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Raw Material
Pasta is made from a mixture of water and semolina
flour. Semolina is a coarse-ground flour from the heart,
or endosperm, of durum wheat, an amber-colored high
protein hard wheat that is grown specifically for the
manufacture of pasta. With a lower starch content and a
higher protein content than all-purpose flours, semolina
flour is easily digested. Farina, rougher granulations of
other high-quality hard wheat, is also used to make

some pastas. The semolina and farina flour are enriched

with B-vitamins and iron before they are shipped to
pasta plants.
Eggs are sometimes added to the mixture for color or
richness. Federal guidelines stipulate that egg noodles
contain a minimum of 5.5% egg solids. Vegetable juices,
such as spinach, beet, tomato, and carrot, can also be
added for color and taste. In recent years, the addition
of herbs and spices such as garlic, basil, and thyme has
become popular.
However, new technology in pasta manufacturing now
enables finer semolina to be used, allowing for longer
tempering periods.


Milling is essentially a process of grinding and separating.

Grinding is done on break rolls, sizing rolls and reduction
rolls. Separation is done using machines called sifters and
purifiers. A durum mill has an extended break system in
which grinding is relatively gradual. The endosperm is
released in coarse granular form rather than as flour. The
grading, purifying and sizing systems are more extensive in
a durum mill, but the reduction system is very small
compared to that of a flour mill.


Semolina, the main product of durum milling, is coarser

than the flour produced in common wheat milling. Desirable
characteristics for semolina include good colour, minimum
dark or bran specks and uniform granulation. Small
amounts of fine semolina and flour are produced. These
are often combined with normal semolina to produce
blended material which can be used for a wide range of

long and short pasta types.

Mixing and kneading

1 The semolina is stored in giant silos that can hold up

to 150,000 pounds (68,100 kg). Pipes move the

flour to a mixing machine equipped with rotating
blades. Warm water is also piped into the mixing
machine. The mixture is kneaded to a lumpy

Flavoring and coloring

2 Eggs are added to the mixture if the product is an

egg noodle. If pasta is to be a flavored variety,
vegetable juices are added here. A tomato or beet
mixture is added for red pasta, spinach for green
pasta, carrots for orange pasta. Herbs and spices
can also be folded in for additional flavoring.


3 The mixture moves to a laminator where it is

pressed into sheets by large cylinders. A vacuum
mixer-machine further flattens the dough while
pressing air bubbles and excess water from the
dough to reach the optimum water content of 12%.

4 The roll of dough moves through a steamer, which
heats the dough to 220F (104C) in order to kill
any existing bacteria.


5 Depending on the type of noodle to be produced, the

dough is either cut or pushed through dies. Ribbon
and string-style pastasuch as fettucine, linguine,
spaghetti, and capellini (angel hair)are cut by
rotating blades. To make tube or shell-shaped
pasta such as rigatoni, ziti, elbow

macaroni, and fusilli, the dough is fed into an

extruder which then pushes it through metal dies.
The size and shape of the holes in the die
determine the type of pasta. To make vermicelli
and capellini, the pasta dough is pushed through
holes between 0.8-0.5 mm in diameter. The
cutting machine then cuts the pasta into lengths of
10 inches (250 mm) and twists it into curls.
Spaghetti ranges from 1.5-2.5 mm in diameter and
is left straight. Tortellini (filled pasta rings) are
made on a separate machine. The machine cuts
small circles from a roll of dough. A bucket of
ricotta cheese mixture drops a pre-measured
amount of cheese onto the circle of dough. The
dough is then folded over and the two ends are
joined to form a circle. To make ravioli (filled pasta
squares), premeasured quantities of cheese filling

are dropped by machine at pre-measured intervals

on a sheet of pasta. Another sheet of pasta is
placed over this sheet as it moves along a conveyer
belt. The two layers then pass under a cutting
machine that perforates the pasta into premeasured squares.

An extremely important feature of pasta is the richness

and variety of its shapes. Even though all pasta is

produced with the same raw materials, each shape, in
a certain sense, has its own personality: as regards,
for instance, the type of sauce that best goes with it;
or the way of using it, with meat or vegetable stock, or
drained and served with sauces of every kind. Pasta
shapes stimulate culinary creativity because they are
themselves the outcome of a creative process. The
countless shapes of pasta are the basis for thousands
of possible recipes, each one different and
characteristic. And this distinctive element of pasta is
mainly created by just one object: the die.
A die is a basic component of a press: the dough,
formed in the kneading tank and then driven by the
extrusion screw towards the head of the press, is
forced through the die. A die is composed of a main
support, normally made of bronze. This support is
drilled with special techniques and each hole is made
to house a drawing insert. The shape and type of
insert determines the final shape of the pasta. The
dough is pressed through the insert, which provides
the basic structure of the pasta (tube, hollow, sprial).
Behind the die there is often an additional structure
that bends, folds or cuts the pasta to form the final

The classic material for the insert is bronze, which is

still entirely used to make traditional dies. Dies made
entirely of bronze have the feature of giving the
surface of the pasta a minutely jagged and porous
appearance, with highlights making it look white: this
is a direct consequence of the nature of the material
used for the die since the surface of bronze is never
perfectly smooth.

