The Australian Supermarket Spaghetti Test

Disclaimer: While Barilla provided me with pasta and sauce samples that inspired this experiment, I purchased all the ingredients at my local supermarkets with my own dime for this experiment. My blind taste subjects were not compensated by myself or anyone else to participate in the experiment (nor were they involved in the preparation). And this is not a sponsored post. 

 

When Barilla first contacted me about trying out their pasta, I was hesitant. I like pasta, but it’s always been one of those I’m-too-tired/lazy/uninspired –to-cook-anything-else type of meals. With that attitude, it’s no surprise my pantry is generally stocked with the generic (and cheap) Homebrand pasta. And to be honest, I’ve never had a problem with it.

So I started up this conversation with a girlfriend, who as it turned out is a Barilla fan. She basically bitch-slapped me and questioned my claim to being a foodie.

“I know we think there’s no difference in packaged pasta, but there is. Trrrrrry.”, she begged.

Well, then… challenge accepted.

But let’s be fair: if I’m going to make a comparison, I might as well compare them all… or as many as I can. At the same time. Thus, I give you: the Australian Supermarket Spaghetti Test.

I’m not a scientist or chef, so I’ll try to make the Australian Supermarket Spaghetti Test as simple as possible and something that anybody can do at home. Any resemblance to an episode on Today Tonight is purely coincidental.

 

The Contenders

I’ve chosen the brands that are most readily available to the average Australian supermarket consumer. Obviously there are other brands out there, but if you shop at the big 3 supermarkets, you’ll recognise these easily enough. I also picked the most commonly available pasta shape.

  • Homebrand Spaghetti
  • Coles Solid Spaghetti  No. 1
  • Zafarelli No.4
  • San Remo Spaghetti No. 5
  • Barilla Spaghetti No. 5

The Australian Supermarket Spaghetti Test

 

Method

300gm of each pasta will be cooked as per box/packet instructions in equally salted water and prepared as a carbonara. Here is the recipe I’ll be following, adapted from the above mentioned girlfriend:

Spaghetti carbonara

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 13 minutes

Total Time: 23 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Spaghetti carbonara

Ingredients

  • 300 gm dried spaghetti
  • 4 sices of pancetta, diced
  • Half an onion, finely diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Small cube of butter
  • 100gm mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons of cream
  • 2 tablespoons parmesan cheese, grated
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Instructions

  1. Boil the spaghetti in salty water according to the packet instructions.
  2. Into a hot frying pan, add the pancetta with a dizzle of olive oil and butter. Fry into just crispy.
  3. Add the garlic and onion into the frying pan, sweating them until soft before tossing in the mushrooms.
  4. Drain the pasta into a mixing bowl, reserving some of the pasta liquid.
  5. Add the pancetta and mushrooms, beaten eggs and cream. Toss well.
  6. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Sprinkle the parmesan on top before serving.
http://www.melissaloh.com/2014/03/17/australian-supermarket-spaghetti-test/

 

Assessment criteria

  • Cost
  • Nutrition
  • Texture
  • Taste

 

Cost

Cost is an easy one to compare, so here’s what I paid for each packet of pasta at the local Coles supermarket, with the exception of the Homebrand. That I bought at the local Woolworth’s supermarket.

Brand Homebrand Coles Zafarelli San Remo Barilla
Cost $0.70 $1.00 $1.83 $2.44 $2.55
Weight 500gms 500gm 500gm 500gm 500gm

Homebrand is the cheapest and the other brands’ prices get increasingly higher, with Barilla being the most dear. In fact, Barilla’s spaghetti was 264% more expensive than the Homebrand and 155% more expensive than the Coles brand.

$2.55 for a packet of pasta doesn’t sound a lot, but families with a sharp eye on their budget may not look too kindly on the price difference. Supermarkets also run specials every month, so prices can vary from time to time.

 

Nutrition

There are a number of nutritional areas to compare. This information was extracted from the back of the packets.

Brand Homebrand Coles Zafarelli San Remo Barilla
Serving size 100 gm 100 gm 125gm 125 gm 85 gm
Calories per 100gm 361 356 363

(1520 kJ)

200 356
Fat per 100gm 2.0 gm 2.2 gm 1.5gm 2.0 gm 1.5 gm
Protein per 100gm 12.8 gm 12.7 gm 12.0 gm 12.0 gm 12.5 gm
Sodium per 100gm 29 mg 6 mg 38 mg 30 mg 20 mg
Carbohydrates per 100gm 69.7 gm 68.6 gm 74.0 gm 72.0 gm 71.7 gm
Sugars per 100gm 2.8 gm 1.4 gm 0.6 gm 2.5 gm 3.5 gm

Homebrand and Coles have the highest amounts of protein, but the lowest in carbohydrates.

