Sunday, June 6, 2010
This week-end was Italian Cooking Week-End at the New York Wine and Culinary Center. Tours of the Barilla pasta plant in Avon were a part of the festivities. Always game for a factory tour, I convinced my daughter to come along and off we went. One of the first things we did was sign a confidentiality agreement. We chuckled about being approached by a Mr. Slugworth character asking to buy Barilla pasta secrets from us. Stay away from the chocolate river!
We learned that the people of the northeast consume the most pasta in the U.S. and that spaghetti and penne are the most popular forms of pasta. Our Barilla tour guide informed us that their product was made with only the best semolina which is evidenced by the golden color of the pasta. I could tell you more, but I wouldn’t want to run into a Barilla thug in a dark alley. I’m partial to keeping my legs intact.
Have you ever wondered if there is really a difference in pasta brands? After my tour I decided to enlighten myself and challenge the Barilla brand to determine if it really is as good as it claims. My experiment began with the choice of three pastas in addition to the Barilla. I chose a box of Ronzoni, another brand name; a box from Wegman’s, a local grocery store chain that prides itself on using only the best ingredients; and a box from Aldi, a low-price grocery store chain. The Barilla brand cost $1.29, Ronzoni $1.39, Wegman’s $.89 and the Aldi brand $.59 all for a one pound box.
The nutritional values of all the brands are comparable with the same ingredients being used in each brand. The only difference between the brands is the amount of sugar added with Barilla having the least at 1g and the Wegman’s and Aldi brands weighing in at 3g. There are 10 more calories per serving in the brands using more sugar.
I kept the cooking technique as consistent as I could: the same pan, 4 cups of water, ¼ teaspoon of salt, 1/3 cup of pasta cooked for 8 minutes. I have a gas stove and did not change the heat setting throughout the experiment.
The Barilla pasta is a nice golden color, has little ridges to really hold the sauce, is a consistent size and has a nice hearty texture and a good flavor that would hold up well to a sauce. The Ronzoni and Wegman’s brands are pale in comparison. The elbows are smooth and the pasta does not have a consistent size. The Wegman’s brand is the lightest in color and is almost tasteless. The Ronzoni was just a little bit better with a bit more flavor. Surprisingly, the Aldi brand is also a golden color and is quite flavorful although the pasta is not a consistent size.
Taste, taste, taste. The decision has been made. The Barilla brand with its hearty texture and flavor was the best overall pasta I tested. However, the Aldi brand for less than one half the cost of the Barilla brand is a very close second. The result was not at all what I expected. Price is certainly not an indicator of quality and you shouldn't be quick to judge based on price.
You’ll have to excuse me now; I have quite a bit of pasta to finish eating. Too bad I didn’t test jarred pasta sauces too. Bon appétit!