I Tried 12 Boxes of Spaghetti and I Have a New Favorite Brand

updated May 28, 2021
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Credit: Christine Han; Food Styling: Pearl Jones

No matter how many interesting pasta shapes appear on supermarket shelves, good ol’ spaghetti will forever remain a favorite. It’s a comforting classic that goes with just about any kind of sauce, and those long skinny packages don’t take up much pantry space, either. 

But for such a simple noodle, the selection has gotten really complicated — and I’m not even talking about all the protein-enriched or gluten-free alternatives. Even in the category of traditional spaghetti there’s an overwhelming number of brands. What’s the difference (if any) between these slender boxes and bags of noodles? How should one choose?

In my mind, there was only one thing to do: Try them all.

How I Chose My Spaghetti Contenders

The goal here was to be thorough, making sure to hit all the major players that are widely available. I visited several mainstream grocery stores and gathered all the spaghetti brands I could find. I decided to skip the super-premium (read: pricey) stuff at the boutique gourmet shop in my town. I ended up with a dozen packages. 

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

How I Tested the Spaghetti

To conduct the taste test, I cooked the pasta in plain, unsalted water so that I could better taste each pasta on its own merits. I cooked each one according to the package instructions, which usually specified 10 to 11 minutes. I was very careful to pull the noodles out when they were firm but cooked through (which was usually at least 30 seconds earlier than the package specified). I cooked them in shifts, four at a time, because I only have four burners. I changed out the water and started fresh each time. After more than an hour of boiling pasta, my kitchen was so steamy it was almost tropical. 

I gathered a group of tasters and we evaluated each brand as the noodles came out of the pot, while they were fresh and hot. We also tasted all the options side-by-side. In a final round of testing, we tasted our four favorites all sauced up.

How I Chose the Spaghetti Finalists

It was extremely difficult to find much to differentiate the spaghetti taste-wise, but we did our best. Some tasted slightly watery, while others were more a bit richer. A few, however, really stood out for their deep, toasty flavor. The brands that felt bouncy and firm rose to the top. Of these bouncy and firm noodles, a few also had a warm, toasty savory flavor. But the taste test wasn’t over. We needed to sauce them to see how they’d perform.

The Final Taste Test: Spaghetti with Sauce

Here’s where things got really interesting: Considering how the sauce changed the character of the noodles, we decided to cook all four of our favorites. The robust flavor and firm texture of Rao’s Homemade Spaghetti melded with the sauce in a completely different way that the rest, resulting in a combo with the most depth of all. 

Credit: Danielle Centoni

Our Favorite Grocery-Store Spaghetti: Rao’s Homemade Spaghetti

Rao’s is an American brand, born from the famous restaurant in New York City, but its spaghetti is made in Italy using just semolina and water. It’s cut with a bronze dies, a traditional Italian noodle cutting and shaping tool, which creates that rough, sauce-grabbing texture. Many of the imported Italian pastas are made the same way, but Rao’s edged them out by having just a bit more oomph.

To be clear, though, all of the pastas we tried were darn good. As long as you’re careful not to overcook them, we’re pretty sure no one will be complaining.

Buy: Rao’s Homemade Spaghetti, $3.69 for 16-ounce bag at Amazon Fresh

Do you have a go-to brand of spaghetti? Tell us about it in the comments below.