Pasta (US: /ˈpɑːstə/, UK: /ˈpæstə/; Italian pronunciation: [ˈpasta]) is a type of food typically made from an unleavened dough of durum wheat flour (semolina) mixed with water or eggs, and formed into sheets or various shapes, then cooked by boiling or baking. Rice flour, or legumes such as beans or lentils, are sometimes used in place of wheat flour to yield a different taste and texture, or as a gluten-free alternative. Pasta is a staple food of Italian cuisine.
Pastas are divided into two broad categories: dried (pasta secca) and fresh (pasta fresca). Most dried pasta is produced commercially via an extrusion process, although it can be produced at home. Fresh pasta is traditionally produced by hand, sometimes with the aid of simple machines. Fresh pastas available in grocery stores are produced commercially by large-scale machines.
Both dried and fresh pastas come in a number of shapes and varieties, with 310 specific forms known by over 1300 documented names. In Italy, the names of specific pasta shapes or types often vary by locale. For example, the pasta form cavatelli is known by 28 different names depending upon the town and region. Common forms of pasta include long and short shapes, tubes, flat shapes or sheets, miniature shapes for soup, those meant to be filled or stuffed, and specialty or decorative shapes.
As a category in Italian cuisine, both fresh and dried pastas are classically used in one of three kinds of prepared dishes: as pasta asciutta (or pastasciutta), cooked pasta is plated and served with a complementary side sauce or condiment; a second classification of pasta dishes is pasta in brodo, in which the pasta is part of a soup-type dish. A third category is pasta al forno, in which the pasta is incorporated into a dish that is subsequently baked in the oven. Pasta dishes are generally simple, but individual dishes vary in preparation. Some pasta dishes are served as a small first course or for light lunches, such as pasta salads. Other dishes may be portioned larger and used for dinner. Pasta sauces similarly may vary in taste, color and texture.
In terms of nutrition, cooked plain pasta is 31% carbohydrates (mostly starch), 6% protein, and low in fat, with moderate amounts of manganese, but pasta generally has low micronutrient content. Pasta may be enriched or fortified, or made from whole grains.
In the 1st century AD writings of Horace, lagana (singular: laganum) were fine sheets of fried dough and were an everyday foodstuff. Writing in the 2nd century Athenaeus of Naucratis provides a recipe for lagana which he attributes to the 1st century Chrysippus of Tyana: sheets of dough made of wheat flour and the juice of crushed lettuce, then flavoured with spices and deep-fried in oil. An early 5th century cookbook describes a dish called lagana that consisted of layers of dough with meat stuffing, an ancestor of modern-day lasagna. However, the method of cooking these sheets of dough does not correspond to our modern definition of either a fresh or dry pasta product, which only had similar basic ingredients and perhaps the shape. The first concrete information concerning pasta products in Italy dates from the 13th or 14th century.
Historians have noted several lexical milestones relevant to pasta, none of which changes these basic characteristics.
One form of itriyya with a long history is laganum (plural lagana), which in Latin refers to a thin sheet of dough, and gives rise to Italian lasagna.
In North Africa, a food similar to pasta, known as couscous, has been eaten for centuries. However, it lacks the distinguishing malleable nature of pasta, couscous being more akin to droplets of dough. At first, dry pasta was a luxury item in Italy because of high labor costs; durum wheat semolina had to be kneaded for a long time.
There is a legend of Marco Polo importing pasta from China which originated with the Macaroni Journal, published by an association of food industries with the goal of promoting pasta in the United States. Rustichello da Pisa writes in his Travels that Marco Polo described a food similar to "lagana". Jeffrey Steingarten asserts that Arabs introduced pasta in the Emirate of Sicily in the ninth century, mentioning also that traces of pasta have been found in ancient Greece and that Jane Grigson believed the Marco Polo story to have originated in the 1920s or 30s in an advertisement for a Canadian spaghetti company.
In Greek mythology, it is believed that the god Hephaestus invented a device that made strings of dough.
In the 14th and 15th centuries, dried pasta became popular for its easy storage.
Although tomatoes were introduced to Italy in the 16th century and incorporated in Italian cuisine in the 17th century, description of the first Italian tomato sauces dates from the late 18th century: the first written record of pasta with tomato sauce can be found in the 1790 cookbook L'Apicio Moderno by Roman chef Francesco Leonardi. Before tomato sauce was introduced, pasta was eaten dry with the fingers; the liquid sauce demanded the use of a fork.
