Gluten-Free Pasta

Tagliatelle with bacon and parsley in frying pan
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One of the first things people who are diagnosed with celiac disease or a wheat allergy are often asked is, "You can't eat pasta?!" These days, actually, you can -- just not the same pasta you've gotten used to eating. Wheat- and gluten-free pasta is widely available and pretty easy to use. Read on to learn all you need to know about buying and cooking wheat- and gluten-free pasta.

The Basics of Gluten-Free Labeling

One tricky aspect of buying gluten-free pasta is that there aren't rules for labeling gluten-free products in the United States (although the FDA plans to create a standard in 2008). Pasta made without wheat may have been manufactured alongside wheat- or gluten-containing ingredients, although most companies who label products gluten-free are aware of cross-contamination issues. For safety, look for pasta that has been made in dedicated plants or that have been ELISA-tested to be free of gluten contamination. You can also call the product's customer service department and ask about their manufacturing practices.

What to Expect from Gluten-Free Pasta

In general, gluten-free pasta is fairly similar to wheat-containing pasta in texture, especially when hot. You can use any gluten-free pasta interchangeably with wheat pasta in recipes with the exception of no-boil lasagna recipes; I have yet to find a gluten-free pasta that will work in a lasagna recipe without preboiling.

Rice Pasta

Among the most common and popular gluten-free pasta is rice pasta. Tinkyada, Lundberg, Notta Pasta, Pastariso, and Trader Joe's are among the brand names of rice pasta you may find. Rice pasta may be gummy if overcooked, but has a neutral flavor that goes well with sauce. It's also available in a greater variety of shapes than some other grains.

Corn and Corn-Blend Pasta

Mrs. Leeper's, Glutano, and DeBoles make widely available corn pasta. Corn pasta becomes tough rapidly when cool and does not reheat well, but is a very good substitute for wheat pasta when first cooked, being relatively high in protein and fairly neutral in taste. Ancient Harvest makes a corn pasta blended with nutritious quinoa that is available in many supermarkets; this pasta has many of the texture properties of corn pasta.

Potato-Blend Pastas

Pastato and Bionaturae make pasta that are blends of several grains, including potatoes. These pastas are a bit lighter and chewier than rice or corn pastas. So if you prefer your pasta on the al dente side, these may not be to your liking. They are nice for dishes like macaroni and cheese, where you want sauce to penetrate into shapes like penne or elbows.