If you follow a gluten-free diet—either due to a health concern or just watching what you eat—you’ve likely struggled to find a gluten-free pasta comparable to the real deal. Some gluten-free pasta options have weird flavors, while others just don’t have the right texture and turn to mushy goo on the stove.
To help you find the best traditional pasta alternatives at the grocery store, here’s everything you need to know about the popular Banza brand and other pasta options.
Pasta Alternative Favorites:
What to Know About Banza
Banza is a relative newcomer to the gluten-free pasta scene. Made from chickpeas, the brand’s pasta comes in just about all your favorite forms — penne pasta, rotini, macaroni, rigatoni, cascatelli, ziti and more. The brand also makes other non-pasta chickpea items, such as Banza Plain Chickpea Pizza Crust and even Chickpea Rice which comes in different flavors. However, the brand is quick to make it clear that its focus isn’t on making gluten-free items. Instead, it’s all about getting more chickpeas into your diet.
According to the brand, if the U.S. switched from beef to beans, the country could nearly meet its greenhouse gas emission reduction goals with that change alone. In addition to being less harmful to the environment than cattle, chickpeas are also a nitrogen-fixing crop; that means they actively remove nitrogen from the air.
Beyond the environmental benefits, the brand points out that consuming beans (yes, chickpeas are in the bean family) is connected to a reduced risk of diseases like diabetes and heart disease. Chickpeas also offer 8 grams of plant protein per serving. So if you’re comparing chickpea pasta to traditional pasta, you’ll find Banza’s offerings provide 50% more protein, triple the fiber and 25% fewer net carbs.
In other words, Banza believes there are a lot of benefits to eating chickpeas, and so it wants to get those chickpeas into your regular diet. It feels that, even if you don’t like chickpeas on their own, you likely enjoy pasta and pizza, and this is an easy switch from one ingredient to another, at least when it comes to those food items.
Banza pasta is made with just four ingredients: chickpeas, pea starch, tapioca and xanthan gum. This means that, while Banza doesn’t focus on the gluten-free nature of its products, the brand’s pasta shapes are still gluten-free and certified by the Gluten-Free Certification Organization. The pasta is also non-GMO and certified kosher, though it isn’t certified organic.
The Banza Cooking Experience
So if you pick up a box of Banza pasta at the grocery store (you can find it just about anywhere in your typical big-box grocery stores; just look for the bright orange box) or order a box of Banza pasta online, what’s the cooking experience going to be like?
In short, things will be pretty similar to your normal pasta-cooking process.
You’ll start by boiling your salted water and then throwing the pasta in. From there, follow the package instructions until the pasta is cooked. You may notice a little more foaming than usual, but that’s no worry. After straining and rinsing, you can enjoy the pasta however you like. When it comes to storage, however, store the sauce or other ingredients separately from the pasta for best results.
If you need some recipe inspiration, you can find it on the Banza website. You can also order Banza’s products online.
But what do the people say? Let’s look at some reviews from the pros first.
Over at Epicurious, one food writer says, “I’m sort of against the idea of pasta substitutions. If you really want pasta, have it. If you’re trying to avoid it, eat one of the many delicious foods in the universe that aren’t pasta. And yet, there’s an exception to my rule. It’s Banza.”
The writer goes on to say how she sometimes picks Banza over traditional pasta, though she does kind of think of it as its entity rather than a pasta replacement. However, it does have its differences from regular pasta — such as a “distinct nuttiness similar to what you might find in whole wheat pasta.” She also says the pasta is best paired with veggies and sharp cheeses rather than tomato-based sauces.
At Food & Wine, the brand received additional positive reviews when used in a pasta salad. A writer noted, “Despite my love of traditional Italian food, this chickpea-based alternative has become a new staple for fast, healthy meals.” She said she appreciated the pasta’s easy cooking process, smooth texture and firm consistency, and how it kept her full far longer than anticipated.
But what do the home cooks say?
As mentioned above, you can buy Banza pasta on Amazon, and people are not at all shy about their reviews. Still, the product has over a 4-star rating, with several thousand reviews. Positive reviews mention that chickpea pasta is a good substitute if regular pasta leaves you feeling sluggish and over-full. Others say they can’t taste any difference between the chickpea pasta and wheat-based pasta. The handful of poor reviews point to just a dislike for gluten-free pasta in general.
Other Non-Traditional Pasta Options
However, while Banza has been getting a lot of attention recently, other options exist. Here are a few.
Zucchini or squash noodles
Remember when all of your friends were buying spiralizers so they could make their own “zoodles” at home? Well, that home cooking trend might’ve died out, but you can still find zucchini and squash-based noodles at the grocery store, either in your produce section or the freezer aisle.
Zucchini noodles are packed with protein, vitamins, fiber and minerals, and are typically sautéed. The taste is what you’d expect (veggie-esque), but the texture is more akin to al dente pasta—if you do it right. A bit too much overcooking will result in a too-soggy texture due to zucchini’s high water content. According to Real Simple Good, you only want to cook the noodles for a few minutes if sautéing or, at most, 12 minutes if roasting.
