Fresh pasta vs. dried pasta, there are so many options! I hate asking questions whose answers are controversial, but this is probably one of my biggest dilemmas.
As a food writer who spends her free time cooking and eating all things, I've been debating this for some time. This slow living guide is a deep dive into how they a different and whether one category is better.
- Breaking down the differences: Fresh and Dried Pasta
- Similarities and differences
- Cooking pasta
- When to use Dried Pasta in cooking
- When to use Fresh Pasta in cooking
- What's Pasta Made of?
- How Dry Pasta is Made
- How Fresh Pasta is made
- Pasta Sauce explained
- How to store pasta for a longer shelf life:
When we think about pasta, it's sometimes hard to believe it's made from four ingredients: flour, eggs, salt, and water. Yet, with just a little under three minutes to make fresh, homemade pasta, you'd be hard-pressed to find a quicker food to prepare on your own.
On the other hand, dried pasta has been around for quite some time. It's often found its way onto our plates since the Roman Empire over 2000 years ago.
Breaking down the differences: Fresh and Dried Pasta
You've probably heard the phrase "fresh pasta" before. You might see something on a restaurant menu or that a chef might mention on a cooking competition show. But what exactly is it? And how does it differ from dried pasta?
While most of us are familiar with dried pasta, many of us don't realize that we're eating a type of noodle when we eat pasta. Yep—there's no difference between noodles and pasta; they're just two different words for the same thing.
But there is one significant and obvious difference between fresh and dried pasta: how it's made. You can make fresh pasta dough at home in your kitchen, but you cannot make dried pasta at home. The commercial drying process involves reducing the moisture in pasta with heat so that it lasts longer.
Some people think that dried pasta has more flavor than fresh pasta. That's because it's been heated up to dry it out (and then again when you cook it). This isn't true—dried pasta doesn't go rancid as quickly as fresh pasta does.
To the untrained eye, pasta is pasta—but those of us with a little savvier know there's more to it. (But don't worry, I'm here to break it all down for you.)
Let's start with the most traditional way of making pasta: fresh pasta, also known in Italy as "pasta fresca."
It can be made at home (by your favorite pasta maker) but is also sold in stores. Pasta fresca combines just a simple dough of eggs, all-purpose flour, olive oil, salt, and water. Fresh pasta is often called "egg noodle" in grocery stores because it contains eggs sometimes made into noodles.
Fresh pasta is most commonly served as flat noodles, like fettuccine or linguine. However, the dough can be rolled out and cut into many pasta shapes (ex: long noodles, ravioli) or left as is for stuffed pasta like cannelloni or manicotti. Fresh pasta must be eaten within a few days of being made and has a shorter shelf-life than dried pasta. This type of pasta is usually boiled for 2-3 minutes until al dente and served with your favorite sauce.
Pasta made from scratch is softer and more delicate than dried pasta because of the use of egg and doesn't contain any preservatives. As a result, it cooks differently than dried pasta.
Dry pasta or "pasta secca" is the kind most of us grew up with, the kind we keep stocked in our pantries, the type we're most familiar with cooking. It's made with a different type of dough than fresh past and comes in different shapes, sizes, and colors.
Commercially dried pasta is with everything from whole wheat flour to durum semolina. Pasta secca is the stuff made by extruding semolina flour and water through bronze dies, then drying the pasta at a high temperature.
Dried pasta can easily be kept at room temperature for long periods without spoiling—sometimes up to two years! Dry pasta is sold in bags or boxes of varying sizes. It takes anywhere from 8-13 minutes to cook al dente.
Since there are usually no eggs in dry pasta dough, many people find it easier to digest than fresh pasta. In addition, it can be found on any grocery store shelf globally and generally comes at a low price point.
Similarities and differences
The main differences between fresh and dried pasta are texture, flavor, and cooking time. Fresh pasta tends to have a more delicate texture and taste. However, some people also prefer it. They believe it's healthier than dried pasta because they think that fresh pasta means it doesn't contain preservatives. However, this is a common misconception.
Although these two different kinds of pasta are made differently, their nutritional profiles are similar.
For the most part, dried and fresh pasta taste and behave similarly. Both are made with durum wheat, they cook up in the same amount of time, and they're both delicious.
There is a slight difference in how the two different types of pasta react to heat. Fresh pasta cooks at a slightly lower temperature than dried, so when combined with sauce in a pan, it releases more starch that helps thicken the sauce. On the other hand, dried pasta tends to be a little less starchy because of its lower moisture content.
