As if low-carb diet fads weren’t already a big enough blow to the pasta industry, the gluten-free trend was hot on its heels (which for people with Celiac disease or gluten allergies, was more than just a trend). Pasta producers and the food industry have tried to keep pace by producing gluten-free alternatives, and now the gluten-free noodle category is positively booming.
But just because there are a lot of wheat-free pastas to choose from doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re good. Not all the offerings on the market are created equal, and as I learned in my blind tasting of grocery store-brand spaghetti, a lot of them are truly foul. The biggest issues with gluten-free pastas seems to be a lack of stretch, breakage (aka brittle noodles), and separation. In some of the worst ones, the image of separate noodles is merely an illusion, devolving into vaguely noodly clumps when you cook them, with odd-tasting bites that seem to dissolve in your mouth. “Melt in your mouth” is a compliment for a steak. It is not a prized characteristic in noodles.
I included a few token gluten-free options in my previous spaghetti ranking and on the whole they fared… poorly. This time around, we thought why not level the playing field, pitting gluten-free options against other gluten-free options, and include as many of them as we could find?
A lot of them, once again, were pretty bad. The surprise was that a few of them weren’t. Maybe not good enough to beat glutenous pasta head-to-head, but good enough that you wouldn’t notice. Or at least good enough to be worthwhile options in their own right.
A note on method:
I tasted these blind, boiled in four cups of water with one tablespoon of salt. I usually let them boil 10-11 minutes, but if they seemed done or not done, I took them out early or let them boil longer as needed.
- Andean Dream, Made With Organic Quinoa
- Rummo Gluten-Free Spaghetti Made With Rice And Corn
- Banza Spaghetti Made From Chickpeas
- 365 Gluten-Free Spaghetti With Corn And Rice
- Trader Joe’s Organic Brown Rice Quinoa Spaghetti
- Tinkyada Brown Rice Pasta
- DeLallo Gluten-Free Pasta Made With Whole Grain Rice
- Trader Joe’s Organic Yellow Lentil Brown Rice Pasta
- Ancient Harvest Green Lentil Spaghetti
- Ancient Harvest Corn, Brown Rice, and Quinoa
- Veggie Craft, Made With Cauliflower
- Full Circle Market Made From Corn And Rice
- Jovial Cassava
- Seapoint Farms Edamame Spaghetti
- Explore Cuisine Organic Black Bean
- Explore Cuisine Organic Edamame
16. Tinkyada Brown Rice Pasta (sample 6)
Price: $3.39 at Target
Looks: Pale, sort of greyish. A little grain to the exterior but mostly looks like noodles.
Smell: Something more pungent to the nose. What is that? An Earthy-grainy aroma that I can’t quite place.
Taste: Still VERY al dente, even after 10 minutes-plus of hard-boiling. Almost inedible. Sourdough-like flavor. Big time no from me dog. 1/10
Perhaps it was a flaw of our test that we didn’t follow the cooking instructions of each individual pasta for this test, stupidly assuming that they’d all be as similar as their glutinous cousins. This one suggests a hard boiling for 1-2 minutes, followed by leaving it in the pot for “about 18 minutes.”
20 minutes to cook pasta??? Shit, man, if it’s gonna take that long I might as well just kill and butcher a goat.
15. Ancient Harvest Green Lentil Spaghetti
Price: $3.69 at Smart & Final
Original Notes (sample 9):
Look: Revolting, like one big, stuck-together mass. I don’t know if I boiled these too long or not enough but it certainly appears that something has gone very wrong.
Smell: Stale. That’s the only way I can describe it. Like stale air.
Taste: This just doesn’t “noodle” at all. It’s essentially a bean pie with noodle lines drawn on it. It tastes like dissolving powder with no stretch or pull to it. And it sticks to your teeth. Nah. 2/10.
Let me quote from the cooking instructions: “Lets Get Cooking: 1. Add pasta 8 cups of boiling watter [sic] and stir immediately. 2. Cook uncovered for 7-10 minutes or until firmness is reached. Begin testing at 5 minutes and stir occasionally. Do not overcook. 3. Drain and rinse pasta in hot water and serve. Note: Water will turn yellow from the corn starches. This is normal.”
So, basically, I cooked them correctly and they still came out this bad.
14. Veggie Craft Made With Cauliflower
Price: $3.29 at Sprouts
Looks: Rust red in color, with thick and smooth noodles. They look a bit wiry.
Smell: Like funky bean powder. Vaguely feet-like.
