New Year — New you. As the world prepares to ring in 2023, the food community predicts that the upcoming year will be loaded with more sustainable, healthier, and more wholesome foods. That’s good news for those who crafted New Year’s resolutions related to eating healthier, and reducing their carbon footprints.
Food industry leaders and dietitians predict that the New Year will ring in new pastas. This ubiquitous food classic may undergo a nutritional overhaul in 2023. Plant-based pastas, made from gluten-free ingredients that run the gamut from plantains, to chickpeas, to zucchini, is the food trend that’s been slowly creeping up on the world for the last few years. And 2023 is when it’s expected to make its mainstream debut, as one of the biggest expected trends of the year.
Plant-based pastas are a good opportunity for those in the food industry to create nourishing and delicious gluten-free alternatives that can entice health-conscious customers. If you are in the food business, here’s what you need to know about plant-based pastas in the year 2023.
Is Pasta Good For You or Bad For You?
Pasta is often featured on America’s tables. It’s a convenient dish that doesn’t take a long time to prepare. It’s inexpensive and it tastes good. Pasta can be dressed down with just a can of sauce or it can be elevated to gourmet dish status. It’s easy to see why pasta is so popular.
Many nutritionists also consider pasta a healthy food. It is filling. It is relatively low in calories (weighing in at 200 calories per serving), and it’s often enriched with iron and other healthful nutrients. But, there are some health drawbacks of consuming too much pasta (something many Americans are guilty of), including ones that make this classic staple a less attractive fare for popular Millennial and Gen-Z fad dieters. These include:
- It’s loaded with carbs:
Carbs often get a bad rap in the nutritional community, but they aren’t necessarily the enemy. In fact, the FDA recommends eating a diet where around half of your daily caloric intake comes from carbohydrates. Still, there are different kinds of carbs, and some are better than others; sugars and white flours are the biggest carb health offenders, and the most popular pastas are made from white flours. In addition, low-carb diets, like the Whole30 and keto diets, which veto the eating of pasta, are extremely popular millennial food trends. That makes plant-based pastas much more attractive to young, health-conscious diners.
- It’s easy to overeat:
Most nutritionists agree, pasta isn’t bad for you in moderation. “Moderation” being the operative word here. A serving size of pasta is usually two ounces, roughly the size of a baseball. If you are loading up your plate with pasta, chances are that you are overdoing it. By contrast, some plant-based pastas are made from things like spaghetti squash or cauliflower, which have about 80% less calories per serving, meaning that if you overdo it a little, it won’t ruin your diet.
- Traditional pastas are packed with gluten:
Gluten is a protein that products made with wheat, barley, and rye contain. There are many Americans who have celiac disease, which means they can’t consume gluten without damaging their digestive system. Others have sensitivities to gluten and experience a number of symptoms when they consume this protein. The market for gluten-free products is growing rapidly, and many diners appreciate having gluten-free options when ordering-out or eating-in.
For these reasons, leading dieticians Susie Burrell and Leanne Ward added “alternative pastas” to their list of the top biggest food trends they predict for 2023. Whole Foods, a leader in sustainable, natural, and wholesome foods, also placed “plant-based pastas” on their list of upcoming 2023 food trends.
What exactly is plant-based pasta, or what Burrell and Ward call “pasta 2.0.?”
Traditional pastas are made from three basic ingredients: durum wheat flour, water, and salt. Pasta 2.0 is any recipe that doesn’t have wheat (or any grain-based) flour in it. Instead, it’s made from a wholesome plant based flour. Alternative pastas run the gamut from chickpea pasta, where the durum wheat is simply switched out with chickpea flour, to “zoodles” which are spiralized zucchini, dressed up with your favorite sauces.
Some of these have already made headlines for use in the home kitchen, but food-trend predictors claim that 2023 will see even more creative, gluten-free alternative pasta options on the market.
The following are veggie and plant-based pastas that are popular and easy to produce in your food establishment.
Zoodles and Other Spiralized Pastas
A number of alternative pastas fit under the “spiralized” header. These include pastas made from:
- Zucchini (“zoodles”)
- Butternut squash
- Summer squash
- Sweet potatoes
What is it?
Basically any vegetable that can be spiralized can become the spaghetti-like vehicle for any popular pasta recipe. The spiralizing process turns the vegetable into a long spaghetti-like shape which means it’s easy to mix sauces into and melt cheese on top of. Creating alternative pasta dishes from spiralized noodles just requires changing up the pasta medium. For example, instead of fettuccine alfredo, you can easily make “zoodle” alfredo by pouring alfredo sauce into a bowl of zoodles.
