I know, it might sound like a contradiction in terms. A paleo diet focuses on pre-agricultural foods, nutrient-rich vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices, wild or grassfed meat, wild caught fish, and healthy fats and oils, foods abundant prior to the advent of agriculture and food processing. Pasta is associated with an agricultural, western diet, and a long list of Western diseases that were and are virtually unknown in populations that ate and still eat the way Paleolithic hunter-gatherers ate. If pasta is included in a paleo diet, it is usually relegated to a rare indulgence or possible inclusion in a weekly treat meal (sometimes called a free meal or open meal) where one might indulge in something that s/he chooses not to eat on a daily basis.
I rarely eat pasta, even the brown rice variety. I’ve gotten so used to basing meals on vegetables that I don’t miss it. It’s mainly something I cook on occasion for my students, who are often new to a gluten-free and/or unfamiliar with a paleo or primal diet. I usually serve pesto, red sauce, meat balls, and other things next to or over fibrous non-starchy vegetables. However, I realize that many of you may be missing pasta and looking for an alternative for yourself or your family members who miss it.
About six weeks ago, someone contacted me about a new product called Paleo Pasta, a gluten-free pasta that contains very little grain that is, in many ways, more nutrient dense than white or brown rice pasta. It’s made from (in this order) almond flour, arrowroot powder, pumpkin powder, quinoa flour, egg whites, inulin, and xantham gum.
Over the course of a few weeks, I tried three flavors. I found the texture light. Some describe it as reminiscent of freshly made pasta. Almond flour gives it a slightly nutty flavor and a rich taste with a hint of sweetness. One of the amazing things about this pasta is how soft it is and how quickly it cooks: 2 to 3 minutes! If you live at a moderate to high altitude (Phoenix, AZ, included) and cook it at a rolling boil, try 2 minutes.
Twice I served it with the dairy-free Paleo Pesto (made from cilantro, basil, or mint) from my cookbook, The Garden of Eating. The third time I tossed it with olive oil, sea salt, pepper, and garlic. Each time I served it with a generous amount of fibrous non-starchy (green leafy or mixed) vegetables and protein (e.g., a side of salmon, chicken, or lean chicken sausage).
Since this pasta is lower in starch than conventional pasta, it won’t increase in size as it cooks. One serving, according to the package, about 1 1/2 cups of loosely packed uncooked Paleo Pasta (56 grams by weight) cooked up to 7/8 to 1 cup of pasta. You might consider that two servings, depending upon your appetite and energy needs. Exact yield will vary with the flavor. (Be careful not to overcook.)
To answer some of my questions about Paleo Pasta and others that I imagine you will have, I’ve interviewed Genevieve, one of the creators of Paleo Pasta.
QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
Questions: asked my me, Chef Rachel.
Answers: Answered by Genevieve of Paleo Pasta.
Q: What prompted you to start your company? When did you start it?
A: There were two main reasons we wanted a paleo-friendly pasta: We just really liked pasta, personally, and missed being able to eat it and we noticed, over time, that convenience was a major issue for people trying to stick to a paleo or gluten free diet. We noticed that many of our friends and family would be really gung ho on the paleo diet for a month or two, and then life would catch up with them – they’d be working crazy hours, unexpected events would pop up, they couldn’t always get the shopping done or have the time to prepare meals. And this was usually when they’d cave and just binge on bread or pasta, and it was like going back to square one.
We figured, if it could make our lives easier, other people would see some value in it too. We started researching gluten free pastas and realized that most of them were really nutritionally bland. We decided to create something better. We sold our first bags of pasta in late June of this year (2011).
Q: How long did it take you to come up with a winning recipe? Did you have to try a lot of variations before you hit on one you really liked? Did you do all the testing or have people helping you?
A: The recipe that eventually became the basis for our Original Paleo Pasta is #293. That’s so many! We didn’t actually take 293 different recipes all the way to taste testing; some of them just fell apart while we were trying to roll or cut them. I think we got pretty lucky, considering the number of ingredients we tested.
We did all the development ourselves. When we’d get something workable, we’d send it out to our friends and family for testing. There were a lot of duds before we hit on a winner, but we knew when we had it right away – everyone asked for more.
Q: What made you choose quinoa as an ingredient? Some people say, “Quinoa is not Paleo.” How do you or did you reckon with that and how do you deal with that question when it comes up?
A: Honestly, this was a concern for us from the beginning, because the whole point is to make a product that’s better for you. The paleo objection to quinoa usually seems to be an objection to the saponin compounds that coat quinoa and can cause GI irritation. We were somewhat hesitant, but we explored all the options, and we were satisfied that a combination of thorough washing of whole quinoa, followed by a fine milling process after washing, removes the saponin coating. That, and we use very, very little quinoa flour.
