Gluten-free pasta started out humbly enough: I saw that white rice was ground to a flour and shaped into slightly mushy versions of penne rigate. Then I saw a box of quinoa pasta, and then chickpea pasta made an appearance. Now, every time I walk through the grocery store it feels like there’s another gluten-free pasta available.
While all of these pastas can be rounded up and categorized into “gluten-free pastas,” I learned after a very starchy taste test of 7 popular gluten-free pastas (chickpea pasta, quinoa pasta, white rice pasta, brown rice pasta, black bean pasta, lentil pasta, and corn pasta) that each variation tastes incredibly different—and takes to different sauces in different ways. Here’s what to use these gluten-free pastas for, and what we liked—and didn’t—about each variation:
Our Gluten-Free Pasta Test Taste
Chickpea Pasta (Banza): This pasta started out promisingly. As soon as I put the chickpea pasta into the pan, it sunk to the bottom and formed a line across the center of the pot. When I fished a few chickpea soldiers out at five minutes, they were still chewy, but another couple of minutes did the trick.
Verdict: If undercooked, pasta retains its shape very well and doesn’t stick together once plated and dried—if cooked even a moment too long, it turns to mush in the pot or the colander. Unfortunately, it leaves a distinct chickpea aftertaste, and once chewed, it’s difficult to differentiate the pasta from a mouthful of chickpeas… but, more chewy. It’s not such a strong flavor that it would overpower a flavorful pasta sauce, but it will be hard to ignore if you’re making a simple aglio e olio.
Recommended cook time: 7 minutes, 30 seconds
Try it With:
Nigel Slater’s Really Good Spaghetti Bolognese.
A hearty meat sauce is robust enough that you probably won’t even be able to taste chickpeas pasta’s nutty flavor. Don’t forget to top it with plenty of good Parmesan cheese.
Pasta with Gorgonzola, Radicchio, Walnuts, and Orange.
With bitter radicchio, sweet orange, and funky-cream cheese, once again, your pasta accompaniments will distract from the fact that this pasta is made with chickpeas, not wheat.
Chickpea Fettuccine with Harissa, Kale, and Olives.
This recipe was actually developed with chickpea pasta in mind, so it’s best to lean in. Spicy harissa and briny olives pair surprisingly well with the pasta (not so odd though, as they pair great with regular chickpeas!)
All-Quinoa Pasta (Pereg): Many quinoa pastas, like the one listed above, contain corn as the first ingredient, but this brand lists whole-grain quinoa flour at the top of its list (followed by potato starch, egg white, and vegetable oil). Once in the water, it cooked extremely quickly (roughly 5 and a half minutes to 6 minutes, at most).
Verdict: While I’m impressed with the extremely quick cook time and liked the flavor—it tastes exactly like quinoa and has that same grainy earthiness, which was fine except that I couldn’t get past the texture. It disintegrates almost as soon as you start chewing. I don’t think I would make these again because if I ever craved them, I would just make quinoa.
Recommended cook time: 6 minutes, at most
Try it With:
Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce With Onion & Butter.
With a mild-tasting quinoa pasta, it’s best to stick with a classic, like Marcella Hazan’s tomato, onion, and butter sauce, which is rich and deeply flavorful.
Quinoa with corn flour (Ancient Harvest): The instructions on the back called for a 6 to 9 minute cook time and warned me, “DO NOT OVERCOOK” so I set my alarm for 5 minutes… and then 9 minutes… and then 10, at which point they were still almost inedible. (Almost immediately, the water became so murky that I couldn’t see the pasta.) By 12 minutes, they were done and extremely mushy. Once I took them out, I saw that they had left a film on the entire pan that I had to scrub to get off.
Verdict: These are extremely delicate and taste much more like corn than they do quinoa—almost like a corn tortilla that’s been dipped in water, which is kind of fun to eat in pasta form, but I’d definitely prefer it in chip form. On the plus side, they held their shape when chewed.
Recommended cook time: 11 to 12 minutes
Try it With:
Cavatappi with Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Brie & Arugula.
Leaning into strong flavors is the best way to complement quinoa pasta. Toss the pasta in oily, tangy-sweet sun-dried tomatoes, squidgy brie, peppery arugula. For a bit of extra smoke, add some chopped bacon if you have any on hand.
Caroline Choe’s Kimchi Mac & Cheese.
Spicy, creamy kimchi mac & cheese brings richness and bold flavor, which helps bring quinoa pasta to life.
Brown Rice (Tinkyáda): At 12 minutes, this pasta took slightly more time to cook than the other gluten-free pastas, and as soon as I took it out, it was extremely slimy—so much so that I couldn’t grab one noodle—but that luckily wore off as it dried!
Verdict: This pasta looks the most like regular, gluten-graced pasta, but the difference becomes immediately evident as you eat it—it doesn’t taste like anything, and it squeaked as I chewed, which was off-putting.
Recommended cook time: 12 minutes
Try it with:
Our Best Basil Pesto.
Slick brown rice pasta in a classic, creamy basil and parmesan cheese-based pesto with plenty of olive oil. For a little extra protein, add sliced sausage or a can of white beans.
Kale Pesto Orecchiette.
For a more nutrient-dense (and absolutely stunning green), nut-free pesto to go with your nutty brown rice pasta, try this kale version, extra-tangy thanks to a hit of Dijon mustard.
White Rice (Melotti): As soon as I put the pasta into the pot, it started to boil over, so the cooking process required a bit of vigilance.
Verdict: It tastes like a mushed-together ball of sticky rice, which was not extremely appealing—if given the option, I would prefer to just eat white rice. Or even an actual ball of mushed-together sticky rice. It also had a slightly slimy feel to it.
*Recommended cook time: 11 to 12 minutes
Try it with:
Best Alfredo Fettuccini.
For a classic creamy pasta (perhaps to remind you that even though you’re eating white rice pasta, you don’t have to skip the cream and cheese—preferably a 50/50 blend of Parmesan and Pecorino Romano.)
Vegan Cauliflower Alfredo Bake.
For any of those vegan and gluten-free folks out there (we see you! we hear you!), look no further than this cauliflower alfredo bake, which you could definitely make with brown rice pasta, but also any of the above gluten-free pastas
Cut to the Chase:
Best shape-retention: Chickpea
Best flavor: Quinoa with corn flour
Best look: Brown rice
Best overall: It depends on what you’re cooking and what your flavor preferences are! But we would pick a tie between the brown rice and quinoa with corn flour.
What are some of your favorite gluten-free pasta options and pairings? Tell us in the comments below!