Squash noodles, typically made with either butternut or spaghetti squash, boast many of the same health benefits. You can buy butternut squash noodles in your grocery store’s produce section or freezer aisle, but you can also really easily make both butternut squash noodles and spaghetti squash noodles at home. Butternut squash noodles only take about 20 minutes, your squash and some butter. Spaghetti squash noodles take a little bit longer, but you won’t need a spiralizer like you would if you were making zucchini noodles.
If you know of quinoa primarily as the little couscous-like side dish you get whenever you’re trying to be healthy, forget that idea. It’s also a great ingredient for making pasta that tastes and feels like your average pasta, just without the gluten.
Although quinoa pasta can be a little more difficult to find than Banza pasta or even some other pasta alternatives that are popular in grocery stores. Ancient Harvest is one quinoa pasta brand. Its quinoa pasta is as easy to make as any other type of pasta. However, the brand does note that you have to be careful not to overcook it (because you’ll end up with gloopy pasta) and that, if you’re not using the pasta immediately, to keep it covered and toss it with some oil.
Corn pasta is made from corn flour. Some of the most popular pasta brands, such as Barilla, use corn pasta as their gluten-free traditional pasta alternative of choice. Some corn pastas are made with other ingredients, too, such as rice. Corn pasta has a very mild flavor, making it a favorite option for some home cooks, but it doesn’t come with the health benefits you’ll find in, say, zucchini pasta or chickpea pasta.
Rice pasta can be made either with white or brown rice. However, due to its mild flavor, like corn pasta, it’s preferred by many big brands for use in not just boxed gluten-free pasta products but also pre-packaged pasta dishes, like boxed macaroni and cheese and frozen meals.
Do note that rice noodles and rice pasta are two different things. Rice noodles are popular in many Asian dishes, and they’re their ingredient with a unique and expected texture and flavor. On the other hand, rice pasta has been specifically formulated to mimic traditional, wheat-based pasta as much as possible.
Black bean pasta
Black bean pasta is likely one of our list’s most eye-catching non-traditional pasta options. A dark black hue, black bean pasta can be found online and in some specialty stores.
As for the taste and texture? If looking at pasta made with black beans exclusively, one reviewer reported that the high-protein, high-fiber option tastes similar to whole wheat pasta, just with a little black bean aftertaste. The writer recommended pairing it with strong flavors beyond your traditional tomato sauce, such as peanut sauce or seafood.
Shirataki noodles are gaining popularity, but they’re not as mainstream as the options we’ve covered. Called “the zero calorie noodle” or the “miracle noodle,” this traditionally Asian noodle is made from glucomannan, a fiber sourced from the konjac plant, as Healthline explains. The fiber is turned into a flour and mixed with water and lime, creating translucent noodles with about 97% water and 3% fiber. They have zero total carbohydrates and very few calories.
The noodles move through the digestive system extremely slowly, and the type of fiber that the noodles are made from comes with an array of health benefits. Those who are already familiar with this unique noodle tout its ability to keep you full for a very long time, its prebiotic and immunity-boosting benefits. The noodles are often eaten when trying to lose weight, decrease blood sugar levels, relieve constipation or lower cholesterol.
Shirataki noodles are relatively easy to cook. Just rinse them after removing them from the packaging (they usually have a strong odor when you first take them out of the package), then heat them, alone, in a skillet, for about five to 10 minutes. Don’t add water or even olive oil. The noodles have no taste whatsoever, so they are ideal for dishes with strong flavors and other prominent ingredients.
No, hemp pasta cannot make you high. It contains no CBD and no THC. However, hemp pasta is gluten-free and lower in carbs than wheat-based pasta.
According to What is Hemp, hemp pasta has a slightly nutty flavor and can be either made at home from scratch, from hemp flour, or purchased elsewhere (again, look to Amazon). The organization further explains that hemp pasta is eco-friendly, rich in antioxidants and filled with fatty acids, essential amino acids and minerals.
Edamame pasta is made from soybeans, so it’s not a good pasta alternative if you’re staying clear of soy due to an allergy or intolerance. Everyone else, though, can take advantage of this alternative’s many health benefits.
For example, as one pasta reviewer found, some edamame pasta brands can offer as much as three times the protein as what’s in regular pasta, as well as more than six times the amount of dietary fiber, plus 10% of your daily value of calcium and 45% of your daily iron. In addition, the pasta’s flavor is mild and pairs well with tomato sauce, herbs and pesto.
Looking for More Healthy Swaps for Your Next Pasta Night?
Whether you go with Banza’s chickpea pasta (we’re huge fans of the family friend Banza macaroni and cheese option!) or choose one of the many other delicious pasta alternatives, a healthy diet swap is always a good idea.
Need more ideas for healthful dining changes? Check out these five meal prepping tips and these 36 easy recipes to make and freeze for busy nights.
You might also be interested in: What Is Tiger Nut Butter? And Our 8 Favorite Recipes
Non-Traditional Pasta Options
- Banza Mac and Cheese Variety Pack
- Banza Chickpea Pasta
- Ancient Harvest Quinoa
- Barilla Corn Pasta
- Jovial Rice Pasta
- Explore Cuisine Black Bean Pasta
- Diet Cooker Shirataki Noodles
- Sfoglini Hemp Pasta
- Explore Cuisine Edamame Pasta