Pasta is one of the mainstays of American food culture. Even though its history is mainly Italian with its origins being traced back to Asia, the United States consumes nearly 6 billion pounds of it every year. The average American alone eats approximately 20 lbs. of pasta annually!
With that extreme amount of consumption, there’s an equally large amount of different types of pasta to accompany it. We aren’t talking about 50 to 60 types of noodles. We are talking about over 350 different kinds of pasta!
Why are there so many variations? Where did it all come from? Let’s get to the bottom of this.
Pasta Defined From A(ngel Hair) to Z(iti)
Overall, pasta can be classified into a few different groups including the long group, tube group, soup group, stuffed group, and special shape group.
These groups have a few different varieties you are most likely familiar with, so we have included some common examples:
- Long: can be described fairly obviously by it’s thin and lengthy features. Common types include angel hair, fettuccine, linguine, and spaghetti.
- Tube: is any pasta that is hollow through the center, forming a tube. Some tubes are long and narrow while others are short and wide. Common types include elbow macaroni, penne, rigatoni, and ziti
- Soup: consists of shapes that range from small to very tiny. They are typically used in lighter soups. A few kinds examples include alphabets (seriously!), orzo, and pastina.
- Stuffed: can be filled with a variety of different fillings, including meat, cheese, and vegetables. Common types can include ravioli, shells, and tortellini.
- Special shape: is a type of pasta that doesn’t fit into any of the above categories. The noodles can be a variety of different shapes, including spirals or bowties. Common types can include cappelletti, egg noodles, farfalle, and rotelle.
As you can see, we did not give you a list of 350 different kinds of noodles. Your brain would have become as tangled as spaghetti sitting on your plate. So, to the question finally, why are there so many kinds of pasta?
The answer is quite simple. It’s all about texture and sauce.
How a certain pasta holds a sauce is an important piece of Italian cooking. Typically, chefs use an array of pasta shapes and sizes depending on the sauce they use. For example, a thinner sauce may pair better with thinner pasta, such as angel hair or spaghetti. A thicker sauce would then pair better with a thicker pasta, like rigatoni or fettuccine.
Thick and thin aren’t the only ways to describe the sauces that bond well with specific types of noodles. There are cream sauces that pair well with flat noodles, and tomato sauces that cling to round pasta.
A good way to think about all of this is, the bigger the pasta, the heavier a sauce can be. If it’s smaller, the lighter the sauce should be.
Why Are There So Many Shapes of Pasta?
The shapes vary because of cultural differences from around the globe. Pasta lovers in North America are said to prefer more standardized and familiar shape. In Italy, people are said to prefer more unique types of pasta. However, that’s not the only reason.
Our preferences in the United States, can be influenced by today’s prevailing food culture. We view it as a fast and simple dinner. In Italy, it is more of a meal experience than a quick fix.
Innovation also plays an enormous role in why there are so many distinctive shapes. Without the creativity of mixing sauces with diverse types of pasta, we probably wouldn’t have some of the dishes we have today.
Get Your Fill at Grico’s
At Grico’s, we have a variety of options for an in-house dining experience or an event for which you may need catering services. From linguine to capellini, and a variety of sauces to choose from, we have the option for you. Reserve your table at Grico’s today!