How is it made?
Spiralized veggie pastas are super easy to whip up in your restaurant kitchen. There are basically three steps to preparing this type of “pasta:”
- Step 1: Prep the veggies:
Some vegetables need to be prepped before they are spiralized. For example, sweet potatoes, beets, and carrots should be washed and peeled. Some prefer to leave the peels on their zucchini, summer squash, or cucumber noodles to add color and flavor variety, so it’s up to your personal taste. To peel the vegetables, you can use an ordinary handheld peeler. This swivel peeler adapts well to a variety of veggie types. If you are making a large amount of spiralized pasta for your food establishment, it may be helpful to invest in an electric potato peeler which handles a number of different vegetables aside from potatoes.
- Step 2: Shape the veggies
There are a number of ways to get the attractive, mouthwatering noodle shape from your vegetables. The most obvious method of spiralizing is to use a spiralizer. Spiralizers come in manual and electronic varieties. If you want to go “low-tech” or save counter space, you can spiralize by hand with a julienne peeler. A julienne peeler is similar to an ordinary peeler, but creates slightly thicker slices, with a more linguini-like shape. However, peeling your veggies into noodles by hand takes a lot longer, and the “core” of the veggie goes to waste. A third option, in between manual spiralizing and using a spiralizer tool, is to go with a mandolin slicer. This nifty tool is easy to use, speeds up the process, and is often sold with a protective handguard to protect your hands from the sharp blade.
- Step 3: Cook the veggies:
Most of the veggie spiralizer options on the menu (zucchini, sweet potatoes, etc…) aren’t eaten raw. Even for those that are usually eaten raw (like cucumbers), blanching them quickly, for a minute or two, in boiling water, results in the texture you are looking for. Some spiralized vegetable noodles can be baked as well (you can save time by baking the noodles with the other ingredients that you will be using in the final pasta dish). Each vegetable has a slightly different method of cooking, so it’s worthwhile to look up specific instructions for the vegetable you will be using. Once you’ve finished cooking the noodles, you can add whatever dressing or additional ingredients you want in order to make a delicious, nutritious, complete dish.
What are the Benefits of Spiralized Alternative Pastas?
Spiralizing vegetables is one of the most popular ways to make gluten-free, alternative pasta. That’s because these recipes start with fresh vegetables loaded with nutrients. Also, spiralizing is quick, easy, and inexpensive. You don’t need fancy flours or fancy utensils or fancy cooking methods. It’s something that both a home chef, and a professional chef can easily and reliably put together. Spiralized plant-based pastas are pre-flavored with earthy, sweet, veggie tastes. And, if you use a colorful medium, like beets, carrots, or squash, you get a bright, aesthetically pleasing result. You can even design recipes that mix and match, using a variety of spiralized vegetables for an Instagram-worthy end result, packed with flavor. Fettuccine alfredo salad, anyone?
A number of alternative pastas are made by simply switching out the traditional durum wheat with a gluten-free, plant-based flour. These flours include:
- Chickpea flour
- Black bean flour
- Lentil flour
- Green banana (plantain) flour
- Cassava flour
- Quinoa flour
- Edamame/soy flour
What Is It?
The basic traditional pasta recipe is just flour and water. Some alternative pastas borrow this recipe, and just switch out the white flour for the vegetable-sourced flour. Many nutritionists consider popular flour substitutions healthier, because they typically contain more nutrients, proteins, and fibers, and less calories per serving. Because the process for making these pastas is similar to traditional pasta, they look similar, and although they may have a slightly earthier taste and less glutinous texture, they can be used the same way as any ordinary pasta, meaning they make a pretty easy, yet surprisingly healthy substitute.
How Is it Made?
Because there are already fully prepared alternative pastas on the market and alternative flours on the market, it really depends how much prep work you want to put into your alternative pasta. When it comes to making pastas like chickpea pasta or lentil pasta, you can:
- Buy the pasta premade
Popular pasta brands, like Barilla, often have gluten-free plant-based pasta alternatives ready made. If you want a quick way to provide a gluten-free, healthy alternative for your customers, these pastas can be thrown into a pasta cooker and cooked the same way as traditional pastas. After that, all that’s left to do is spice them up to make your patron’s preferred pasta dish.
- Buy the flour premade
If you are a slightly more adventurous establishment or known for your pasta making ability, you can buy alternative, gluten-free flour, and mix, knead, and shape away. Most grocery stores stock chickpea flour (popularly referred to as gram flour), bean flour, lentil flour, quinoa flour, cassava flour, green banana flour, and a host of other flour alternatives. To make homemade plant-based pasta from alternative flours, simply mix the flour with water (It’s best to look up the exact proportions for each flour type). You can also add oil, salt, or xanthan gum to change the flavor and consistency. Knead the dough before letting it rest for approximately 15 minutes in a covered bowl. Then, feed it through your pasta machine or cut it into the desired shape. Let the pasta shapes dry (you can speed up this process with a dehydrator) before boiling and preparing them.