Taste: Just way too bean-y. Yuck. I’m reaching for the water. This tastes like dry hummus shaped into noodles. 2/10
My comments about the red color and beany taste don’t make a ton of sense for a cauliflower product, until you check the fine print and realize that these are made with “lentil, pea, and cauliflower flours.” Which I don’t think is a problem in and of itself (there are other lentil and pea products on this list ranked much higher) but these are… well these are basically dog food.
13. Trader Joe’s Organic Brown Rice Quinoa Spaghetti
Price: I paid $3.29 at Trader Joe’s
Look: This one already looks gross and gloopy, with excess residue and lots of broken noodles.
Smell: Weird in a way I can’t quite identify, like baby food.
Taste: Noodles clumpy, mealy, mushy. Taste actually isn’t bad but the texture is just so, so bad. Trash mouthfeel. 3/10.
The notes kind of say it all with this one. You can tell just from looking at it that whatever they’ve got going on here isn’t good at resembling a noodle.
12. Jovial Grain Free Cassava Spaghetti
Price: $4.29 at Sprouts
Look: Translucent brown, somehow both grainy and gelatinous.
Smell: Neutral smell.
Taste: Weird sticky texture, can’t tell if I boiled it too long or not enough. It’s sort of mushy and chewy at the same time. And it sticks to your teeth. 3/10.
Bottom Line: According to the package:
“Cassava is a root vegetable that is ground whole and dried into a fiber-rich flour that we use to make this incredible, grain free pasta. Sustainable farming is at the heart of jovial mission, and cassava is an ingredient with a great story. Cassava grows in marginal soil with little water, and produces more calories per acre that wheat and corn, making it a staple for over half a billion people worldwide.”
That is a great story! And cassava doesn’t stink like some of the other alternative noodle materials, which makes me think it has potential. Unfortunately, it seems like they just didn’t grind this flour fine enough and the noodles themselves might be too thick as well. You’re meant to boil these for 13 damned minutes. This one was made in Italy, like a lot of the favorites on this list, but I think they need to go back to the drawing board.
11. Trader Joe’s Organic Yellow Lentil and Brown Rice Pasta
Price: $3.29 MSRP from TJ’s.
Look: Much redder color, sort of iron-rust colored.
Smell: A pretty strong bean aroma.
Taste: The texture is just off somehow. It separates nicely, but it’s sort of stiff and wiry and brittle, with no elasticity to it. It has a bean powder flavor, which I think isn’t the worst thing in the world, but it does take some getting used to. The texture is what kills it, it’s not really a noodle at all. 4/10.
If I’m going to train myself to appreciate a bean-flavored pasta it needs to have a better texture than this.
10. Full Circle Market Spaghetti Made From Corn And Rice
Price: $1.99 from Save Mart
Look: Very bright yellow sunny color, with slightly thinner noodles.
Smell: Pretty pasta-like, actually.
Taste: Texture-wise, they’re a little clumpy and coarse, but not too wiry or powdery. The taste is… is there a grain version of gamey? Something about the flavor isn’t quite right. 5/10.
This was another Italian product, and it looked and smelled pretty great, but something about the taste was off. I’m not sure why, since corn and rice seem like pretty straightforward, non-gamey ingredients. Maybe it sat on the shelf too long?
9. Banza Spaghetti Made From Chickpeas
Price: $2.59 at Target
Look: Pale yellow, reasonably pasta-like.
Smell: …Vegetal? Is that beans? Gotta be some bean flour in there smelling like this.
Taste: Very little stretch to the noodles, they break very easily. Texture is mildly chalky, and they dissolve in your mouth a bit. That being said, the taste isn’t bad. Sort of just savory/salty without being too offputting or weird. 6/10.
These noodles remind me of a joke: “What’s the difference between a chickpea and a garbanzo bean?” “I’ve never had a garbanzo bean on my chest.” Anyyyyyway, these are sort of replacement-level GF noodles.
8. Ancient Harvest Corn And Brown Rice Spaghetti
Price: $2.50 at Vons.
Look: Sunny yellow color. Some visible grains in the surface, a fair amount of broken noodles.
Taste: Texture is a bit wiry, with a coarser, grainier chew. Not as much elasticity as a regular wheat noodle, but it tastes alright enough. Like grain, at least. 6/10.
Brown rice noodles made up a lot of the worst-ranked choices, but this one fared okay. Seems like the quinoa in there evened out some of the worst qualities of the brown rice.
7. Explore Cuisine Organic Edamame Spaghetti
Price: $4.49 at Sprouts
Look: Sort of like brown Play-Dough.
