When we talk about pasta in Italy, it is important to specify which type we are referring to, but this time we are not talking about pasta shapes, but more about a basic distinction between two macro-categories:
Fresh pasta and Dried pasta.
If I had to explain in a few words the most immediate and quickest distinction there is between fresh and dried pasta I would say:
Dry pasta is devoid of water and has been dried to allow dehydration to make it last longer over time, on the other hand fresh pasta is moist and contains a good percentage of water inside.
Fresh pasta is what we find in packages in the refrigerated section of the supermarket and it looks moist and tends to be quite soft and pliable. It is made with water and flour and has a limited expiration date.
Dried pasta is what we find outside the refrigerated section and looks dried, feels very stiff to the touch, and is impossible to shape. It is usually made from durum wheat semolina and is dehydrated, and for these reasons, it can last in the pantry for a longer period, months and even years.
Every pasta is actually fresh in the beginning, that is, as soon as the dough is created and extruded into the desired shape, fresh, moist pasta is obtained. Later on, depending on the use you want to make of it, it can be eaten immediately as fresh pasta, otherwise, if it is pasta destined for sale on non-refrigerated shelves it will be dehydrated, so it becomes dried pasta.
This drying process was not used with the first existing pasta shapes, in fact the very first pasta shape eaten in Italy was a sheet of fresh pasta, similar to today’s lasagna.
Visually, in addition to being moister, the fresh pasta is also sprinkled with a layer of white flour, which is used to keep the noodles from sticking to each other.
So you understood that fresh pasta and dried pasta are basically the same product, simply one is eaten almost immediately when fresh (fresh pasta), and the other is dried so that it can be eaten several months later (dried pasta).
Fresh Pasta vs Dried Pasta: the real and only difference.
Having introduced the first difference between fresh and dried pasta (drying), let’s take another step forward and talk about how the presence of water plays a major role in the relationship between fresh and dried pasta.
In fact, if we were to figure out what is the one and the only difference between dry and fresh pasta, this would be…water!
In fact, the two categories of pasta are distinguished precisely by the amount of water present:
- Fresh pasta is moist and contains a good percentage of water in it.
- Dried pasta is devoid of water because it has been dried.
Why is water so important in understanding the differences between fresh and dried pasta?
Because water is an essential nutrient for bacteria and other microorganisms whose proliferation it facilitates.
And this is why fresh pasta should be kept refrigerated and has narrow expiration dates, while dried pasta does not need refrigeration and has longer expiration dates.
The amount of water in fresh and dried pasta is so important that in Italy it is regulated by law, read below to learn more.
What does pasta Secca mean in Italy? [Dried Pasta]
According to Italian law, industrially produced dried pasta intended for sale must be made with water and durum wheat flour: semolina, semolato and whole wheat semolina.
It must also meet certain characteristics, such as maximum moisture content of 12.5 percent (it is in fact subjected to a drying process) and a certain minimum percentage of protein, which also determines its quality.
If it contains different ingredients, they must be indicated on the label and it is classified as “special pasta.”
Here you can see which are the most consumed dry pasta brands in Italy.
What does pasta Fresca mean in Italy? [Fresh Pasta]
In addition to durum wheat flours, fresh pasta can be made from soft wheat flour, which is also usually used for bread. To be sold in bulk, fresh pasta needs to be stored at a temperature no higher than 4 degrees, with a tolerance of 3 degrees during transport and 2 degrees in other cases, protected by packaging not intended for the final consumer.
Fresh pasta should be consumed within five days of production. In the case of packaging, on the other hand, fresh pasta must meet certain requirements, such as minimum moisture content of 24 percent, storage at a minimum of 4 degrees with a tolerance of two units, and having undergone a pasteurization process.
Which pasta tastes better? Fresh or Dried
The difference between fresh and dried pasta is mostly felt on the palate and bite while eating it, although pasta experts argue that fresh is better because the flour used is not the same.
In fact, dried pasta allows only durum wheat flours, while fresh pasta also allows soft wheat flours. There is only one flour that makes fresh pasta and dried pasta excellent, and that is durum wheat semolina, which is rich in protein.
In my opinion, fresh pasta tastes better and has a nicer texture, which is why I prefer to eat fresh pasta when I can.
Speaking of the taste of pasta, did you know that the different shapes of pasta actually all have the same taste? it is the chewing sensation that really makes the difference in taste.
Do Italians use fresh or dried pasta?
In Italy, most of the pasta purchased is dried, this is because it is pasta that can be found everywhere, has a reduced cost being industrially produced, and is easily transported and stored for a long time outside the refrigerator.
Fresh pasta is bought for special occasions or is requested at restaurants if there is someone in the kitchen who knows how to make pasta, it is on average more expensive than dried pasta, and this is also why it is eaten only on holidays.
Also on feast days, some families who have the machinery and skill produce their own fresh pasta and eat it shortly afterward.
In conclusion, the average Italian eats more dried pasta, but given a choice of being able to spend a little more, or having the time and skill, would prefer fresh pasta, which is often perceived as better.
Pasta, whether fresh or dried, is a unifying element; much of our Italian history revolves around a pasta dish, but the ultimate challenge is won by dried pasta. A recent survey determined that dried pasta in Italy makes up ¾ of total pasta consumption.
