Why Some Pasta Absorbs More (or Less) Sauce

By Cook's Illustrated Published January 2017

Some brands of pasta seem to absorb more sauce, while others absorb less, impacting the final consistency of the dish. We wondered why.

The answer turned out to be the precise way the pasta was formed during manufacturing. Pasta made the traditional way is extruded through bronze plates, or dies, that give it a more textured surface. The cheaper, faster, modern way to extrude pasta is through slick Teflon dies that create a sleek surface. In tests, we found that noodles extruded through bronze dies (we tested egg pasta as well as regular pasta containing just wheat and water) were far better at gripping sauce than the smooth noodles pushed through Teflon plates, which allowed more sauce to drip off.

The label of a traditionally made pasta will often indicate that it has been manufactured using bronze dies, but you can easily recognize the visual clues: Pasta extruded through bronze dies will look coarser on the surface, while noodles extruded through Teflon dies look perfectly smooth. To account for these textural differences, a good rule of thumb is to always reserve a generous amount of pasta cooking water. We’ve found that achieving the right sauce consistency with traditionally made pasta requires about 30 percent more cooking water than when using pasta pressed through Teflon dies.

SAUCE STAYS PUT: The rough texture of pasta extruded through a bronze die holds onto sauce, letting just a tiny bit drip through the screen into the bowl below.

SAUCE DRIPS OFF: The smooth texture of pasta extruded through a Teflon die lets sauce drip right off through the screen and pool in the bowl below.