Tagliatelli, linguine, fusilli or just good old spaghetti. Whichever kind you fancy, there is no doubt that pasta is a popular carbohydrate, whether in a salad or mixed with vegetables, seafood or meat as the basis of a main meal. Although most of the different kinds of pasta available are equally healthy, there is always scope to go one better and seek out the organic or fresh varieties – or perhaps even make it at home.
Traditional quality pasta should be made with 100 per cent durum wheat, in wholewheat or semolina form. However, with growth in the own-brand market pushing prices down, many of the cheaper pastas now contain ‘soft wheat’ substitutes, which can result in a slightly sticky or slimy texture.
A richer pasta is produced with the addition of egg, making it unsuitable for vegans. Tomato or spinach is added to produce the distinctive red or green pastas, and some pasta-makers are fond of ingredients such as nettles, beetroot and chilli.
In Italy, fresh pasta is available in over a hundred variations of shape and filling, and is sold in specialist shops to be eaten on the day of purchase. In the UK, most of the fresh pasta available is not quite so fresh, as it is usually preserved in a modified environment to extend the shelf life. Pasta from specialist shops is often very good, but many of the ready-prepared fresh pasta meals on the supermarket shelves are rather stodgy with few authentic ingredients.
Fresh pasta most often contains egg, which again is not good news for vegans, and if the pasta is from a non-organic company the eggs will probably be from battery farms. All brands certified as organic by the Soil Association will contain only free-range eggs.
Organic, wholewheat and GM
As the supermarket own-brands are responsible for more than three quarters of all UK pasta sales, the introduction of organic own-brand pasta ranges is a positive step towards sustainable agriculture. Shoppers need to be wary of wholewheat pasta varieties (unless they are clearly marked as organic) because they are far more likely to contain chemical residues, as the husk or bran of the wheat absorbs more of the pesticides and fertilisers than the semolina used in white varieties. As there are no GM varieties cleared for sale within the EU, dry pasta in its standard form should be free from GM ingredients, with the possible exception of the red tomato pasta, which could contain GM tomato paste. All the pasta certified as organic by the Soil Association is sure to be GM-free.
Most pasta is packaged in polypropylene, which although recyclable will usually end up in landfill. Given the expansion of the dried product during cooking and the need for thicker packaging for fresh pasta (in order to maintain the seal around the modified environment), far greater volumes of plastic are needed for the fresh product. This makes it a less environmentally friendly option than cheaper dried pasta.
For those with wheat or gluten intolerance, Orgran produces a rice pasta which has been produced in isolation from all other foodstuffs. Another possible alternative may be one of the speciality pastas produced by La Terra e Cielo, which are made from farro wheat or ‘spelt’ (an ancient forerunner to modern wheat), which contains considerably less gluten, and which the company claims may be suitable for people with a mild wheat intolerance.
Ethical Comparison – Pasta Rankings Detailed Table
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We have created ethical comparison rankings for the following brands, based on the activities of the company group (see above tables): Traidcraft, Organico, La Terra e Cielo, Orgran, Dellugo, Barilla, Marshalls, Pastificio Rana, Puglisi, Fiorucci, Buitoni, Seeds of Change
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