From Barilla and Rao's to generic grocery store labels, the pasta section of your local supermarket can be an overwhelming place. Now Bay Area residents shopping at Whole Foods have yet another option to consider. Flour + Water, one of the best places to eat ravioli in San Francisco, released a line of dried pasta in December. Upon hearing the news, we really had no choice but to try it for ourselves—such is the heavy burden of food journalism.
We decided to test Flour + Water’s pasta against a generic box of noodles. Since the retail pasta is only available at Whole Foods for now, we picked up a box of Flour + Water and a box of the 365 house label. For the simplest comparison, we selected organic spaghetti—though the new brand also includes elbow macaroni, campanelle (a ruffled noodle) and penne rigate.
It was all very scientific, you see. Firing up both front burners at once, we boiled two pots of water side by side. Upon opening each box of dried pasta, the main thing to note is the textural difference. Where the 365 brand was smooth, Flour + Water’s spaghetti is markedly rough to the touch—a sign of the textural differences to come.
Nine minutes later, after draining the noodles, we doctored up each bowl with extra virgin olive oil, vegan basil pesto and—the Royal We can’t tolerate dairy—a generous sprinkling of nutritional yeast.
At long last, it was time for the taste test. Here’s the thing. Taste-wise, there wasn’t really a discernible difference. Still, as Flour + Water points out on the box, the pasta maker uses the same bronze-die extruding process as its chefs do at its Mission District flagship, reputedly creating a porous texture that optimally soaks up the sauce. There was a definite textural difference. Compared with the generic spaghetti, Flour + Water’s noodles have a softer, more delicate mouthfeel.
Unfortunately, as we enjoyed our noodles, we made the mistake of glancing at the grocery receipt sitting next to the two bowls of pasta, a blunt reminder of the financial realities of elevated mouthfeel. The 365 organic spaghetti costs $2.29 at Whole Foods, while a box of Flour + Water organic spaghetti set us back $5.99.
Of course, there are a few clear reasons for the $3.70 price difference. For starters, it’s apples and oranges to compare a massive corporation like Amazon—which regularly comes under fire for its questionable labor practices—to a brick-and-mortar restaurant’s retail food venture.
There’s also an environmental context to Flour + Water’s top-shelf prices. The hospitality group collaborates closely with Zero Foodprint, which works with other restaurants and food companies to implement regenerative farming practices to help mitigate climate change. Flour + Water pledges 1% of its retail proceeds to Zero Foodprint.
Ultimately, what began as a simple pasta tasting had us considering several thornier questions about ethical consumption in an era of rising food costs, a revived labor movement and the looming threat of climate change. It’s a tenuous balance, to say the least. With all of this in mind, picking up a box of pasta at the grocery store can feel even more complicated, but the end result is still delightful.
Sarah Holtz can be reached at [email protected]