All of that said, everyone has different sensitivities, so we like to be upfront with what’s in our pasta. Someone who’s super sensitive to quinoa probably shouldn’t try it – we want our food to make people feel better. We’ve had really positive reactions so far.
Q: I’ve read about the saponins in quinoa and about how they can damage the intestines. I’ve heard that thoroughly rinsing the grain before cooking can reduce these harmful compounds. Is the quinoa used to make flour for your pasta washed?
A: I’ve heard that nearly all the commercially available quinoa in the US is now pre-washed (although that wasn’t always the case, and there are probably still a few direct sale importers who don’t do it themselves), but we checked specifically with our suppliers. They both sell whole quinoa and quinoa flour, and they both wash and abrade the whole quinoa thoroughly prior to sale or milling in order to remove the saponin coating.
Q: How much quinoa do you use relative to the almond flour, arrowroot and pumpkin flour? I’ve never heard of pumpkin flour, how did you hear about that?
A: We use very little quinoa. Our flour blend is proprietary and the amount of quinoa flour varies by flavor, but it averages to less than 10% by weight.
The pumpkin flour came about sort of serendipitously. I had heard a rumor about a Japanese starch noodle made from dehydrated squash (I was never actually able to find this), but it got me thinking, and it was fall, and there were pumpkins everywhere, and I love pumpkin… Then all I had to do was find it, and test it. Easier said than done!
Q: Do you consider your Paleo Pasta something for everyday use or more of a special treat within the context of a paleo diet?
A: This is a good question. I think it sort of just depends on what you want to do. It’s got carbs, but they’re good carbs with lots of fiber, so we think it’s absolutely fine to eat every day, particularly if you’re active. (We actually have a couple of customers who do just that, and there are enough of them that we’re looking into setting up a recurring order system for people who’d find that easier.) I think more importantly, you don’t get that carb-coma followed by a blood sugar crash, so it’s pretty filling and sustaining.
I eat it a lot myself, especially the Chipotle flavor, but that’s just because I love it. But I don’t think there’s anything that I eat every day.
Q: Can you explain why you include inulin in the recipe? What function does it serve?
A: I heard about inulin while looking at various alternative pastas. It was a major ingredient in a pasta that was marketed to diabetics, which got my attention: diabetic friendly pasta?
Inulin is a soluble fiber that occurs naturally in some plants, and it’s often recommended as a prebiotic. You can find it in lots of digestive-aid products. I think the idea behind the diabetic friendly pasta was that replacing some flour with inulin both lowered the caloric content and the glycemic load. The inulin that we use is from chicory root.
When we started looking into inulin, we were really pleased to find that using inulin can help hydrate hydrocolloids like xanthan gum. The presence of the oligosaccharides in inulin helps to break this up somehow, so you can use the minimal amount of gums. We tried it, and we were able to eliminate guar gum entirely from our test recipe, and significantly reduce the amount of xanthan gum.
I kind of wish that hydrocolloids (vegetable gums) in general weren’t necessary, but it’s a trade off. Gluten is kind of an amazing protein that forms those really strong lattice structures, which is why you get the great texture of traditional gluten doughs. But if you don’t want gluten (and do we not want gluten), you have to use something else to hold everything together.
Q: What flavors to you currently make and market?
A: Four. Original, Spinach, Tomato, and a limited run, Chipotle Spice.
Q: What other flavors do you have in the works?
A: We’re thinking Porcini next, then Tomato Basil, and then Garlic Parsley, and… If you or your readers have any suggestions, we’d love to hear them. Sometimes we go a little nuts testing flavors. I’m really tempted right now by a masala mix.
Q: How can people get your products?
A: Right now we prefer to sell directly to customers through our online store at www.paleopasta.com. We’ll announce as we become available in retail locations. We don’t ship individual orders internationally (we’re working with a logistics company to see if we can do this eventually); we do have an Australian distributor at Paleosnacks.com.au, for Aussies who’d like to try Paleo Pasta.
Q: Is there anything else you want to share about your product?
A: We just really wanted to make something that would make people’s lives easier and healthier. We love getting feedback, so if any of your readers have any questions, flavor suggestions, or recipe ideas, we’d love to hear them at [email protected]
Thanks, Genevieve. I appreciate you answering my questions and letting me try your pasta. Readers, check back to learn about and participate in a Paleo Pasta giveaway, to be announced later this week. I hope you try this pasta. If you do, come back and tell me (and my readers) what you think.
Thank you for following my blog and telling other people about it, about my books, my cooking DVDs, and my cooking classes. I love sharing great food, recipes, and cooking tips and techniques and your support makes it possible for me to do what I do.