DURUM WHEAT AND PASTA QUALITY
Proteins. From a nutritional point of view, the percentage of protein is the determining factor in order to assess the quality of pasta. The minimum expected for durum wheat pasta is 10.5% (11.5% for whole wheat pasta), but it is only with values >14% that we can be sure to be in presence of superior quality pasta. The high protein content reduces the leakage of starch from pasta during cooking, so that it will be elastic, firm and not “sticky”.
Fibers. The amount of fibers is obviously higher in whole durum wheat pastas that, being not refined, can reach values higher than 5% of the total weight. Also the whole durum wheat and organic products are preferable because the wheat has not been treated with toxic synthetic pesticides (eg. phosphine, phosphate esters and pyrethroids), tipically used for storage of not-whole grains.
INDUSTRIAL PRODUCTION OF PASTA
Drying. Low drying temperatures are better. In order to save on costs and time many companies use very high drying temperatures, even up to 130 °C (266 °F) instead of the conventional 50-60 ° C. This procedure reduces the nutritional and organoleptic characteristics of pasta. The high temperature drying also makes sure that pasta doesn’t overcook, a feature that is often recognized (uncorrectly) as a quality index.
Wire-drawing (italian: “trafilatura”) with bronze or teflon. It’s the process that shapes the mix of durum wheat flour and water, transforming it into dough that will be then processed determining the shape of the pasta. The bronze wire-drawing is more complex and expensive, but leads to some advantages in the final quality of the dough, which results more wrinkled so that the sauce “sticks” better to the surface.
ITALIAN PASTA PRODUCERS
Transparency. The national production of wheat is not able to satisfy the requirements of italian market. The companies consequently are forced to import wheat from other countries. It is not always possible for the consumer to have precise information about the wheat variety and the supply chain management. This is due to the fact that pasta is often produced by mixing different types of wheat coming from different countries. However there are producers using only italian wheat. This is not necessarily index of better quality, but it is always preferable choose a product with a short and traceable production chain.
Best Practices. The following are only given as an example of brands (one specialized in organic products, the other in “conventional” pasta) giving informations about the management of pasta production chain.
Cooperativa La Terra e il Cielo The entire production chain is supervised by the cooperative, which buy from its farmers-members wheat exclusively grown with organic methods. The company, through a logo on the packaging gives informations about the type of wheat, its origin, and about the suppliers.
De Matteis Agroalimentare created the protocol “Grano Armando”, whose subscription by farmers ensure them the payment of the crop at a guaranteed price (above the market price) and a bonus if the grain has a higher protein index.
HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST PASTA
- Prefer organic pasta with whole durum wheat, higher in fibers and protective antioxidants, as well as free of residues from artificial pesticides;
- Avoid “refined” pastas, that are completely devoid of polyphenols and protective and anti-inflammatory substances, as well as of the precious substances contained in wheat germ. The wheat germ is rich of nutrients such as aminoacids, fatty acids, mineral salts, vitamins of the B group and tocopherols (vitamin E), which are eliminated during the refining process. For this reason also the refined organic pastas, from a strictly nutritional point of view, represent a contradiction since they are comparable to common not-organic refined pasta.
- Make attention to “dark” pasta sold as whole durum wheat pasta. It could be made of refined wheat flour with addition of bran.
- Prefer pasta dried at low temperatures. The drying is a dehydration process that, if conducted at high temperatures (to speed up production), reduce the nutritional properties.
- Avoid pastas with additional ingredients (eg. mineral salts, fibers etc).
- “Best pasta” means also transparency: choose brands providing informations about their production chain.