6 The pasta is placed in a drying tank in which heat,
moisture, and drying time are strictly regulated.
The drying period differs for the various types of
pasta. It can range from three hours for elbow
macaroni and egg noodles to as much as 12 hours
for spaghetti. The drying time is critical because if
the pasta is dried too quickly it will break and if it
is dried too slowly, the chance for spoilage
increases. The oxygen level in the tank is also
regulated, and lab technicians test frequently for
salmonella and other bacteria. Careful handling of
the pasta during the drying period is also crucial.
Spaghetti is the most fragile of the noodles and is
therefore hung high above the floor.

7 Fresh pasta is folded in pre-measured amounts into
clear plastic containers. As the containers move
along a conveyer belt, a plastic sheet covers each
container and is sealed with a hot press. At the
same time, a small tube sucks the air of the
container and replaces it with a mixture of carbon
dioxide and nitrogen to prolong the product's
shelf-life. Labels listing the type of noodle,
nutritional information, cooking instructions, and
expiration date are attached to the top of the

containers. Dried pasta is loaded, either manually

or by machine, into stainless steel buckets (usually
of heavy gauge type 304) which move along a
conveyer belt to the appropriate packaging station.
The pasta is measured by machine into pre-printed
boxes, which also list the type of noodle,
ingredients, preparation, and expiration date.
Again, careful handling is important. For example,
because lasagna noodles are particularly fragile,
workers place them on metal slides that ease the
pasta into boxes. The boxes are then sealed by
machine. Conveying system can be constructed in
"S," "C," or "Z" configurations, or as horizontal
conveyer belts. These systems move the pasta up
and down and across the plant at heights up to 10
feet (3 m). Workers at the floor-level stations
monitor the packaging process. The mechanism
allows for workers to package the pasta manually if
Quality Control
The manufacturing of pasta is subject to strict federal
regulations for food production. Federal inspectors
schedule regular visits to insure that the company is
adhering to goverrnment laws. In addition, each
company sets its own standards for quality, some of
which are set in practice before the pasta reaches the
plant. Lab technicians test the semolina flour for color,
texture, and purity before it is removed from rail cars.
Protein and moisture content are measured and
monitored on sophisticated quality control computer
In the plant, technicians constantly test the pasta for
elasticity, texture, taste, and tolerance to overcooking.
Plant workers are required to wear haimets and plastic

gloves. Mixing machines are scrupulously cleaned after

each batch of pasta passes through them. The drying
process is strictly monitored to guard against spoilage.

Homemade Pasta

The popularity of pasta has spread to the home-cooking

arena. Pasta-rolling machines and pasta cookbooks are
available at house-wares stores and in cooks' catalogs.
The recipe for homemade pasta is similar to the
industrial process with the exception that eggs are
generally used in all home pasta recipes. Sometimes oil
is added to the mixture, particularly if a lesser grade of
flour is used.
The flour is measured out onto a wooden or marble
surface and formed into a mound with a well in the
center. Eggs, water, oil and any other desired
ingredients are poured into the well and mixed lightly
with a fork. Then, beginning from the outside of the
mound, the flour is incorporated into the center.
The dough is kneaded for approximately five minutes
until a smooth, elastic ball is achieved. Rolling the
dough into sheets is done with a long Italian-style
rolling pin or with a rolling machine. Most rolling
machines have attachments for cutting the dough into
various forms of pasta such as spaghetti, fettucine,
lasagna, or ravioli. The dough can also be cut by hand
using a sharp knife or rolling blade. Specially marked
rolling pins that imprint squares on the dough or ravioli
trays can be used for making stuffed pasta. Extrusion
machines for making tube-style pasta such as rigatoni
or fusilli can also be purchased for home use.

The Future
Pasta continues to increase in popularity. The National
Pasta Foods Association estimates that the average
American will eat more than 29 pounds (13 kg) of pasta
each year by the turn of the century. Highly rated for its
nutritional value, pasta is an ideal meal for people who

are paying more attention to their dietary intake. In

addition, people are finding less time to prepare meals,
and pasta is easily made.
Pasta manufacturers are responding to this demand by
introducing a wide variety of dried and fresh pastas.
One recent innovation is no-boil pasta that is partially
cooked at the plant, making this already easy-toprepare food even simpler to bring to the table at
mealtime. New lines of fat- and cholesterol-free ravioli
are on the market as well as organically-grown pasta
products. Two new grains, South American quinoa and
Egyptian kamut, are being used to make wheat-free

Where To Learn More


Bugialli, Guiliano. Bugialli on Pasta. Simon and

Schuster, 1988.
Toussaint-Samat, Maguelonne. A History of Food.
(Translated from the French by Anthea Bell). Blackwell
Publishers, 1992.


Bannon, Lisa. "Italians Do Still Eat Oodles of Noodles,

But Trend Is Limp." Wall Street Journal, May 10, 1994,
p. Al.
"What Is Pasta?" Borden, Inc., 1994.
"Custom-Manufactured Pasta." Food Engineering,
January 1991, p. 71.
Giese, James. "Pasta: New Twists on an Old Product."
Food Technology, February 1992, p. 118-26.
McMath, Robert. "Pasta's New World Order." Adweek's
Marketing Week, November 25, 1991, p. 26
Mary F. McNulty