Food and Nutrition

The Definitive Ranking of Every Alt-Pasta at Trader Joe’s Because #carbs

Tehrene Firman

Tehrene FirmanMay 7, 2019

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Pasta has been my favorite food since childhood, and my love of carbs has only gotten stronger now that I’m a grown-up. I spend an inordinate amount of time scanning the Trader Joe’s pasta section, thinking about all the meals I can make throughout the week. The only thing that’s changed since my days of smashing spaghetti in a high-chair while sporting a bib covered in sauce is the wide variety of protein-packed alt-pastas. They say if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. Well, lucky me, I spent a whole week eating every alt-pasta from Trader Joe’s.

Alt-pastas have taken the food industry by storm. White or wheat has turned into a long list of healthier options that utilize mostly gluten-free ingredients to get that same beloved taste and texture. While brands like Banza and Explore Cuisine were at the forefront of the trend, with chickpea penne and edamame spaghetti, traditional companies like Barilla now sells a line of legume pastas. But when it comes to price and taste, it’s hard to beat Trader Joe’s, which offers high-quality products made from organic ingredients.

Here’s exactly what to expect from the alt-pasta section before your next trip to Trader Joe’s:

The definitive ranking of all 10 Trader Joe’s pasta alternatives

Photo: Trader Joe’s

10. Organic brown rice spaghetti pasta

I love spaghetti, so I wasn’t sure what I would think of this brown rice Trader Joe’s pasta. But I was pretty impressed with the taste.

  • Cook time: 7 minutes
  • Nutrition stats (per 2 oz. serving): 200 calories, 43 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 4 grams protein, 0 grams sugar
  • Taste: The taste of this brown rice spaghetti is very similar to that of whole wheat pasta.
  • Texture: After first trying this spaghetti, I wasn’t a huge fan—it was pretty chewy no matter how short or long the cooking time was. Then after adding a sauce, it soaked up the flavor flawlessly and masked the texture.

Score: 6/10

Photo: Trader Joe’s

9. Organic brown rice pasta fusilli

If you’re a fusilli lover, add this Trader Joe’s pasta to your cart. With organic brown rice and water as the only two ingredients, it’s a healthier choice than most options on the market.

  • Cook time: 7 minutes
  • Nutrition stats (per 2. oz serving size): 200 calories, 43 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 4 grams protein, 0 grams sugar
  • Taste: The taste is really good—very similar to whole wheat pasta. It also works really nicely in sauces with veggies.
  • Texture: This brown rice fusilli keeps its shape much better than the black bean version, but the texture isn’t quite as good as the brown rice penne. It’s a little chewier.

Score: 7/10

Photo: Trader Joe’s

8. Organic brown rice quinoa spaghetti pasta

Even though you do get protein and fiber from brown rice and quinoa, Gorin says it’s less than what you’d get from pastas made from pulses. But considering this variety combines both, it’s still an impressive option nutritionally.

  • Cook time: 7 minutes
  • Nutrition stats (per 2 oz. serving): 200 calories, 43 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 5 grams protein, 0 grams sugar
  • Taste: The taste of this brown rice and quinoa spaghetti wasn’t too different from what of whole wheat pasta options.
  • Texture: While the taste is solid, the texture of this option is chewier than typically spaghetti. After tossing it in a sauce, the texture improves greatly.

Score: 7/10

Photo: Trader Joe’s

7. Organic black bean rotini

Black beans are already loaded with vitamins and minerals, so you can’t go wrong in pasta form. “Black bean pasta offers an impressive amount of protein and satiating fiber,” says Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in New York. “You also get an excellent amount of iron and potassium, as well as a good amount of calcium.”

  • Cook time: 8 minutes
  • Nutrition stats (per 3/4 cup serving): 200 calories, 35 grams carbohydrates, 15 grams fiber, 14 grams protein, 2 grams sugar
  • Taste: They taste exactly like black beans. So if you like black beans, you’re golden. If not, grab your favorite sauce and add in some veggies. They easily soak up the flavor for a less intense flavor.
  • Texture: It’s very easy to overcook these noodles. If you don’t stick to the recommended cooking times, they’ll be mushy. Right around the 8-minute mark, they seem to be at their prime—which is still pretty chewy, by the way. But considering they have 14 grams of protein per serving, it’s a quality I’m willing to deal with.

Score: 7/10

Photo: Trader Joe’s

6. Organic brown rice penne pasta

You can never go wrong with a big bowl of penne. Despite being made of brown rice, this one stacks up with the whole wheat varieties I make on a regular basis.

  • Cook time: 7 minutes
  • Nutrition stats (per 2 oz. serving): 200 calories, 43 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 4 grams protein, 0 grams sugar
  • Taste: This brown rice penne had great flavor—very similar to that of whole wheat. Another perk: It was just as delicious by itself as it was with sauce. You could easily enjoy it in a light olive oil-based sauce.
  • Texture: The shape of brown rice pasta can make a big difference in the texture, and this version proves penne might just be superior. It turned out almost perfectly al dente.

