The Best Gluten-Free Penne Pasta — and the Worst Offenders

Pasta salad, carbonara, lasagna, mac and cheese, whatever form it takes, pasta is the basis of so many comforting and delicious dishes that it is always in season. But what about pasta for those who can’t eat gluten?

Thanks to food scientists refusing to give up, store shelves are full of wheat-free and gluten-free pasta than ever before. These gluten-free options — made with brown rice, lentils, amaranth, quinoa, corn, or various combinations of gluten-free flours — come in myriad forms, including this pasta salad, penne.

Despite the generous options, the struggle to find gluten-free penne worth eating is real. Many versions are just plain awful – dense, slimy, crumbly, dry or mushy. Adding to the confusion is the sad fact that companies rarely excel in all forms of pasta; their spaghetti may be excellent, for example, but the penne pasta is inedible.

The best gluten-free penne boils cleanly, leaving little residue in the water. The flavor is fresh and the texture is just as springy, bouncy and al dente as wheat penne. After cooking nearly a dozen options found at local markets, it was clear that penne made from corn, rice, and other grains were superior in texture and flavor.

Versions that use only rice can also be fine, but some brands dry out quickly after cooking, becoming unappetizingly hard and crunchy. Legume-based penne are apparently the trickiest category, as most versions not only become slimy in water, but also have an extremely bean flavor and crumbly texture rather than tender.

Here’s the inside scoop on gluten-free penne pasta that’s good enough to fool even the pickiest of pasta eaters, and the unappealing food science experiments to avoid. The nutritional information refers to 2 ounces, or about ¾ cup of dry pasta.

Barilla Gluten Free Penne

The creamy texture and fresh flavor of this light colored pasta made from corn and rice make it one of the best alternative pastas we can find. It’s as delicious and enjoyable as its gluten-packed shelf mates. 190 calories, 1g fat, no sodium, 4g protein. $3.99 for 12 ounces at Smart & Final. (4 stars)

365 Whole Foods Corn & Rice Penne Rigate Gluten Free

This hearty corn and rice pasta looks and tastes like whole wheat pasta. It holds its shape and provides a perfectly bouncy al dente texture. 200 calories, 1.5g fat, 4g protein. $3.29 for 12 ounces at Whole Foods. (4 stars)

Trader Joe’s Organic Brown Rice Penne

Straight out of the water, this fresh-tasting rice-based pasta is slightly slimy, but has a pleasant chew. The tubes are particularly short and the pasta gets a bit tough when it sits for a few hours, so it might not be the best choice for a pasta salad. 200 calories, 1g fat, no sodium, 2g fiber, 4g protein. $2.29 for 16 ounces at Trader Joe’s. (3½ stars)

Andean Dream Organic Penne Pasta with Turmeric

This light but fluffy pasta made with rice, quinoa and amaranth is pleasant, and the touch of turmeric is unusual but tasty. It’s a great choice for Asian dishes or pasta salad. 210 calories, 1.5g fat, no sodium, 5g protein. $5.69 for 8 ounces at Whole Foods. (3 stars)

Organic, Gluten-Free Ancient Harvest Penne

Authentic texture and a hint of wheat flavor make this corn-rice-quinoa pasta a tasty choice. The quinoa gives it a bitter note, but the penne pasta is completely edible. 200 calories, 2g fat, no sodium, 3g fiber, 4g protein. $4.79 for 9.6 ounces at Whole Foods. (2½ stars)

Tinkyada Pasta Joy Penne Brown Rice Pasta

This decidedly chewy pasta has a toasty flavor and would work in a macaroni and cheese sauce. But it dries quickly, becoming almost crispy, which is problematic in some dishes. 210 calories, 2g fat, no sodium, 2g fiber, 4g protein. $4.99 for 16 ounces at Smart & Final. (2 stars)

Jovial Gluten Free Organic Brown Rice Penne

These pasta tubes taste like freshly steamed brown rice, but they’re unpleasantly thick and gooey. 210 calories, 2g fat, no sodium, 2g fiber, 5g protein. $4.99 for 12 ounces at Whole Foods. (1½ stars)

Trader Joe’s Red Lentil Sedanini

As pretty as those little tubes in the bag are, the color bubbles up when cooked, leaving behind chalky, flavorless bites that are so dense and dry you’ll have to drown them in heavy, flavorful sauce — and lots of it. 210 calories, 1g fat, no sodium, 6g fiber, 15g protein. $2.99 ​​for 12 ounces at Trader Joe’s. (1 star)

365 Whole Foods Penne Rigate Vegetable Pasta

These thick, dense tubes are packed with protein, but they’re hard to swallow because they’re mushy and suffer from the sour aroma of overcooked cauliflower. 200 calories, 1g fat, 5mg sodium, 4g fiber, 14g protein. $4.29 for 8.8 oz. (½ star)

Leave a Reply