Beware cheap imitations this World Pasta Day

Jessica Ostinelli

“Life is too short, and I’m Italian. I’d much rather eat pasta and drink wine than be a size 0.” Sophia Bush

Pasta lovers of the world unite – today is World Pasta Day. This esteemed occasion has been celebrated on this day since 1995. Initiated by the World Pasta Congress, the day is used to promote the eating of pasta, along with its cultural and culinary importance. Today’s the day we’re encouraged to try something new… Occhi di Lupo, anyone?

There’s no doubting pasta’s popularity; it’s consumed in vast quantities on every continent in the world. But there are few things about this culinary staple that you may not know about.

First, and contrary to many misconceptions, pasta has numerous health benefits. It has a low calorific value and the carbohydrates in pasta provide glucose, the crucial slow release of energy for your brain and muscles. Folic acid can also be found in pasta, which is essential for women of child-bearing age. Pasta is also very low in sodium and is cholesterol-free. And it provides a good source of several essential nutrients, including iron and several B-vitamins.

It will be no surprise that Italy is the world’s biggest pasta producer, with officially 1.5 million tons of it being produced each year. But what’s more interesting is that pasta is also one of the most counterfeited foodstuffs in Italy, along with Parmigiano Reggiano, olive oil and Prosecco to name but a few – all of which are regularly faked and traded illegally. The Italian counterfeit food ‘industry’ is estimated to be worth €60 billion worldwide.

Counterfeit pasta is prepared with poor quality flour often intended for animal consumption. Worse still, it is often also made with outdated products and yellow artificial coloring. Ironically, it is said that majority of counterfeit pasta comes from its native origin, Italy, with the Italian mafia and a network of organized criminals intent on taking advantage of the economic downturn in Europe.

Even the BBC is in on the act, with its famous April Fool’s Day hoax about pasta growing on trees in Switzerland. In 1957, people we a lot more trusting – and clearly knew a lot less about pasta production. After the program was aired, a number of viewers contacted the BBC for advice on growing their own spaghetti trees. Decades later, CNN called it “the biggest hoax that any reputable news establishment ever pulled.”

The BBC’s stunt was of course just a bit of innocent fun. But joking apart, it’s worth being vigilant about where your food’s coming from; counterfeiters are not concerned with consumer welfare. 

So next time you’re after an Italian food bargain, be it pasta or mozzarella or wine, make sure you check the provenance of the product, or it may just leave a sour taste in your mouth and the joke will be on you.

And as for today, we hope you tuck into a hearty bowl of one of the 600 varieties of pasta with great gusto. A couple of tips: proper ‘al dente’ pasta will stick to the wall when thrown; and dried pasta (heaven forbid) doubles in size when cooked.

Buon appetito!


 

References:

World Pasta Day, (2015), World Pasta Day & Congress, http://www.worldpastaday2015.org/

Wikipedia, (2016), Spaghetti-tree hoax, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spaghetti-tree_hoax