One of the greatest myths of all time is that fresh pasta is better than dried pasta. This belief has spread far and wide for many reasons, but unfortunately, it’s just not that simple — and it’s certainly not true. Dried pasta, in many cases, is created with better ingredients, making it tastier and more nutritious. It’s hard to say if either dried pasta or fresh pasta is simply better than the other, as there are plenty of details from ingredients used to drying method that need to be accounted for. In this blog, we’ll unpack everything you need to know about the differences in fresh pasta and dried pasta.
How is fresh pasta made?
When made correctly, fresh pasta can be incredibly delicious, but it all depends on who is creating it, what ingredients they’re using, and how they are sourcing those ingredients. Many people believe that fresh pasta is better than dried pasta because the ingredients used are, well, fresher. However, this isn’t necessarily the case; there are a lot of variables in pasta making that should be considered! The basic formula for making fresh pasta is mixing eggs and flour. Seems so simple, right? It gets quite complex. Let’s look at some of the differences:
- Flour: because there are three different flours commonly used: ‘00’ flour, semolina flour, and all-purpose flour. In Italy, the flour most used is 00 flour, which is specifically designed to make pasta, or semolina flour. It can be very intimidating for US-based chefs to create pasta with 00 Italian flour or semolina flour since they’re not used to working with it (and it’s a bit pricier in the US), so they often resort to using all-purpose flour. Yep, the same stuff that sits in your pantry and is used to make cakes, cookies, muffins, and other baked goods — we wouldn’t consider that to be a “more fresh” ingredient! You’ll undoubtedly experience a difference in texture and taste when eating pasta made with all-purpose flour vs semolina or 00 flour.
- Eggs: When you start searching for fresh pasta recipes, you’ll be inundated with various recipes that call for using whole eggs, just the egg whites, just the egg yolks, or maybe even just water! It takes a lot of time and practice to find the perfect egg to flour ratio, even for the best chefs (unless you were born into the true art of Italian pasta making and have been doing it your whole life!).
Sometimes a small amount of oil and scant amount of seasonings are also used to make fresh pasta, but that depends on the type of pasta being made. As you can imagine, there are a lot of variations in the creation process, which leads us to the main point we’re trying to make: not all fresh pasta is created equal, and it doesn’t automatically mean it’s better than dried pasta just because it’s “fresh”.
How is dried pasta made?
Just like fresh pasta, there are many, many variables that go in to creating dried pasta. For the sake of simplicity, we’re only going to focus on the differences in industrial dried pasta (the stuff you typically see at the grocery store) vs artisanal dried pasta, like the brands we carry at Mia Emilia. Let’s start with looking at the ingredients.
- Industrial: Americans eat a staggering 6 Billion pounds of pasta every year (source), with the majority of that being dried. In order to keep up with the hungry, pasta-loving appetites, commercial factories have had to use huge machines to completely automate the process of creating pasta. Most commercially-dried pasta contains only two ingredients: semolina flour and water. Giant silos that hold up to 150,000 pounds of semolina flour are the starting point of the process; pipes from the silos move the flour into a mixing machine, in which warm water is piped in. From there it’s taken via conveyor belt to be rolled, flattened, pasteurized, and cut (read the details of the entire process here). While admittedly this is an impressive process that manages to feed a lot of people, it simply can’t compare to small batches of pasta that is artisanal created and dried by humans.
- Mia Emilia brands: All of the brands of pasta that we import are made and dried via the traditional artisanal method, which consists of making fresh pasta as we described above and then drying at a low temperature. But beyond the creation method, the dried pasta we carry is also crafted from more ingredients. For example, we carry many egg pastas, like this farrini that is made with spelt flour and eggs and this fettuccine egg pasta.
One of the most important distinguishers in industrially made and artisanal crafted dried pasta is the drying, as this excerpt from the New York Times shares: “The most important factor in producing good, flavorful pasta secca is the drying. Traditionally, pasta is dried at low temperatures, around 104 degrees, for a long time -- as long as 30 hours for spaghetti and longer for more complicated shapes. Industrial pasta may be dried very quickly at temperatures ranging from 140 to 194 degrees, or even higher.”
Industrially-made pasta serves its purpose of feeding the masses, but if you want a stand-out dining experience with authentic Italian pasta, you should definitely opt for one of our artisanal-crafted pastas.
Why do high-end restaurants use fresh pasta?
This is a great question that we often hear when discussing why fresh pasta doesn’t necessarily mean better pasta. In fact, one of the main reasons consumers feel that fresh pasta is superior is because it’s touted in high-end (more expensive) restaurants. However, the reason these high-end restaurants use fresh pasta usually has nothing to do with quality. It’s more so because the chef at the restaurant wants to create a personalized dish. If you are a top-rated chef, you want to come up with your own pasta d’auteur, just to emphasize your dish — not because you cannot find another pasta that lives up to your starred mastery. Many chefs believe that this distinguishes them and signifies that they are “at the height of their career,” like chef Michael Friedman explains in this Washington Post article (he now prefers to use artisanal-made dried pasta).
