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No longer relegated to those with allergies and intolerances, grain-free, legume-based, and veggie-packed pastas are yummy enough to be a staple on every shelf.

By Alexandra Emanuelli
March 03, 2021
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Pile on the pasta! This new generation has souped-up the benefits and pumped up the protein to make this dish we crave a more complete weeknight meal.

Pasta has become a dirty word in health circles. Low-carb, keto eaters have shunned the toothsome noodles, traditionally heavily laden with tomato sauces and buttery Alfredos, in favor of high-protein, high-efficiency meals of chicken breasts and steamed broccoli. Enter in legume-based and veggie-derived alternatives. A marrying of efficiency and delight, nutrient-dense and delicious. We highlight some of our favorite brands and examine why everyone is suddenly in love with pasta again. Well, pasta 2.0.

What Are the Ingredients?

Made from legume flour, such as chickpeas, lentils and even edamame, legume pasta touts high fiber and high protein contents in their list of benefits, along with (typically) being gluten-free. Even pasta giant Barilla has joined the legume trend, launching their line to include chickpea casarece and red lentil rotini. On the other side of the spectrum, veggie noodles have peaked in popularity, with choices like zucchini, squash, beet, and sweet potato offering low-carb, vitamin-rich options from major brands such as Green Giant and Birds Eye.

With more and more Americans concerned about their health and looking to stem the rising tide of obesity, legume- and veggie-based pastas have risen in popularity. Indeed, the products piggy-back off several trends, including "free-from" products for customers with allergies, consumers looking to increase plant-based proteins, and the low-carb movement. We'll explore what each means and why you'll be seeing more veggie and legume-based pastas on supermarket shelves in the coming months and years.

Brimming with Benefits

Foods promoting the exclusion of certain, sometimes problematic ingredients, such as gluten or dairy, are being categorized as the "free-from" food trend, and it has made big waves over the past few years with shoppers expected to spend around $1.4 billion between 2017 to 2022 on these products. Legume pastas fit the trend nicely, as most contain simply a legume flour and are ideal for those abstaining from gluten. Not simply touting what they lack, these new pastas have a lot to promote, as savvy consumers are seeking more from their suppers. According to Rachel Ercole, brand manager at Modern Table, "These new pastas offer up to three times the protein and fiber as traditional pasta, as well as provide other micronutrients such as folate, iron, and potassium." Pasta tends to be an affordable and easy way to get a meal on the table, and this alternative keep those benefits while simply increases its nutritional quotient.

Legume-based pastas certainly aren't an exact dupe for the classic, but brands have come along way in replicating texture and flavor to entice even those who don't have to choose a gluten-free option. Ercole commented, "Consumers with allergies, and those who choose to eliminate certain types of products from their diet, are no longer happy to just have options, they want options that taste just as great as their original counterparts."

If you've never tried this type of pasta, our recommendation is to start with is milder flavored legume like chickpea. We love the fun shapes in Banza's Alphabets, which are made from chickpeas, and are ideal for getting younger kids on board. With a bit more heft than the durum wheat kind, Cybele's Superfood Green Penne is a vibrant addition to the plate, made from green lentils as well as kale, broccoli, and spinach.

Red Penne Rigate and red lentils on dark ground
Credit: Westend61 / Getty Images

Conscious Consumption

As we shift towards more environmentally-conscious practices, so do our eating choices. Choosing to make fewer meals with meat and more with plants can help lessen our impact on the planet. That message seems to be getting across, as plant-based proteins and meat alternatives are projected to reach $85 billion by 2030 according to the investment firm UBS. As Brian Rudolph, co-founder of Banza, noted, "The more people learn about legumes, the more there is to love. They are an important rotation crop. They are uniquely water efficient. And consumption is correlated with longevity, reduced risk for [cardiovascular disease] and diabetes. Banza and legume-based pastas are part of a much broader movement towards foods that are a positive for people and [the] planet."

Super Spirals

Almost every veggie from beets to zucchinis, can be turned into a pasta with the popularization of the spiralizer. Don't have the room for another tool in your drawer? Companies like Cece's have sliced and spun this ingredient to make a quick and easy add on to sauces, soups, stews, or stir-fries. We love the Organic Yellow Squash Spirals, which can be sautéed or steamed for a tender bite. Target has also jumped on the trend, selling spiralized zucchini and butternut squash under their Good & Gather label. The renewed interest in low-carb and keto diets is likely another pull factor drawing consumers towards veggie pastas, as the squash spirals only contain 3 grams of carbs per serving, this compared to 42 grams per serving in Barilla's wheat spaghetti.

In this increasingly hectic world, it's no wonder that consumers want more from their products, and as Ercole told us, "Because the taste and texture of gluten-free and plant-based foods have become more on par with "regular" food, consumers who are curious are not only giving our products a try, they are putting our products into regular rotation in their pantry. " As the Italians say, mangia! 

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