Pasta is a simple dish, but it is a very versatile food item. There are around 310 forms of both fresh and dried pasta, in a number of shapes and varieties. Common forms of pasta include, short and long shapes, tubes and sheets, flat shapes and many more. It can be prepared by hand or food processor and served hot or cold.
Basic Pasta Types
- Fresh pasta is made from unleavened dough, consisting of ground durum wheat and water or eggs. The high gluten content and low moisture of Durum wheat makes it perfect for pasta production. It is one of the world’s most accessible foods, nearly every country has its own unique version of this popular inexpensive staple
- Dried pasta is usually made from semolina, or purified durum wheat. It isn't particularly absorbent, it makes a great al dente style pasta. Dried durum pasta lasts indefinitely, which gives it a long shelf life, making it a very convenient store cupboard food.
- Standard pasta is made with a refined wheat flour. The nutrient rich outer bran shell and inner germ layer are removed during the refining process, leaving just the starchy 'endosperm'. The process strips much of the fiber from the wheat as well as vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, which makes the finished product nutritionally much weaker, therefore some of the nutrients such as iron and B vitamins are re-introduced back into the flour during manufacturing, though this falls way short of what is initially removed from the grain, this is where the term ‘enriched flour' originates from.
- 100% Whole-grain pasta includes all three layers of the wheat kernel: the bran, the germ and the endosperm. Whole-grain pasta contains more natural fiber and micronutrients than its white, refined cousin, because nothing is removed during processing. It also tends to be more filling than traditional white pasta due to the extra fiber. Choosing whole grain pasta over the refined type will provide numerous health benefits, including lower blood pressure and reduced risk of many chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease. It is more 'chewy' than the refined type and has a distinctive 'grainier' taste.
- Whole-wheat/white pasta is a blend of whole wheat and refined flours. It is less course and chewy than the 100% whole wheat variety, but it still offers more nutrition than the traditional white pasta. If you want to switch to the more wholesome wholegrain pasta, then this is the perfect blend to help you adjust to the different taste and texture.
- Whole-grain semolina pasta, is a recent trend, but does not necessarily have a lower GI. Rather, the whole grain adds micro nutrients lost in the milling process.
Evidence That Pasta Is Good For You
Pasta has long been used to turn seasonal vegetables and meat or cheese into a delicious and satisfying meal. Grain-based foods such as pasta, have been at the center of traditional diets for millennia. It is the vital component of the Mediterranean diet, widely recognized for its role in disease prevention. Pasta is considered a comfort food, made with the same essential ingredients and preparations that our ancestors used centuries ago, giving us a culinary connection to our past.
Pasta is the ideal base for other nutritious foods that are essential to a healthy diet. Antioxidant rich tomato sauce accompanied by vegetables and beans, fish and oils and protein-packed, poultry and lean meats is a perfect l topping for pasta. Because pasta is digested more slowly, it provides a slower release of energy to keep you going throughout the day. Complex carbohydrates like pasta provides the optimum type of “fuel” to power your muscles and brain.
Pasta and Weight Loss
Pasta is part of a well-balanced diet. One cup of cooked pasta contains just 100 calories, in addition to valuable vitamins and minerals. It is fat free and low in salt, so it can not only help with weight loss but it will keep you filled up longer.
It has a low Glycemic Index (GI) so it doesn't cause sugar in the blood to rise quickly. A low GI means a slower rate of digestion, which can help with appetite control. Current dietary guidance states that up to 65% of daily calories should come from carbohydrates, such as pasta.
What the Experts Say...
Numerous scientists agree that not only is pasta a delicious vehicle for nutritious ingredients, but it’s also a healthy staple food in its own right. Pasta is particularly good for people who are diabetic, or people who have problems with their body weight, it has also been shown to improve insulin sensitivity.
Pasta is not particularly energy dense, so for this reason, pasta makes a very healthy, nutritious and appealing meal. Similarly, pasta is evidence of the mounting knowledge that good health and good food often go hand in hand!
History Lesson: The Origins of Pasta
There are many aspects of Pasta's history that are quite surprising. Pasta can be traced back through the centuries, its trail spanning cultures and continents ranging from Asia, Europe, the Middle East, the Americas and parts of Africa. Today it is almost universally associated with Italy, though its origins don't actually begin there. Having said that, there is archaeological evidence that pasta existed as early as 400BC in the Etruscan civilization, which flourished in regions now called Umbria and Tuscany, where the discovery of an Etruscan tomb depicted what appeared to be natives using utensils, very similar to what is used today, to roll out and form some sort of pasta.
It can be also be traced back to the Shang dynasty in China from 1700 to 1100 BC, where some form of noodles made with either wheat or rice flour, are known to have existed. The ancient Greek civilizations which flourished in 1000 BC, also appear to have featured some form of pasta in their diet. The word 'lasagna' comes from the Greek term 'Lag anon', which were strips of dough made from flour and water.
Legend has it though, that in the 13th century, Marco Polo brought pasta to Italy from one of his trips to China. However, his was more of a rediscovery, as pasta was already gaining in popularity in other areas of Italy during this era, which makes it highly unlikely that Marco Polo was the first person to introduce pasta to the region.
Pasta has changed little over the last 800 years. Before the introduction of tomatoes from the New World, pasta was served with olive oil, garlic or local vegetables. In Italy, it was traditionally the food of peasants, which was just about everyone.
Tip: How To Cook Pasta
Pasta, should be cooked al dente, or slightly firm. If it is left to cook longer, it will slightly raise the Glycemic Index (GI), pasta becomes unhealthy when it is overly processed, or when it is topped with excessively fatty meats and cheeses. Although pasta is considered a healthy staple food, it should still be consumed in moderation.
Pasta releases natural starches during the cooking process. These starches are important because they act as a binding agent between the pasta and the sauce. Rinsing pasta immediately after draining will cause these starches to be flushed away and can also take the temperature of the pasta from steaming hot to cold and soggy. Only rinse pasta if you’ll be using it in a cold salad to prevent overcooking.
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