Score: 8/10

Photo: Trader Joe’s

5. Organic red lentil sedanini

Because this Trader Joe’s pasta is made with lentils, it contains a lot of protein and fiber. It’ll fill you up for hours. “You also get other nutrients, like iron,” Gorin says. This one in particular provides 15 percent of your DV per serving.

  • Cook time: 5 minutes
  • Nutrition stats (per 3/4 cup serving): 190 calories, 32 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 13 grams protein, less than 1 gram sugar
  • Taste: Like the black bean pasta, this red lentil option has a heavy lentil taste. If you’re not a fan, it can easily be masked with hearty sauces, spices, and vegetables.
  • Texture: This red lentil pasta is still chewy, but not nearly as chewy as the black bean pasta. It holds its shape very well, making it easy to enjoy without worrying about it getting mushy.

Score: 8/10

Photo: Trader Joe’s

4. Organic brown rice & quinoa fusilli

After eating this pasta, I’m officially a fan of the brown rice and quinoa mash-up. “The main draw of brown rice pasta is its whole-grain content and that it’s gluten free,” Gorin says. Plus, both brown rice and quinoa provide plenty of protein and fiber.

  • Cook time: 7 minutes
  • Nutrition stats (per 1/2 cup serving): 200 calories, 43 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 5 grams protein, 0 grams sugar
  • Taste: The taste was spot-on with some of my favorite whole wheat pastas. If I wouldn’t have known it was made from rice and quinoa, I don’t think I would have been able to tell the difference.
  • Texture: Unlike many of the legume pastas, there was no mushiness whatsoever with Trader Joe’s pasta. The texture was pretty identical to wheat varieties.

Score: 9/10

Photo: Trader Joe’s

3. Yellow lentil and brown rice spaghetti

This pasta combines protein-packed lentils with fiber-packed brown rice in the best way. Because it’s made up of 90 percent yellow lentils and 10 percent brown rice, it not only holds its shape better, but it’s tastier, too, especially for anyone who’s new to lentils.

  • Cook time: 6 minutes
  • Nutrition stats (per 2 oz. serving): 190 calories, 32 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 14 grams protein, 1 gram sugar
  • Taste: Thanks to the brown rice, the lentil flavor in this pasta is very mild. It also soaks up flavors very well, making it the perfect option for tomato sauces, Alfredo, or pesto.
  • Texture: Since the lentils are combined with brown rice, the texture is really good. It easy to achieve al dente without too much chewiness.

Score: 9/10

Photo: Trader Joe’s

2. Organic pasta vegetable radiatore

If there was a “most fun to eat award,” it would go to this alt-pasta option. You feel like a kid again eating colorful noodles that get their hues from spinach, beets, and red bell peppers. “Pastas made with veggies like spinach and beets are popping up in grocery stores,” Gorin says. “Unlike many of the other alternative pastas, these pastas aren’t always gluten-free, but you do get whole grains, protein, and fiber, as well as nutrients like iron and vitamin A.”

  • Cook time: 9 minutes
  • Nutrition stats (per 3/4 cup serving): 200 calories, 41 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 7 grams protein, 1 gram sugar
  • Taste: I loved the taste of this pasta. Even though each serving gets you closer to hitting your DV of important nutrients—including 4 percent of vitamin A, 2 percent of vitamin C, 2 percent calcium, and 8 percent iron—you can’t taste the veggies at all.
  • Texture: Because it’s made from wheat, the texture is exactly like that of typical pastas. It becomes perfectly al dente and is delicious with pesto, tomato-based sauces—basically anything you want to pair it with.

Score: 10/10

Photo: Trader Joe’s

1. Gluten-free brown rice and quinoa mini elbows

Adorable and gluten-free, these mini elbows made from brown rice and quinoa, and packed with filling fiber and protein. On top of that, they’re ready to eat in two minutes flat. Seriously. A mac and cheese night is calling your name.

  • Cook time: 2 minutes
  • Nutrition stats (per 1/2 cup serving): 210 calories, 39 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 5 grams protein, less than 1 gram sugar
  • Taste: These mini elbows taste very similar to wheat pasta. I really couldn’t tell the different while eating them plain or with sauce.
  • Texture: When Trader Joe’s says something is “quick cook,” they don’t lie. I boiled them the minimum amount—two minutes—but I think they would have been even more al dente in only 90 seconds. They weren’t chewy at all and the texture was very similar to wheat pasta. I still can’t believe they’re gluten-free.

Score: 10/10

Which Trader Joe’s pasta is the healthiest?

Each of these Trader Joe’s pasta options has its benefits, but which alt-past is the most nutritious? According to Gorin, the black bean pasta is the big winner. “Of all the options, black bean pasta supplies an excellent amount of both protein and fiber, and you get several other nutrients as well,” Gorin says. With that being said, she doesn’t think any of these alternatives are unhealthy in the slightest.

There’s only one thing to be aware of before devouring a bowl. If you’re not used to eating a ton of fiber, Gorin recommends easing yourself into alternative pastas. “Start with a brown rice or quinoa pasta, or do half brown rice or quinoa and half of a legume-based pasta until your body gets used to consuming the higher amount of fiber,” she says.

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