One of the easiest ways to distinguish between high-quality and low-quality dried pasta is by touch. High-quality dried pasta will feel rough to the touch, and will leave a starchy, powder-like residue on your fingers. This starch is the key to cooking great pasta, because it helps the sauce “bind” to the pasta. The starch also releases into the water as the pasta cooks, creating a salty, starchy pasta water that is a critical ingredient in all great pasta dishes.
Low-quality dried pasta, on the other hand, will feel smooth and will not give off any starchy residue. That’s because the extrusion machines used to make mass-produced dried pasta squeeze out perfectly uniform pasta that envelopes the starch granules. This type of pasta remains smooth and slippery after it is cooked, making it harder for the sauce to bind to the pasta.
High-quality dried pasta looks different, too. It will have a more rustic, natural look, with varying light colors, whereas lower-quality dried pasta looks uniform and is always yellow—a telltale sign that it was mass produced.
Try the better stuff. You’ll be amazed how much better your pasta will taste.