- Make your own flour
Many modern consumers enjoy ingredients that are produced on the premises. So, if you want to be able to boast that you went all out making your own pasta, you can grind the flour yourself before making it into pasta dough. All you need for this is dried beans, lentils, quinoa, or chickpeas. If you want to make cassava flour, it’s important to first peel and boil the cassava, because the peel is toxic, and then dehydrate it before grinding it. Plantains can be dehydrated as well. To grind the flour, you can use a flour mill, a food processor, or a high-speed blender. If the goal is to make a gluten-free alternative, make sure to use a separate flour mill, so your pasta doesn’t end up with trace amounts of gluten in it. Once the flour is ready, mix it with water (and optional salt, oil, or xanthan gum), knead, shape, dry, and cook.
What Are the Benefits to Alternative Flour Pastas
Making pastas with alternative flours are a great way to give customers the taste and look they expect from pasta, without the caloric price tag. If you buy the premade alternative pastas, it’s also a super simple substitution. If you choose to make the pasta yourself, it’s a really cheap way to give customer’s healthy choices. A bag of dried beans or lentils is often less than a dollar. And, you can shape the pasta yourself, which means you can use the alternative flour to make baked ziti, lasagna, fettuccine alfredo, mac’n’cheese, spaghetti and meatballs, and any other pasta dish you can dream up.
Other Alternative Pastas
Most alternative pastas are either spiralized or cooked with alternative flours. But, there are other gluten-free, plant-based pasta alternatives including:
- Hearts of Palm Pasta:
Hearts of palm pasta are somewhat similar to spiralized pasta in that prepared shaped hearts of palm are the only necessary ingredient for making this pasta (sometimes salt is added for flavoring). But, the hearts of palm are cut and shaped with a special process. You can usually find this pasta variety for sale in the nutrition aisle. It’s a versatile alternative that can take the place of any spaghetti dish, but it does have a slightly citrusy taste, meaning that it pairs well with avocado and creamy sauces.
- Cauliflower gnocchi:
Trader Joe’s sells a cauliflower gnocchi product that is made from cauliflower, cassava, and the traditional potato starch found in ordinary gnocchi.
- Spaghetti squash:
This is probably the easiest healthy, veggie-pasta alternative. To make spaghetti squash, microwave the squash for two minutes (this softens it up so it’s easier to cut), cut it with a sharp chef’s knife, scoop out the seeds, and bake in the oven until soft. Once it’s ready, you can use a fork to remove the spaghetti-shaped “meat” of the squash, before preparing it with your choice of sauce and flavoring.
- Shirataki or kelp noodles:
These fishy translucent noodles are a traditional Japanese staple. They are gluten-free and low-carb, but they aren’t as versatile as other alternatives. They pair best with traditional Asian dishes like ramen, stir fry, and soups. Shirataki noodles have a slightly “fishier” taste than kelp noodles, but both options have virtually zero calories and contain more than 90 percent water.
2023 Means Simplified, Customizable Menus
Another predicted 2023 food trend is simpler, smaller, back-to-basic menus. According to industry leaders, customers in restaurants don’t want to be bombarded by dozens of menu options. However, customers, especially younger diners, prefer customizable dishes. That means, instead of offering sixteen pasta dishes, modern menus may only offer two or three dishes, but allow customers to change up the dish as much as they want.
For example, a restaurant offering baked ziti can let customers choose their sauce, choose what type of vegetables they want to add, and select if they want the dish saltier, saucier and/ or cheesier.
Alternative pasta fits really well into this new trend. They are a great way to allow diners to customize their pasta dishes, providing them with healthier, gluten-free, and low-carb options. Restaurants and food establishments in 2023 may want to consider letting their customer’s know that they can choose a pasta dish made from traditional pasta, or from whatever pasta 2.0 that the kitchen can cook up, be it beet noodles, spaghetti squash, or lentil pasta.
2023 is shaping up to be a competitive year in the food world, and giving customers the menu customization options they want is a great way to keep your establishment ahead of the pack. Plantain alfredo, spaghetti squash and meatballs, and chickpea mac’n’cheese are easy, inexpensive ways to please picky, health conscious customers. Why not incorporate the “pasta 2.0” food trend into your 2023 menu offerings?