At the beginning of the 17th century, Naples had rudimentary machines for producing pasta, later establishing the kneading machine and press, making pasta manufacturing cost-effective. In 1740, a license for the first pasta factory was issued in Venice. During the 1800s, water mills and stone grinders were used to separate semolina from the bran, initiating expansion of the pasta market. In 1859, Joseph Topits (1824−1876) founded the first pasta factory of Hungary in the city of Pest, which worked with steam machines; it was one of the first pasta factories of Central Europe. By 1867, Buitoni Company in Sansepolcro, Tuscany became an established pasta manufacturer. During the early 1900s, artificial drying and extrusion processes enabled greater variety of pasta preparation and larger volumes for export, beginning a period called "The Industry of Pasta". In 1884, the Zátka Brothers’s plant in Boršov nad Vltavou was founded and this was the first pasta factory in Bohemia.
Using tomato sauce to give pasta its flavour was revolutionary, since it was originally eaten plain.
The art of pasta making and the devotion to the food as a whole has evolved since pasta was first conceptualized.
Pasta was originally solely a part of Italian and European cuisine.
Since at least the time of Cato's De Agri Cultura, basic pasta dough has been made mostly of wheat flour or semolina, with durum wheat used predominantly in the South of Italy and soft wheat in the North. Regionally other grains have been used, including those from barley, buckwheat, rye, rice, and maize, as well as chestnut and chickpea flours.
To address needs of people affected by gluten-related disorders (such as coeliac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity and wheat allergy sufferers), some recipes use rice or maize for making pasta. Grain flours may also be supplemented with cooked potatoes.
Other additions to the basic flour-liquid mixture may include vegetable purees such as spinach or tomato, mushrooms, cheeses, herbs, spices and other seasonings.
Additives in dried, commercially sold pasta include vitamins and minerals that are lost from the durum wheat endosperm during milling.
Fresh pasta is usually locally made with fresh ingredients unless it is destined to be shipped, in which case consideration is given to the spoilage rates of the desired ingredients such as eggs or herbs.
Fresh pastas do not expand in size after cooking; therefore, 0.7 kg (1.5 lb) of pasta are needed to serve four people generously. Fresh egg pasta is generally cut into strands of various widths and thicknesses depending on which pasta is to be made (e.g. fettuccine, pappardelle, and lasagne).
Dried pasta can also be defined as factory-made pasta because it is usually produced in large amounts that require large machines with superior processing capabilities to manufacture. Dried pasta is mainly shipped over to farther locations and has a longer shelf life.
Pasta is generally served with some type of sauce; the sauce and the type of pasta are usually matched based on consistency and ease of eating.
Ingredients to make pasta dough include semolina flour, egg, salt and water.
Kitchen pasta machines, also called pasta makers, are popular with cooks who make large amounts of fresh pasta. The cook feeds sheets of pasta dough into the machine by hand, and by turning a hand crank, rolls the pasta to thin it incrementally. On the final pass through the pasta machine, the pasta may be directed through a machine 'comb' to shape the pasta noodles as they emerge.
Semolina flour consists of a protein matrix with entrapped starch granules.
Durum wheat is ground into semolina flour which is sorted by optical scanners and cleaned. Pipes allow the flour to move to a mixing machine where it is mixed with warm water by rotating blades.
The ingredients to make dried pasta usually include water and semolina flour; egg for colour and richness (in some types of pasta), and possibly vegetable juice (such as spinach, beet, tomato, carrot), herbs or spices for colour and flavour.
The dough is then ready to be shaped into different types of pasta.
Gluten, the protein found in grains such as wheat, rye, spelt, and barley, contributes to protein aggregation and firm texture of a normally cooked pasta. Gluten-free pasta is produced with wheat flour substitutes, such as vegetable powders, rice, corn, quinoa, amaranth, oats and buckwheat flours. Other possible gluten-free pasta ingredients may include hydrocolloids to improve cooking pasta with high heat resistance, xanthan gum to retain moisture during storage, or hydrothermally-treated polysaccharide mixtures to produce textures similar to those of wheat pasta.