On the other hand, there are also some high-end restaurants that buy fresh pasta just because there is a widespread conviction that fresh pasta tastes better than dry pasta, and therefore their customers will be more satisfied and more willing to pay top dollar for their meal.
What are the advantages/disadvantages of using fresh pasta? Dried pasta?
Now that you know a little bit more about the differences in fresh and dried pasta, it’s time to start weighing the pros and cons. Of course, one of the greatest advantages of using fresh pasta is that customers believe that they are eating a high-end dish (as you now know, the word “fresh” carries a positive connotation since it gained the reputation of “healthy and good”, regardless of the specific field of application). Marketing brains have done a great job of making fresh pasta seem superior, and so consumers feel like they’re eating a better product if it’s “fresh” — collective imagination can work miracles!
Beyond the emotional association with eating fresh pasta, some chefs say it’s better to work with when making stuffed pasta, like ravioli and cannelloni. Because it’s less porous than dried pasta, fresh pasta should be reserved for use with lighter sauces — like cream-based or butter and sage sauces. It also requires less cook time than dried pasta.
As for dried pasta, the advantages are plenty. One stand-out advantage is that the pasta will be always available, in perfect condition, with its impeccable taste. For example, say you make an egg pasta at home. If that fresh egg pasta stays in the fridge for more than a few days, you must throw it away because it has such a short expiration date. This happens in restaurants, too. The restaurant manager advertises a fresh egg pasta, but then the Sous Chef gets busy and doesn’t have time to make it. This leaves the restaurant manager having to console angry customers who wanted egg pasta — and that’s never fun!
Another advantage of dried pasta is that it is available in different types and sizes; once you have stockpiled your favorite dried egg pastas, you can start playing around with new recipes. If you’re using fresh pasta instead, usually you do not make or keep such a variety of pasta.
Dried pasta is also easily to store, whereas fresh pasta is cumbersome, delicate, and requires a lot of space (as well as refrigeration). With dried pasta, you only need a small amount of space (and no refrigeration) to keep it in top-quality shape.
As for serving dried pasta, it is more porous and absorbs sauce better, making it the right choice for tomato, pesto, and olive oil-based sauces (which are the sauces required for many favorite Italian dishes). Plus, it’s got a better cooking yield. In fact, if you cook 250g of fresh pasta, you will probably get 300g of cooked pasta. If you cook 250g of our dried pasta, you will probably get 500g of cooked pasta (because it rehydrates during the boiling process).
What’s the nutritional difference of dried pasta and fresh pasta?
This all depends on whether we’re talking about industrial dried pasta or artisanal dried pasta, like ours at Mia Emilia. As we described earlier, mass-produced dried pasta is pasteurized at an extremely high temperature (220°F) in order to kill any potential bacteria (and to minimize liability for the producer). It’s then also dried at a very high temperature. Due to these high-heat processes, the nutritional properties in industrially-made dried pasta simply cannot be preserved. But when we are talking about the Mia Emilia brands, which are made according to the artisanal method and slowly air dried at low temperature, the nutritional properties will remain intact and are comparable to those of fresh pasta. The artisanal method also lends benefit to ease of digestion; our dried egg pasta are much more digestible than the industrially-produced ones.
What’s the difference in cooking fresh vs. dried?
There aren’t many differences in the actual cooking, other than fresh pasta does take a shorter amount of time to cook. One thing is certain, though — you have a much smaller time frame to find the right texture when cooking fresh pasta, so you must continuously test it while it’s cooking. Sometimes the fresh pasta also tends to stick, depending on what kind of ingredients went into its creation. Cooking dried pasta is a bit more forgiving in that you don’t have to worry about it sticking, nor do you have to continuously test it in order to find the perfect texture. Additionally, if you like an al dente texture (meaning firm to the bite), then you must use dried pasta since fresh pasta is so tender. Finally, like we mentioned above, you get a greater cooking yield with dried pasta, which will make any pasta lover happy!
Do you feel more knowledgeable about the differences in dried and fresh pasta? We hope so! If you’re still a bit skeptical that artisanal dried pasta is better than industrial dried pasta, we’ll leave you with this. It’s a bit more abstract to describe, but the difference lies in the ingredients of Italian origin and in the Italian method of production — which is an art, just as much as it is a science. It’s just like if you’re learning a second language. You can be a great student, learn how to speak and read fluently in another language, but it’s nearly impossible to be considered a native speaker, due to the huge number of subtle influences and nuances that come with being part of a culture. Thus, even if it is possible to produce dry pasta everywhere, it will never taste as good as the original Italian pasta that is directly imported from Italy. We welcome your taste buds to make the distinction and decide for themselves — start shopping our delicious, direct-Italian-import pastas now >