The main difference is texture, which explains why one type is better for specific dishes and not others.
The general rule with cooking pasta depends on how you learned to make it! If you've heard the term al dente. I'm here to shed some light on this. Al dente pasta has what is referred to as a toothsome bite which means there is a slightly firm structure to the cooked pasta that allows the pasta to hold up to whatever sauce is used.
When to use Dried Pasta in cooking
Dried pasta holds its shape best when cooked in boiling water for about 14 minutes. The thin strands are ideal for absorbing sauces like tomato or pesto to coat the noodles. Thicker noodles like pappardelle or fettuccine work well with creamier dressings that cling to the surface.
When to use Fresh Pasta in cooking
Fresh pasta is best cooked in salted boiling water until al dente — typically after 1 to 3 minutes (check your package instructions). Fresh noodles don't hold their shape, and dried ones do when cooked for too long.
What's Pasta Made of?
Both dry and fresh pasta is made with the same ingredients and can be prepared using similar methods. But there's one big difference between them: how they're dried.
How Dry Pasta is Made
Shelf-stable dried pasta is made by extruding a semolina dough through a machine with a traditional bronze die. The die gives the pasta a rough texture that helps heavier sauces cling to it when cooked. Then it is air-dried, which takes about two days or baked in an oven for several hours. The result is a sturdier pasta that will last for years if stored in the right conditions (but not forever).
How Fresh Pasta is made
Handmade pasta is made by combining egg yolk, whole eggs, or water with flour (usually semolina or "00" flour) and kneading the dough until smooth. It can then be rolled out by hand or machine and cut into any shape you like. Fresh pasta needs to be cooked within hours of making it and will only keep in the fridge for a few days, but freezing can lengthen its life span.
So what's the best type to use? It depends on what flavors and texture you want out of your dish.
Pasta Sauce explained
The type of pasta you use will change the sauces you can use. Dry pasta has a rough texture that will hold onto chunky sauces, while fresh pasta is smooth and soft, better suited for cream or butter-based sauces.
Best Fresh Pasta Sauces
Because fresh pasta is so soft and delicate, it's prone to falling apart if cooked too long or mixed with the wrong sauce. Fresh egg pasta, a light cream sauce, or a simple butter sauce with herbs and parmesan are your best bet. You'll also want to serve fresh pasta immediately after it's cooked since it tends to get sticky and mushy when left overnight in the fridge.
Sauces good for Dry Pasta
Since dry pasta will stick together no matter how long you cook it, you can safely mix it with almost any kind of sauce — but the thicker, the better! Heartier sauces like alfredo and tomato-meat ragu will cling best to dry pasta (including gluten-free varieties) because their thickness allows them to coat each piece of pasta thoroughly.
You can mix and match—there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to personal preference and the pairing of foods—but these guidelines may help you when you're picking out what type of pasta you want to use in your next meal.
Thanks to its long shelf life, dried pasta is much more versatile than fresh pasta. With dried pasta, you can make lasagna sheets months in advance or stock up on noodles while they're on sale.
It takes less time to cook dried pasta than fresh pasta. For example, it can take as little as 2 minutes to cook fresh linguine, whereas dried linguine usually takes 10 minutes. This can make a big difference when you're in a hurry!
Need a single-serving of spaghetti? Dried pasta is easy to measure out and cook just one serving from. Fresh pasta is sold in larger batches that may feed 3-4 people.
Fresh pasta is generally made with fewer ingredients than dried pasta, containing flour and water (or eggs), but with different proportions and sometimes additional ingredients like salt, oil, or semolina flour. For this reason, many people find the flavor of fresh pasta superior to dried pasta.
Fresh pasta is softer than its dried counterparts and may also have slightly different flavors and textures.
How to store pasta for a longer shelf life:
"Italian dried pasta" is generally made from durum wheat semolina. In Italy, the law states that dry pasta can contain up to 100% semolina, but many manufacturers use semolina and finely ground durum flour.
You should throw out uncooked pasta if there are any signs of mold or an unpleasant odor. Keep dry pasta in an airtight container in a cool, dry place at room temperature to store dry pasta.
Nope! There are plenty of ways to dry your homemade noodles without specialized equipment: lay them out on parchment paper and wait until they're completely dry (this could take up to 24 hours).
Yes, pasta can have eggs but doesn't always.