The storage of pasta depends its processing and extent of drying. Uncooked pasta is kept dry and can sit in the cupboard for a year if airtight and stored in a cool, dry area.
Pasta exhibits a random molecular order rather than a crystalline structure. The moisture content of dried pasta is typically around 12%, indicating that dried pasta will remain a brittle solid until it is cooked and becomes malleable. The cooked product is, as a result, softer, more flexible, and chewy.
Another major component of durum wheat is protein which plays a large role in pasta dough rheology. Gluten proteins, which include monomeric gliadins and polymeric glutenin, make up the major protein component of durum wheat (about 75–80%). As more water is added and shear stress is applied, gluten proteins take on an elastic characteristic and begin to form strands and sheets. The gluten matrix that results during forming of the dough becomes irreversibly associated during drying as the moisture content is lowered to form the dried pasta product.
Before the mixing process takes place, semolina particles are irregularly shaped and present in different sizes. Semolina particles become hydrated during mixing. The amount of water added to the semolina is determined based on the initial moisture content of the flour and the desired shape of the pasta. The desired moisture content of the dough is around 32% wet basis and will vary depending on the shape of pasta being produced.
The forming process involves the dough entering an extruder in which the rotation of a single or double screw system pushes the dough toward a die set to a specific shape. As the starch granules swell slightly in the presence of water and a low amount of thermal energy, they become embedded within the protein matrix and align along the direction of the shear caused by the extrusion process.
Starch gelatinization and protein coagulation are the major changes that take place when pasta is cooked in boiling water. Protein and starch competing for water within the pasta cause a constant change in structure as the pasta cooks.
Production and market
In 2015-16, the largest producers of dried pasta were Italy (3.2 million tonnes), the United States (2 million tonnes), Turkey (1.3 million tons), Brazil (1.2 million tonnes), and Russia (1 million tons). In 2018, Italy was the world's largest exporter of pasta, with $2.9 billion sold, followed by China with $0.9 billion.
The largest per capita consumers of pasta in 2015 were Italy (23.5 kg/person), Tunisia (16.0 kg/person), Venezuela (12.0 kg/person) and Greece (11.2 kg/person). In 2017, the United States was the largest consumer of pasta with 2.7 million tons.
When cooked, plain pasta is composed of 62% water, 31% carbohydrates (26% starch), 6% protein, and 1% fat. A 100 gram portion of unenriched cooked pasta provides 160 Calories and a moderate level of manganese (15% of the Daily Value), but few other micronutrients.
As pasta was introduced elsewhere in the world, it became incorporated into a number of local cuisines, which often have significantly different ways of preparation from those of Italy.
When pasta was introduced to several nations, every culture adopted different style of preparing it.
In cha chaan teng, macaroni is cooked in water and served in broth with ham or frankfurter sausages, peas, black mushrooms, and optionally eggs, reminiscent of noodle soup dishes. This is often a course for breakfast or light lunch fare. These affordable dining shops evolved from American food rations after World War II due to lack of supplies, and they continue to be popular for people with modest means. Two common spaghetti dishes served in Japan are the Bolognese and the Napolitan. In Nepal, macaroni has been adopted and cooked in a Nepalese way. Boiled macaroni is sautéed along with cumin, turmeric, finely chopped green chillies, onions and cabbage. In Greece hilopittes is considered one of the finest types of dried egg pasta. It is cooked either in tomato sauce or with various kinds of casserole meat. It is usually served with Greek cheese of any type.
Pasta is also widespread in the Southern Cone, as well most of the rest of Brazil, mostly pervasive in the areas with mild to strong Italian roots, such as Central Argentina, and the eight southernmost Brazilian states (where macaroni are called macarrão, and more general pasta is under the umbrella term massa, literally "dough", together with some Japanese noodles, such as bifum rice vermicelli and yakisoba, which also entered general taste). The local names for the pasta are many times varieties of the Italian names, such as ñoquis/nhoque for gnocchi, ravioles/ravióli for ravioli, or tallarines/talharim for tagliatelle, although some of the most popular pasta in Brazil, such as the parafuso ("screw", "bolt"), a specialty of the country's pasta salads, are also way different both in name and format from its closest Italian relatives, in this case the fusilli.
