 white. Its easier on my stomach and at least it has some whole grain in it. It also is more palatable.
The brand I buy is the Rozoni Healthy Harvest pasta. Its good and it may help folks into transitioning to whole wheat pasta.
The reason you may be having bloating is because eating whole wheat isn’t like eating white pasta you can’t eat the same portion size of wheat that you do as white because it breaks down differently hope that helps
What I did years ago when I started out was do the 50/50 trick: half white, half wheat (Ronzoni in the brown box is the brand I use). You still get the taste you’re familiar with, but with a new “flavor” and you’re less likely to throw out your meal. After barely noticing a change in taste, I took the plunge with the next dish and used 100% wwp and haven’t looked back since. I use WAY less pasta and even got my parents and sibs hooked on it. Before, they could eat an entire plate of white pasta, but now they eat 50% less with the wwp. Go figure.
I know you get this every day, but thanks again. You’re an inspiration to women of all shapes, colors, food addictions( lolol)….whT have you. I actually found you on a feminist blog I follow!
My question is about those shiratake noodles I keep hearing about. Made from fiber, calorie free. Is this a scam?
LOL! Feminists love me. *pops collar*
I’ll double check on the shirataki – I’ve seen them before, but I’ve never cooked with them.
IIRC the shirataki is yam based. If cooked right, (I load mine with veggies and rooster sauce) they remind me of ramen noodles without the salt.
Thanks so much. Seems a little too good to be true…
I’m no cook, but wouldn’t spices help?
Taste, yes. Texture, no.
I actually prefer whole wheat pasta and brown rice over their counterparts. They have flavor and texture all their own.
But now, I’ve gotten into making my spaghetti dinners with… spaghetti squash.
Delicious, full of vitamins and a nil glycemic impact. And a 4 lb spaghetti squash has gotten me three separate recipes. A traditional marinara with ground turkey, a pasta primavera and a dish with shrimp and turkey chorizo.
My favorite whole wheat pasta is the Whole Foods 365 Organic Whole Wheat Pasta. It is excellent. And tastes just a little nutty. Oh and it is pretty cheap (although the cost has increased over the years. It is about $2 a pound. The texture is perfect, it cooks up al dente.
Oh and this pasta is made of whole grain duram wheat and that’s it. It is the real deal!
Check out the taste taste from a couple of years ago in our local paper: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2005/06/01/FDGNVD0LTK1.DTL
Honestly? I prefer whole wheat pasta. It has a fuller flavor – more nutty, keeps me satiated longer and curbs the craving because white pasta just makes me more hungry.
The one from Barilla is good.
The technique? add 1 tablespoon salt to 4 quarts of water, put it on a fast boil, and throw in that 1 pound package of spaghetti or any other shape. Cooking it in salted water is essential to make it taste like proper pasta. stir the pot occasionally so the noodles don’t stick to one another, and within about 7 minutes it should be done. Al-dente, it should offer a tiny resistance to the bite. reserve about 1/4 cup of the cooking water for the sauce.
While the pasta is cooking, heat up a pan with good olive oil. add some minced glarlic and minced chilli, and stir for a few seconds, don’t let the garlic burn!
Add any vegetables you like (I like green ones and/or mushrooms) and legumes (pre-cooked chickpeas are huge in my house!), stir-fry them until slightly softened (about 2-3 minutes). If you see the garlic starts to brown, add the cooking water you reserved. add a squeeze of lemon juice, salt, and any herb you want – fresh or dried. stir in the pasta still hot from the strainer (this technique is good for up to 3 generous portions), and mix to coat it with the sauce. There you have it!
If you’re non-vegan, you can add shrimp or calamari right after you’ve added the veggies, or chicken/beef strips before the veggies. It’s an awesome dish that loves whole-wheat pasta!
I’ve given up on whole wheat pasta. 9 times out of 10 if I want pasta I’ll use spaghetti squash instead. Every once in awhile I’ll have real, white flour based pasta. That really only happens when Im having something like lasagna, or manicotti.
The different taste and texture of whole wheat pasta never really bothered me for some reason and I am a very picky eater. I hate veggies and most healthy foods because I simply didn’t grow up eating them. But whole wheat pasta is one of the few healtiher options I enjoy. The rest of my famliy can’t stand it and refuse to eat any of my pasta dishes.
I agree your taste buds change..and you pallet widen. Some of the foods I could stand before became so tasty with different herbs and spices. Because I have an issue with wheat..I am using Brown rice pasta. I liked the firmness and taste of whole wheat pasta when I tried it..you just get use to it. Don’t notice it as much since I have increased the fiber in my diet.
I have found that you have to cook it literally twice as long if not longer than regular pasta then it becomes more ooey gooey like the pasta you are used to having hope that helps don’t eat this pasta al dente
Quinoa and or brown rice pasta cooks al dente and taste great! And is gluten free!
I dig whole wheat pasta (also Whole Foods 365 brand) but I prefer brown rice pasta, quinoa pasta or spaghetti squash instead. Mostly the quinoa for the additional benefit of extra protein. I look forward to possibly reading a blog about “real” Italian pasta like you and Thembi mentioned, Erika.
I just had some Barilla rotini whole wheat pasta that was very good. I even ate it plain! I was impressed!
I can’t with the whole wheat pasta. I eat brown rice or quinoa pasta instead. They are a little temperamental to cook, but I like the flavor much better.
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