Here you can see the dry pasta shapes that we Italians love the most.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of using fresh versus dried pasta?
In this table, you can see the advantages and disadvantages of fresh pasta:
|Advantages of fresh pasta||Disadvantages of fresh pasta|
|It has a better taste and bites||Costs more on average than dried pasta|
|It can be purchased already filled||Can only be found on the refrigerated counter|
|Cooks in an average of 5 minutes||Expires in a few days|
|Can be handmade at home||Can go bad|
|Difficult to transport|
|Is produced in only a few shapes|
And in this table, you can see the advantages and disadvantages of dried pasta:
|Advantages of dried pasta||Disadvantages of dried pasta|
|Costs less than fresh pasta||The flavor is good but less distinctive than fresh pasta|
|Keeps for months in the package||It takes more minutes to cook|
|Does not go bad easily||There is no stuffed dried pasta|
|It can be found almost everywhere|
|It is produced in many different shapes|
|You can transport it easily|
Why is there no stuffed dried pasta?
As a matter of preservation, it is impossible to make stuffed dried pasta because drying would ruin the filling of the pasta. The only thing that can be done is the creation of special pasta (other than egg pasta) made from alternative flours, for example, whole wheat or legume-based.
In contrast, in fresh pasta, stuffing is super recommended. Just think of tortellini, cappelletti or ravioli. And if a few decades ago we were limited to classic versions (e.g., tortellini with prosciutto), today it is possible to find a wide range of fresh-filled pasta on the market, super tasty and original.
Storage and expiration date of dried pasta compared to fresh pasta.
Fresh pasta before being put into the package for sale is pasteurized, it must be stored in the refrigerator at a temperature between 2/4°C, whereas dry pasta after drying is bagged and has a much longer shelf life.
From the point of view of health, attention must be paid to storage: fresh pasta is a pasteurized product, it must be stored in the refrigerator at a temperature between 2 and 4 degrees, for no more than two or three days.
Dried pasta, on the other hand, lasts up to one or two years after the expiration date if it has been stored well in its unopened package and in a dry place out of the sun.
If you do not know when you will be able to eat the pasta you are buying, then it is better to buy dried pasta, so you can store it out of the refrigerator and eat it even months after purchase.
Does fresh pasta cook faster than dried pasta?
Because dried pasta contains very little water as a result of ‘drying, it needs more time during the cooking phase to absorb the water again and be ready to eat.
So dried pasta on average takes many more minutes to cook than fresh pasta. In fact, there are some types of dried pasta that need more than 10 minutes to cook.
For fresh pasta (except in exceptional cases) it takes just those 2-3 minutes and it is ready to eat!
It is important to know that both fresh pasta and dried pasta must be cooked with the same cooking technique, nothing changes and you can see my guide here.
Why does fresh pasta contain eggs?
Actually, both fresh and dried pasta can have eggs among the ingredients.
Egg pasta is a basic preparation of Italian cuisine, particularly in the Emilia area. It is a simple dough made from chicken eggs and wheat flour, divided into small regular shapes and intended for cooking.
The terms egg pasta and fresh pasta are not necessarily synonymous. In practice, egg pasta can be either fresh or dry; egg pasta made at home, in the laboratory, or even industrially as long as it is immediately frozen is considered fresh; on the other hand, egg pasta sold packaged as semolina pasta is dried.
How much dried pasta is equal to fresh pasta?
In terms of correspondence between fresh and dried pasta, in order to have the same portion size, the reference grams will change: 70 g of dried pasta is in fact equal to about 90 g of fresh pasta.
We cannot help but mention the cooking yield: dried pasta in fact yields much more, just think that 250 grams of dried pasta is enough for 4 people, while the same amount of fresh pasta can feed 3 people.
To equalize the grams of fresh and dried pasta, I suggest you follow this short rule:
Multiply the amount of dried pasta used by about 1.3.
So: 130 g of fresh pasta = 100 g of dried pasta.
Fresh pasta or dried pasta: which has the least calories?
In addition to the role of hydration, water also plays an important part in matching calories between fresh and dried pasta.
In fact, we can say that it plays an essential role in matching fresh and dried pasta in terms of calories and even grams.
And the reason is very simple: water contains no calories. Consequently, fresh pasta will be less caloric than dried pasta in which, by subtracting the water, the nutrients are concentrated and the calories increase.
Generally speaking, and again evaluating the correspondence between fresh and dry pasta in terms of calories, we can say that the calorie density is:
- 270 kcal/100 g for fresh pasta
- 350 kcal/100 g for dried pasta
Both types of pasta, as they are cooked, absorb water and it is this latter element that lowers the calorie content.
We must remember, however, that dried pasta is dehydrated and for this reason, it is bound to absorb more water than fresh pasta and lower the calories. So, we find that as a result of cooking, fresh pasta and dried pasta have the almost equal calorie content.
If you are following an eating plan to lose weight, therefore, choosing one over the other, as far as calories are concerned, does not lead to relevant benefits.
In addition, it is always the seasoning that makes difference, such as the extra virgin olive oil and sauces used, that make a pasta dish high in calories, which can be disposed of by walking or working out.
If you don’t know which condiment to associate with a certain pasta shape, read the link to find out about the pasta and sauce combinations we make here in Italy. Even if some shapes of fresh pasta are so delicious that you could even eat them plain.