In the Philippines, spaghetti is often served with a distinct, slightly sweet yet flavourful meat sauce (the base of which would be tomato sauce or paste and ketchup), frequently containing ground beef or pork and diced hot dogs and ham. It is spiced with some soy sauce, heavy quantities of garlic, dried oregano sprigs and sometimes with dried bay leaf, and afterwards topped with grated cheese. Other pasta dishes are also cooked nowadays in the Filipino kitchen, like carbonara, pasta with alfredo sauce, and baked macaroni. These dishes are usually cooked for gatherings and special occasions, like family reunions or Christmas. Macaroni or other tube pasta is also used in sopas, a local chicken broth soup.
In Australia, boscaiola sauce, based on bacon and mushrooms, is popular.
Although numerous variations of ingredients for different pasta products are known, in Italy the commercial manufacturing and labeling of pasta for sale as a food product within the country is highly regulated. Italian regulations recognise three categories of commercially manufactured dried pasta as well as manufactured fresh and stabilized pasta:
Pasta, or dried pasta with three subcategories – (i.) Durum wheat semolina pasta (pasta di semola di grano duro), (ii.) Low grade durum wheat semolina pasta (pasta di semolato di grano duro) and (iii.) Durum wheat whole meal pasta (pasta di semola integrale di grano duro). Pastas made under this category must be made only with durum wheat semolina or durum wheat whole-meal semolina and water, with an allowance for up to 3% of soft-wheat flour as part of the durum flour. Dried pastas made under this category must be labeled according to the subcategory.
Special pastas (paste speciali) – As Pasta above, with additional ingredients other than flour and water or eggs. Special pastas must be labeled as durum wheat semolina pasta on the packaging completed by mentioning the added ingredients used (e.g., spinach). The 3% soft flour limitation still applies.
Egg pasta (pasta all'uovo) – May only be manufactured using durum wheat semolina with at least 4 hens’ eggs (chicken) weighing at least 200 grams (without the shells) per kilogram of semolina, or a liquid egg product produced only with hen’s eggs. Pasta made and sold in Italy under this category must be labeled egg pasta.
Fresh and stabilized pastas (paste alimentari fresche e stabilizzate) – Includes fresh and stabilized pastas, which may be made with soft-wheat flour without restriction on the amount. Prepackaged fresh pasta must have a water content not less than 24%, must be stored refrigerated at a temperature of not more than 4 °C (with a 2 °C tolerance), must have undergone a heat treatment at least equivalent to pasteurisation, and must be sold within 5 days of the date of manufacture. Stabilized pasta has a lower allowed water content of 20%, and is manufactured using a process and heat treatment that allows it to be transported and stored at ambient temperatures.
The Italian regulations under Presidential Decree N° 187 apply only to the commercial manufacturing of pastas both made and sold within Italy.
In the US, regulations for commercial pasta products occur both at the federal and state levels.
Macaroni products – defined as the class of food prepared by drying formed units of dough made from semolina, durum flour, farina, flour, or any combination of those ingredients with water. Within this category various optional ingredients may also be used within specified ranges, including egg white, frozen egg white or dried egg white alone or in any combination; disodium phosphate; onions, celery, garlic or bay leaf, alone or in any combination; salt; gum gluten; and concentrated glyceryl monostearate. Specific dimensions are given for the shapes named macaroni, spaghetti and vermicelli.
Noodle products – the class of food that is prepared by drying units of dough made from semolina, durum flour, farina, flour, alone or in any combination with liquid eggs, frozen eggs, dried eggs, egg yolks, frozen yolks, dried yolks, alone or in any combination, with or without water. Optional ingredients that may be added in allowed amounts are onions, celery, garlic, and bay leaf; salt; gum gluten; and concentrated glyceryl monostearate.
The federal regulations under 21 CFR Part 139 are standards for the products noted, not mandates.
Beyond the FDA’s standards and state statutes, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which regulates federal school nutrition programs, broadly requires grain and bread products served under these programs either be enriched or whole grain (see 7 CFR 210.10 (k) (5)). This includes macaroni and noodle products that are served as part the category grains/breads requirements within those programs. The USDA also allows that enriched macaroni products fortified with protein may be used and counted to meet either a grains/breads or meat/alternative meat requirement, but not as both components within the same meal.