Science & Food

Fresh Made Pasta

Flour and Eggs (Photo Credit: Steven Du)

Guest post by Steven Du

Paste, the Latin Late antiquity translation for the word Pasta. [3] Eating spaghetti and meatballs today typically involves boiling some dried spaghetti pasta and pouring on some pasta sauce from a jar. But have you ever wondered how to make these golden silky strands of noodles? To start off, we have to sail to China with Marco Polo and learn about the origins of Bing.

Bing is Chinese for wheat products and dumplings. [3] The reason we are starting off in China is because noodles originate from China. Despite wheat being grown in the mediterranean long before arriving to china, the northern Chinese were the first to develop the art of noodle making. [4] With the great age exploration, many of the noodles from China were brought to the Mediterranean and Middle East by the explorer Marco Polo. Yes, Marco Polo brought the art of noodle making to European nations!

The art and science of noodle making isn’t as complex as it seems, considering that dried pasta can be found in many kitchen cupboards around the country. To knead our way into noodle heaven, we must a start off with gathering our raw materials. The essential ingredient of noodles is flour. Flour can come in varying forms like rice flour and durum flour. Each of these flours are special in their own way; for instance, rice flour lacks gluten proteins that is abundant in wheat, but rather relies on amylose as a binding agent. Proteins like gluten are essential for pasta but not noodles, because they provide the backbone for the pasta’s unique texture and elasticity. Specifically, durum pasta dough is elastic and stretchy because of the gluten protein networks that are formed in the dough. Gluten is a protein complex made of glutenin and gliadin that is found in many wheat products; this protein network gives flour its ability to stick together and form a unified structure that stays together when cooked in hot water. [1]  In comparison, starches, like potato starch, lack proteins like gluten to form pasta, instead, amylose and amylopectin are the polysaccharides that provide the structure in the rice noodles. Amylose and amylopectin, similar to gluten and gliadin provide networks of structure in noodles. Specifically, when the starches are combined with water, they form a paste like durum pasta, and when boiled in water the starches form a crystalline continuous network like pasta. However, unlike pasta, starch noodles can be translucent because of the lack of insoluble proteins or intact starch granules to scatter light. [1] Rice noodles, like starch noodles, are gluten-less, but they do contain cell walls and proteins that create a white noodle. The structure of rice noodles is due to amylose and amylopectin as well. The raw materials necessary for noodle/pasta making are amylose or starch, water, and maybe some protein or fat. With such ingredients available anyone can make pasta/noodles at home.

Key ingredients for making pasta:

Flour, Rice Flour, or Starch. Produced by the process of milling, whereby the grinding and turning of wheat grains, rice, or starches converts them into fine particulates .  There are many variations of wheat flours, but enriched and refined flours are the result of filtering of the germs of wheat grains to leave the white flour . In addition to pasta, flours create multitudes of pastas and pastries.

Water. The hydration solvent needed to bring together all the flour and other ingredients. Water hydrates the flour and makes up about 30-40% of the pasta.[1] When the flour is combined with the water, it forms homogenous mass that is malleable enough to be shaped into strands of pasta/noodles. After the mixture is combined, we have to allow the mixture to rest to hydrate the gluten and form a gluten networks that provides the pasta its elasticity and structure to be shaped into pasta/noodles.

Egg. The amazing binding abilities of eggs also contribute to pasta texture. What makes egg pasta special from just regular wheat flour pasta and water? To start off, the golden color and silky texture outshine any regular pasta. While gluten supplies a small percentage of protein; however, egg provides additional proteins in the mixture that contribute to an even more tender and delicate texture. Within the protein-rich yolk is beta-carotene which provides the yellow hue we see in all our pasta in the kitchen.[2] Alternatively, you can omit the eggs, and just do water and flour as this has enough of the binding mechanisms needed to form the cohesive mass, but it is recommended to add eggs for the decadence and taste.

Making pasta:

To begin making fresh pasta, one must form a paste with flour. To allow the gluten proteins to reabsorb water, the paste should rest for about 30 minutes, enough for the mass to be malleable to be shaped into sheats. [2] The dough is then rolled out and formed into sheets to create long strands of pasta or shaped into your preferred pasta shape. Could be flat noodles, round noodles, flat pieces that are shaped into ears or butterflies.

While the process of making fresh pasta is very simple, dried pasta provides a convenient and tasty alternative. Dried pasta is simply made by dehydrating fresh pasta – in other words, removing the water that was added to the paste to create fresh pasta. Dehydration occurs once the gluten networks formed in the paste have been ‘set’ in the dough and are interconnected from kneading the dough and water together. Removing the water leaves the gluten networks intact, but removes the moisture that allows the starch granules to be flexible and malleable; the resultant pasta is hard and brittle and can conveniently be stored for long periods of time in the cupboard.

All in all, pasta provides a simple way to restructure and reconstitute a grain that has been turned into a flour and cooked to create a soft and chewy byproduct that we can add to sauces and dishes. By milling grains and rice, we unlock the potential of molecules like gluten and amylose, that impart structural stability to pasta and noodles so they can hold their shape. Historically, the Chinese and Italian have worshipped noodles/pasta for their silky characteristics and convenience, and as such we should commemorate noodles/ pasta like our predecessors; and enjoy fresh made noodles.pasta and the simplicity behind the art itself. [4]

References

  1. Heo, Hwayoung, et al. “Influence of Amylose Content on Cooking Time and Textural Properties of White Salted Noodles.” Food Science and Biotechnology, vol. 21, no. 2, 2012, pp. 345–353., doi:10.1007/s10068-012-0046-9.
  2. López-Alt J. Kenji. The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking through Science. W. W. Norton & Company, 2015.
  3. McGee, Harold. McGee on Food & Cooking: an Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture. Hodder & Stoughton, 2004.
  4. Serventi, Silvano, and Sabban Françoise. Pasta: the Story of a Universal Food. Columbia University Press, 2002.
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