When you stop to think about it, what other staple has universal appeal equal to pasta’s? This shaped—and sometimes colored and enriched—dough turns up in some form in almost every country. Traditionally, it appears in Germany’s and Tibet’s dumplings, Spain’s noodle-based paella, North Africa’s couscous, and India’s vermicelli-based dessert, for example. Where pasta is not native to the cuisine, pasta fanciers are beginning to demand this versatile staple, making pasta a global favorite.
If economy counts as one factor for pasta’s popularity, its versatility matters as well. According to the Washington, D.C.-based National Pasta Association, pasta comes in hundreds of shapes and numerous colors including red (beets tomatoes), green (spinach), and black (squid ink), and pasta is so versatile that cooks can boil, steam, fry, or bake it.
Pasta’s mild flavor partners well with numerous fillings and toppings and with every sort of beverage, from champagne and red wine to hot tea and chilled lemonade. Americans love pasta so much they eat about 4.3 pounds per person per year.
A 1997 survey conducted for the National Pasta Association, concluded that residents of the Northeast were more likely than people in other parts of the country to eat pasta on a weekly basis, while Southerners were less likely to eat pasta regularly. However, the most dramatic increase in pasta consumption overall was in the South, where 42 percent of Southerners are eating more pasta today than they were five years ago.
Savvy consumers appreciate its good value per serving and also applaud its nutritional benefits. Pasta fanciers can find not only whole-grain pastas, but also varieties that are gluten free, made from artichokes and quinoa, or enriched with eggs and with omega-3 fatty acids. And, the USDA, with its Food Pyramid, cites pasta as a valuable nutrient-dense food, urging Americans to include at least three ounces of whole-grain pasta (or other grains) each day.