Essential information on the most popular varieties of alternative pastas.
What it brings to the table: Whole-wheat pastas are powerhouses in the nutritional arena (they can have about three times as much fiber as their plainer noodle cousins), but their strong wheat flavor, chewy texture, and darker brown color can be an adjustment for some palates.
Nutritional bonus: A 2-ounce serving has an egg's worth of protein and the fiber equivalent of a small banana.
Best with: Strong ingredients, such as garlic and pesto.
Recommended brands: DeBoles, American Beauty.
What it brings to the table: Because they come in all different thicknesses and varieties, Asian noodles are versatile in the kitchen, but flavors vary, depending on the grain they're made from―rice, wheat, or buckwheat.
Nutritional bonus: A 2-ounce serving of soba noodles contains more fiber than a slice of whole-grain bread. However, rice, somen, and cellophane noodles contain little or no fiber.
Best with: Soups, stir-frys, and peanut- or soy-based sauces.
Recommended brands: Dynasty, Eden, Banh Pho.
What it brings to the table: Spelt is nuttier-tasting and higher in protein than regular pasta. People with wheat allergies should be aware that spelt is closely related to wheat.
Nutritional bonus: A 2-ounce serving has as much protein as an ounce of meat, and all the fiber of a bowl of oatmeal.
Best with: Strongly flavored sauces based on garlic and olive oil.
Recommended brand: Vita Spelt.
What it brings to the table: Pretty as they look, pastas made with everything from beets to spinach to artichokes don't hold any nutritional advantage over the plain stuff, mainly because very little vegetable is added. Enjoy them for their visual appeal only.
Nutritional bonus: Scant.
Best with: Light sauces that let colors shine through.
Recommended brands: Al Dente, DeBoles, Eddie's.
What it brings to the table: A subtle, nutty flavor and the light brown color make this pasta a kids' favorite. Since it's made from brown rice, it's also great for people with allergies to wheat or gluten, the protein found in wheat. Avoid overcooking, since the texture can become mushy.
Nutritional bonus: A 2-ounce serving has as much fiber as a small apple.
Best with: Chunky sauces and soups.
Recommended brand: Lundberg.
What it brings to the table: Quinoa pasta is made from a nutrient-rich grain that is lower in carbohydrates than most grains and full of protein. It also looks like regular pasta, a plus for people hesitant to make the switch.
Nutritional bonus: Quinoa contains a complete protein similar to that found in eggs and meat.
Best with: Everything, since the flavor is buttery and mild.
Recommended brand: Ancient Harvest.
What it brings to the table: Golden-hued corn pasta looks and tastes like its main ingredient. Look for brands made with more corn-meal than corn flour if you want to reap high-fiber benefits.
Nutritional bonus: A single serving can contain more fiber than 2 slices of whole-wheat bread.
Best with: Chunky, vegetable-based sauces, but the texture is too mushy for cold salads that need to be tossed.
Recommended brand: DeBoles.