Pasta is one of the mainstays of American food culture. Even though pasta’s history is mainly Italian with its origins being traced back to Asia, the United States consumes nearly 6 billion pounds of pasta every year. The average American alone eats approximately 20 lbs. of pasta annually. That’s a lot of pasta!
With that extreme amount of pasta 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 of pasta? 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 pasta group, tube pasta group, soup pasta group, stuffed pasta group, and special shape pasta group.
These groups have a few different varieties of pasta you are most likely familiar with, so we have included some common examples:
- Long pasta can be described fairly obviously by it’s thin and lengthy features. Common types of long pasta include angel hair, fettuccine, linguine, and spaghetti.
- Tube pasta 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 of tube pasta include elbow macaroni, penne, rigatoni, and ziti
- Soup pasta consists of shapes that range from small to very tiny. They are typically used in lighter soups. A few kinds of soup pasta include alphabets (it’s seriously a type of pasta!), orzo, and pastina.
- Stuffed pasta can be filled with a variety of different fillings, including meat, cheese, and vegetables. Common types of stuffed pasta can include ravioli, shells, and tortellini.
- Special shape pasta 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 of special-shaped pasta 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. The smaller the pasta, the lighter the sauce should be.
Why Are There So Many Shapes of Pasta?
The shapes of pasta vary because of cultural differences from around the globe. Pasta lovers in North America are said to prefer more standardized pasta, meaning pasta with a familiar shape. In Italy, people are said to prefer more unique types of pasta. However, that’s not the only reason.
Our preferences for particular pasta, especially in the United States, can be influenced by today’s prevailing food culture. We view pasta, sometimes, as a fast and simple dinner. In Italy, pasta is more of a meal experience than a quick fix.
Innovation also plays an enormous role in why there are so many distinctive shapes of pasta. 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 of Pasta at Grico’s
At Grico’s, we have a variety of pasta 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!