Smell: Stronger aroma, more of that powdery bean smell.
Taste: Separates nicely and tastes okay, if a little beany. More brittle than the other ones that look sort of like this, and not very elastic. 6/10
There were a few noodles that went more for this rustic sort of look. This was the worst of them, but overall they were a lot better than I expected. I tend to think thinner, rougher noodles work a lot better for gluten-free options than the ones that try harder to mimic spaghetti.
6. Andean Dream Made With Organic Quinoa
Price: $5.01 at WalMart
Look: Pale white, like rice noodles. Slightly grainy texture.
Smell: Very neutral, maybe a slight hint of veggie on the back end. Hint of cauliflower?
Taste: Chewier than some of the others, doesn’t dissolve into a liquid in your mouth. Though it does have just a wisp of old shoe funk to it. Absorbed more salt than some of the others. 7/10
Bottom Line: Not perfect, but quinoa definitely seems like one of the better alternative grains out there when it comes to getting something resembling glutinous spaghetti.
5. 365 Gluten Free Spaghetti With Corn and Rice
Price: $2.49 at Whole Foods
Look: More lemon yellow, nice and bright. Just visible grains on the outside of the noodles.
Smell: Pretty similar to regular gluten noodles. Nothing too noteworthy or offputting about it.
Taste: Surprisingly pasta-like. It’s a little heartier and with a bit more chew than your standard glutenous noodles, maybe too much, but I prefer this to the melt-in-your-mouth varieties. 8/10
Bottom Line: It’s not 100%, but the Italian-made noodles, by and large, seemed to be better than their American cousins. We have now entered the “actually worth eating” portion of the rankings.
4. Explore Cuisine Organic Black Bean
Price: $4.49 Sprouts
Look: Black, like squid ink noodles, but smaller and grainier.
Smell: Sort of beany. I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that this is some kind of a black bean product.
Taste: Pretty good flavor. Not as elastic as the other one that looked thin and hairy like this, but it separates nicely. This one doesn’t really cut it as spaghetti, but it seems like it’d work great in a stir-fry. 7/10.
Bottom Line: This one not tasting terrible was arguably the biggest surprise of the entire ranking. It definitely looks weird because of the color, especially for a tomato-y pasta dish, but I could envision a fair number of uses for this — from chow mein to spring roll filling.
3. DeLallo Gluten Free Pasta Made With Whole Grain Rice
Price: $3.49 at Sprouts
Look: Thinner noodles, pale yellow to yellow-brown, with very small grain flecks.
Smell: Smells like some kind of vegetable powder, maybe chickpea? Something vaguely funky in there.
Taste: These definitely break more than they stretch, but otherwise not bad. They aren’t powdery tasting at all. Actually, the flavor is pretty good, savory but not too strong. 8/10.
Bottom Line: I would’ve never guessed it before this taste test, but apparently brown rice noodles have a gaminess to them. Who knew? A brown rice noodle probably wouldn’t be my first choice based on that, but this was far and away the best of them — another product from Italy.
2. Seapoint Farms Edamame Spaghetti
Price: $4.19 at Smart & Final
Look: Like brown Play-Dough Noodles. Vaguely like buckwheat soba, if you’re being generous.
Smell: Sort of like fermenting grain. Bready? This is a new one, aroma-wise. I can’t quite place it.
Taste: The noodles separate nicely, surprisingly. The taste is… weirdly satisfying actually. These are honestly pretty good. Much, much better than I expected and a pretty decent chow mein noodle. 8/10.
Bottom Line: Without the box, these looked just like the Explore Cuisine noodles, but a little better. Edamame (which is a just a soybean) seems like a pretty good choice for noodle material, it doesn’t have nearly the funk of the other kinds of legumes. Again, it doesn’t entirely work as a replacement spaghetti, but it seems like it’d be perfect in a ramen or a chow mein. I never would’ve guessed any of this based on that box, that is some of the most dog-shit box art I’ve ever seen. That box looks like it’s for slug bait I use in my garden.
1. Rummo Gluten Free Spaghetti with Rice and Corn
Price: $3.99 at Whole Foods
Look: Sort of yellow-orange, very light grain texture on the exterior.
Taste: Came out sort of on the al dente side, but not bad. It doesn’t stretch like regular pasta, but otherwise, I’m not sure I’d even know this was gluten-free. Looks by far the most like regular spaghetti and tastes decent too. 9/10.
Bottom Line: There were maybe a couple of others that had arguably better flavor, but this had a fairly neutral flavor and good texture and looked by far the most like regular spaghetti.