If you find current gluten-free pasta lacking in taste and nutrition, you might be intrigued by the possibility of seaweed pasta! After sharing the promising properties of crickets in gluten-free bread, we now take a look at recent research into how seaweed might provide the key to improving the nutritional value of gluten-free pasta.
How could GF pasta be better?
Classic gluten-containing pasta is usually made up of wheat (durum) flour, water, some salt, and sometimes eggs. However, there is a large variety of starches and flours, such as corn (maize), soy, potato or rice, that can be swapped in to make a gluten-free friendly alternative. While these alternatives are certainly the safest option for those on a GF diet, they don’t necessarily pack a punch in terms of nutrition.
Gluten-free pasta, like many GF alternatives, is generally lacking in valuable nutrients such as fibre, vitamin D and B group, and minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc. In addition to this, higher sugar, kilojoule and fat content puts many GF options out of balance compared to their traditional counterparts. Given that the GF option is the only option for so many people, this creates an issue of both inadequate essential nutrient intake, and overconsumption of less healthier substitutes[1, 3].
Another giveaway of typical gluten-free pasta varieties is that they tend to cook differently to regular pasta. They can take longer to cook, and the consistency often becomes stickier and gluggier in comparison, making it less enjoyable to eat.
To try and bridge this gap in nutrition and quality, researchers experimented with incorporating a specific type of seaweed extract (Laminaria ochroleuca) into gluten-free pasta.
What makes seaweed so unique?
Aside from being delicious when served in the form of nori in sushi, seaweed is exceptionally nutrient-rich. It is full of essential vitamins (A, C, D, E, K and B group), essential fatty acids and protein, and even has antioxidant properties [1, 2].
In the experiment, GF pasta samples were produced and scientifically analysed for their nutrient content and physical features. Each sample contained psyllium as a base; the test samples included the addition of rice flour and the seaweed extract, and the control samples mimicked a typical gluten-free pasta with the addition of rice flour.
The proof is in the pasta
In terms of nutritional quality, the seaweed pasta was very impressive. Scientific analysis showed that it contained 10.3% of the Recommended Daily Allowance of iron, with a 1.5% increase in zinc content, and a 2% increase in magnesium. Fibre content also showed an excellent improvement compared to the control sample, which is great for better digestion and sustained energy. On the topic of energy, the seaweed samples were also reported to be lower in calories than the non-seaweed samples by at least 100kcal.
A notably low-fat content is another promising characteristic. On average, the seaweed pasta consisted of around 7% fat, of which a staggering 55% were unsaturated fatty acids (also found in foods such as avocado and oily fish, and which can help lower cholesterol and provide cardio-protective qualities). The authors of the research even noted that because of this considerably low-fat composition, the pasta could be considered a “fat-free” product.
A common flaw with gluten-free foods is the lack of a gluten-network, which is key to binding regular pasta and bread together. Seaweed seemed to provide an effective substitute here as well, significantly improving the characteristic stickiness of gluten-free pasta and ensuring it held together well when cooked. This also helped to prevent key nutrients, such as calcium, from leaching into the cooking water, which commonly happens when blanching or boiling food. This unique resistance to thermal pressures may be key to ensuring that more minerals and nutrients make it onto the plate!
But how does it taste?
Upon sampling the delicacy, the verdict was overall positive. The taste was reportedly pleasant, and the distinct smell of the algae extract had improved with cooking.
The overall findings from the study indicate that harnessing the nutritional richness of seaweed, and incorporating it into a regularly consumed product such as pasta, has excellent potential. More work needs to be done before it is a reality, so in the meantime look out for GF pasta that is legume-based, or fortified with extra fibre for a boost to your gut health. While you’re at it, here are some other tips for improving your nutrition and keeping your gut healthy on a gluten-free diet.
Contributor: Cass, Glutagen
 Fradinho, P., Raymundo, A., Sousa, I., Dominguez, H., & Torres, M.D. (2019). Edible Brown Seaweed in Gluten-Free Pasta: Technological and Nutritional Evaluation. Foods, 8(622), pp. 1-18. doi: 10.3390/foods8120622
 Vici, G., Belli, L., Biondi, M., & Polzonetti, V. (2016). Gluten free diet and nutritional deficiencies: A review. Clinical Nutrition, 35, pp. 1236-1241. doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2016.05.002
 Wells, M.L., Potin, P., Craigie, J.S., Raven, J.A., Merchant, S.S., Helliwell, K.E., Smith, A.G., Camire, M.E., & Brawley, S.H. (2017). Algae as nutritional and functional food sources: revisiting our understanding. Journal of Applied Phycology, 29, pp. 949-982. doi: 10.1007/s10811-016-0974-5