My pursuit for the best gluten-free pastas began when I realized I was gluten-sensitive—meaning I don’t have celiac disease, but I’m not quite tolerant of wheat. As an Italian, this revelation thwarted many of my life’s joys, specifically heaping bowls of cacio e pepe and tomato-drenched strands of spaghetti. Luckily, gluten-free pasta aisles just keep getting better and more expansive, keeping my fork-twirling bliss intact.
I’m always on the hunt for alternative foods (non-dairy milks, for instance), but I often find ingredient lists packed with thickeners, emulsifiers, or other additives used to replicate the properties of the real things—for instance, oils that give non-dairy creamers that thick and smooth consistency. I’ll never forget the Breyer’s ad campaign from the 1990s where kids struggled to read the complicated food labels of competitor ice creams. That’s me, as an adult, in every aisle of the grocery store. But the best gluten-free pastas, I’ve noticed, are straightforward and void of numerous (if any) additives. They keep their shape and texture. They add flavor and personality to a dish. They can trick my Aunt Diane, who is deeply skeptical of all things gluten-free. They’re still pasta—just different.
After years of emptying gluten-free pasta boxes into rumbling salted water, I’ve identified my favorites for whatever noodle occasion is on the menu. My exploration spans ingredients like lentils, quinoa, yellow peas, chickpeas, and almond flour formed into fusilli, fettuccine, and everything in between. Do these alternative pasta options perfectly reflect my nonna’s tortellini glazed with mushroom sauce? Of course they don’t, but they come close, gosh darn it. And the best part? Those of us with a gluten intolerance can still eat pasta every day if we want to—while getting more fiber, protein, and various other nutrients depending on if we’re reaching for chickpea pasta or one made with brown rice flour.
Best for a warm bowl of pasta
Most gluten-free pasta brands are great in this category. If you follow the cooking time on the box, toss gently, and serve immediately, the noodles will reliably hold up—unlike in some other applications (more on that later). Banza is always in my pantry. It’s made of chickpeas and comes in a ton of pasta shapes, including linguine and cascatelli, made in partnership with The Sporkful’s Dan Pashman. Cooked al dente, Banza is toothsome like the real deal. (This one fools Aunt Diane every time.)
Zenb also has this effect. Made from yellow peas, their penne, elbows, and rotini maintain the look and feel of traditional pasta. I also really enjoy playing with konjac-based Miracle Noodles, which have a nice bounce to their bite. Many traditionally gluten-free Asian noodles, like soba and rice noodles (I like Thai Kitchen’s), also hold up well when given the fresh pesto and red sauce treatment.
Zenb’s macaroni elbows hold up well in broth (cook them separately in water before adding to your soup) with the mouthfeel of your favorite comfort-soup noodle. If you want to add fiber, try a red lentil pasta, like Public Goods’ fusilli and those from Tolerant. Both maintain their sturdiness after swimming in liquid for a while and have the added bonus of a high-protein legume boost.
Texture is important here, and this is when a lot of gluten-free pastas don’t pass the test. Typically, regular pasta is undercooked before baking. However, getting that timing right with a gluten-free or grain-free pasta can be challenging, and gluten-free baked pasta dishes often end up disappointingly mushy or gummy. But Zenb’s penne pasta makes for a hearty bake. The noodle structure remains intact even after time in the oven or a blitz in the microwave the following day.
Yes, you can still enjoy lasagna even if you follow a gluten-free diet. I love Cappello’s almond flour sheets, which have a nice melt-in-your-mouth quality reminiscent of fresh wheat pasta. The almond flavor plays subtly in the background, but it’s not distracting. Jovial’s organic brown rice lasagna noodles (no pre-cooking necessary) are another favorite, with a chewy bite and crispy edges my family and I fight over.
Best for pasta salads
This is where gluten-free pastas are particularly tricky. Once they’re cold, many vegetable- and legume-based pastas get firm and rubbery. Enter rice-based pasta. Jovial’s brown rice pasta (I recommend the bow ties) and Tinkyada’s macaroni elbows are excellent choices. Once cooked, cooled, and tossed in olive oil, the texture remains gloriously pasta-like.
Best for noodle soups and salads
There’s no shortage of noodle options that are traditionally gluten-free, like soba (made of buckwheat) and mung bean or rice noodles. But if you’re looking for a ramen dupe, try Lotus Foods, which offers a colorful array of noodles made from rice and millet.
You too can have pasta salad: