Tasting whole-wheat spaghettis.

Tasting whole-wheat spaghettis.

There's no question that whole-wheat pasta is the better choice as part of a healthy diet: a good source of dietary fiber, it hasn't been stripped of the grain's important trace nutrients and phytochemicals. The problem is that whole-wheat pasta has a checkered, often less than palatable past. Fortunately for consumers, today there are numerous new choices to be found, some of which are strong and "wheaty" and some that will please the most hard-core whole-wheat skeptics.

What tastes best?

We gathered a selection of nationally available whole-wheat and whole-wheat-blend spaghettis and presented them to a panel of lifelong pasta eaters. Samples were served dressed only with mild olive oil and a touch of salt. Our tasters included the owner of a pasta-sauce manufacturing company as well as other food professionals and a few "lay" spaghetti eaters. For the most part our panel seemed interested in the spaghetti as a vehicle for the toppings, so the most neutral-flavored fared the best. Some liked a robust whole-wheat flavor while others preferred the mildest of tastes. The good news is that there seems to be a whole-wheat spaghetti to please just about everyone. See what pastas we liked best:

Excellent ***

Ronzoni/Prince Healthy Harvest Whole Wheat Blend Pasta ($1.49/13.25 oz.): Though not technically a pure whole-wheat pasta, this blend was rated "best" by 4 out of 7 of our panel. High ratings were given for its mild flavor. Hays: "It doesn't go too far in the whole-wheaty direction." Kjelleren: "The most versatile of the bunch." Bove: "You could substitute this for regular pasta." Emma Ruopp: "Great! It's total comfort food."

DeBoles Organic Whole Wheat Spaghetti Style Pasta (89¢/8 oz.): Tasters who like a hearty wheat flavor loved this dark and grainy-hued spaghetti. Bove: "It's the best!" Morris: "Nice wheat flavor...would be good with a lighter sauce of nuts, garlic and olive oil." The dark color was of concern to one of our tasters (Kjelleren) who felt it would turn off her whole-wheat-suspicious family.

Very Good **

Bionaturae Organic Whole Wheat Pasta ($1.75/pound): The only imported spaghetti in our selection, this Italian product got favorable marks for having mild but good wheat taste. Maggie Ruopp: "Great flavor…rock-star pasta." Kjelleren: "It has a nutty, sweet taste."

Good *

Hodgson Mill Whole Wheat, Whole Grain Spaghetti ($2.29/pound): From one of America's older grain mills, this pasta was appreciated for its flavor but not its texture. Emma Ruopp: "Chewy but the flavor was really good." Kjelleren: "Texture was its worst trait." Bove: "Nice wheat flavor."

Cover with Lots of Sauce

Westbrae Natural Organic Whole Wheat Spaghetti ($1.50/pound): In both flavor and texture, this natural-foods-store staple failed to impress our tasters. Morris: "It tasted like cardboard." Bove: "Next." Emma Ruopp: "Grainy and gummy; it just wasn't good." Caleb Ruopp: "It lacked flavor, but what flavor was left wasn't good."

The Tasting Panel:

Charlie Hays: owner, Global Bite Catering
Sandy Morris: chef, food stylist
Maggie, Caleb, Emma Ruopp, students
Mark Bove: president, Bove's of Vermont
Katherine Kjelleren, homemaker

February/March 2005