Starchy foods have often been dubbed unhealthy in recent times. Delectable, no doubt, but unhealthy. But is there any truth to this statement?
Of the many starchy foods known to humankind, two of the most popular ones are rice and pasta. Now, you may be thinking, both taste great and don’t do any harm when eaten once in a while.
There are, however, several regions in the world where pasta and rice are the staple food. So, have all these people who lived on these starchy foods for eons grown to be unhealthy? There is always more to things than meets the eye and the same holds when we compare all aspects of rice and pasta.
To understand this, let us first take a brief look at the origin of rice and pasta and then delve into their key differences. Read on to know more.
A Brief History of Pasta
When someone says pasta, your mind might automatically think “Italy” and you are so right! Pasta has been a staple food in Italy for thousands of years.
There is a belief that Marco Polo brought the concept of pasta to this European nation when he was back from one of his voyages in China and that pasta originally is a child of noodles, but this is not verified. It is now known that pasta was there in Italy ever since ancient Roman times. Yes, it is that old!
However, pasta gained popularity only in the 14th century when dried pasta was created to make it a more viable food option for voyages.
Fast forward to the 19th century, when pasta first met tomatoes, was when the modern-day eloquent pasta-based dishes were developed, which the world has now come to love and enjoy.
The Origin of Rice
The question about where rice was first cultivated has been in debate forever. While some specialists trace the first cultivation of this grain to South-Central China, others are confident that rice originated in the Indian subcontinent.
As to how old rice is, recent findings have suggested that Indian rice was found to be as old as 6500 BC, while some researchers have found rice was available in China around 7000 BC.
Of course, there is no concise evidence on whether these early origins were wild rice or cultivated in farms as a crop. But one thing is clear, humans have been consuming rice much earlier than they started eating pasta.
Differences Between Pasta and Rice
Let us now dig into the actual differences between pasta and rice, based on the type of grain, texture, taste, cuisines, and nutritional value. Is there a winner in this comparison?
Type of Grain
Traditionally, pasta is made from semolina which is derived from Durum wheat. Durum wheat is a kind of hard grain that works best for shaping the pasta because it does not spring back.
Of late, however, whole wheat pasta has become quite the trend owing to the nutritional value that whole grains are famous for.
When it comes to rice, there is just one grain, which is, rice, but this one grain itself has over 40000 varieties! As per the broadest form of classification, there are two major types of rice, those are, white rice and brown rice.
White rice is typically cultivated in greater amounts and is considered a staple in many Asian countries. Brown rice, which is a whole-grain version, soared to popularity because of its health benefits.
Good-quality dried pasta is of creamy yellow color and appears translucent when held up against natural light. It is thin and the surface is slightly rough, with a sort of a matte finish. If you are out in the market buying dried pasta, always choose the thinner ones with a lighter color.
With fresh pasta, the deal is good if you get an option to choose one that smells fresh and is not dried out. Both types of pasta, when cooked, have a chewy texture.
The texture of uncooked rice depends on the variety of grain. Some rice grains of high-quality, such as the Basmati rice, have a silky, smooth texture, while some of the cheaper options are coarser to touch.
When cooked, the texture of the rice varies from being sticky (such as white Jasmine rice) to being nutty and chewy (such as brown rice).
As traditional pasta is made of wheat, when you cook it, before adding any sauce, it tastes like wheat regardless of the shape. Of course, there are modern variations such as egg pasta that taste a bit different due to the added ingredient, like eggs.
When cooking, the pasta will always emanate the best taste when cooked al-dente. Overcooking pasta makes it sticky and kills the taste.
Contrarily, the story of rice is very different when it comes to taste. Every variety of rice has a distinct taste. Remember we talked about 40000 different varieties of rice? That means there are 40000 different experiences for your palate.
Regardless of what side dish you pair it with, rice will always retain its unique taste, and in some varieties, a unique smell, too.
Although pasta is largely used in Italian cuisine and some other cuisines of the European continent, this delicious starchy food has now traveled all over the world. Wherever it has gone, it has adapted itself to gel with the local cuisine.
Different shapes of pasta are now widely relished with a variety of localized sauces in Japanese, Chinese, Greek, and Brazilian cuisines.
Rice is more popular in terms of global consumption and forms a core portion of several cuisines such as Chinese, Indian, Korean, Indonesian, Bangladeshi, Vietnamese, Thai, and many others.
Rice has, in the last few decades, found its way into the kitchens of many non-Asian countries as well, for example, the United States, Egypt, and the Middle Eastern countries. The versatility of both pasta and rice makes them adaptive food items.
In today’s world, more importance is given to the nutritional content of a food item, especially a starchy food item, than to its taste or texture. Let us see how pasta and rice fare when pitted against one another in terms of nutrition. For simplicity’s sake, here we consider 100 g of white pasta versus 100 g of white rice.
Rice has 117 calories per 100 g compared to 160 in pasta. So, if your goal to count those calories, rice is your friend. In terms of dietary fiber, pasta fares slightly better at 1.4 g per 100 g while rice stands at 1.2 g, which means, pasta may be a better digestive aid than rice.
In terms of protein as well, pasta has an edge over rice. Pasta contains 5.6 g of protein per 100 g while rice contains a meager 2.6 g.
Who is the Winner?
Pasta and rice have their unique characteristics and both have pros and cons. From a completely nutritional aspect, rice provides lower calories and carbohydrates and hence might be suitable for a weight-loss program. If high protein is your goal, then go for pasta.
You should, however, keep in mind that you must not rely on either rice or pasta for your source of protein or fiber. A balanced meal is what you should always be aiming for.
If nutrition is not your concern, and you are just in it for the taste and the texture, then it is difficult to say whether pasta is better or rice. Each person has a distinct preference for taste and regional influences also matter a lot. All we can say is, if you are craving sushi one evening, do not settle for lasagna, and vice versa if you truly wish to satisfy your palate.