Coles has a significantly lower amount of sodium compared to the other brands.

Surprisingly Zafareilli has the highest number of calories per 100gm, but has one of the lowest amount of fat and sugars.

Barilla’s serving size is the smallest and has the most amount of sugar per 100gm.

 

Texture And Taste

Texture and taste are subjective assessment criteria – it depends on one’s personal preferences. Since I would need to prepare the pasta, I invited the SO and one of his buddies, Bean to do a blind taste test.

I cooked all the pastas at the same time according to the packet instructions and the experience has taught me I’m not cut out to be a commercial chef. If you’ve never tried cooking exactly the same thing five times at the same time and have your mind/eye on a million things happening, you might not understand the chaos. Knowing I would forget which bowl would hold which pasta, I grabbed a Sharpie and masking tape to label the bottom of each bowl.

And a good thing I did, as I had forgotten which pasta was which by the time all the food was prepared (including the simple tomato, cucumber and onion in balsamic vinegar dressing to clean the palate).

The Australian Supermarket Spaghetti Test

The Australian Supermarket Spaghetti Test

The Australian Supermarket Spaghetti Test

During the blind taste test, we referred to each bowl numerically. It was a fun exercise and the guys were quite surprised by the differences between each pasta. The bowls were finally raised to reveal the brand at the end of the taste test. Here are their comments during the tasting:

Coles pasta strands are thicker than Zafarelli, Homebrand and Barilla, and about the same thickness as San Remo. There was no clumping and it had the most neutral flavour, meaning one could  taste more of the sauce than pasta. It was noted that Coles might be the most suitable for very subtle sauces, such as a vongole.

Zafarelli pasta strands were as thin as Homebrand and Barilla. There was clumping and the SO described it as ‘gluggy’. We found that biting into it, the pasta stuck to teeth. And overall, it was the most similar to Homebrand.

Homebrand pasta strands were as thin as Zafarelli and Barilla. There was clumping and it was described as ‘sticky’, sticking to teeth similar to Zafarelli. It also had the most ‘pasta’ flavour of the five brands.

San Remo pasta strands look as thick as Coles. There was no clumping and biting into the pasta didn’t stick to one’s teeth. The SO noted it had a stiffer texture.

Barilla pasta strands are thin, like the Zafarelli and Homebrand. There was some clumping, but it lacked the stickiness of Zafarelli and Homebrand. Bean commented it looked the ‘prettiest’, because he could see more of the ingredients, possibly because the strands were thinner. It also had the darkest colour of the 5 brands, and while it didn’t have as heavy a pasta taste, Barilla was not as taste neutral as Coles.

Some might argue a pasta’s texture is determined by the cooking time, so here are the recommended cooking times on the packets for reference.

Brand Homebrand Coles Zafarelli San Remo Barilla
Recommended cooking times 13 min 13 min 9 min 13 min 8 min

Bean voted for Coles and Barilla. He didn’t like Zafarelli and Homebrand.

The SO voted he liked San Remo and Barilla best. He didn’t like Zafarelli and Homebrand, with Zafarelli the least favorite.

 

The Verdict

Barilla was identified by both the SO and Bean to be favoured for its taste and texture, with San Remo and surprisingly Coles as the next alternative. Zafarelli and Homebrand were the least favourite of the 5 brands… and it was reinforced when I offered Bean to take the leftovers of whichever brand home – he chose the San Remo and Barilla.

Was I surprised by the results? Yes! All these pastas are made with the same ingredients – durum wheat semolina. So how is it they can taste different? What is it that makes one pasta have a more ‘pasta’ taste or be ‘stickier’ than the others? I honestly thought there wouldn’t be any difference between any of the brands. I now stand corrected.

Do these results mean I will now change my pasta purchasing habits? I don’t know, because as the SO said, it’s unlikely we would be able to distinguish one brand from another, had we had each on a different day.

However the SO later added (with a wink) that he was calling dibs on the last container of leftover Barilla carbonara.

 

Additional Notes:

Of course there may be other aspects you may consider when making purchase choices. These are the additional information on each packets.

  • While Coles and Homebrand are both labelled ‘product of Australia’, only Homebrand states they are ‘100% Australian grown wheat’.
  • While Zafarelli and San Remo are both labelled ‘free of genetic modification’, only San Remo is labelled ‘Halal’.

 

Do you have a favorite pasta brand?

 

Disclaimer: While Barilla provided me with pasta and sauce samples that inspired this experiment, I purchased all the ingredients at my local supermarkets with my own dime for this experiment. My blind taste subjects were not compensated by myself or anyone else to participate in the experiment (nor were they involved in the preparation). And this is not a sponsored post.