The question ‘what flour should I use for making pasta? is not as straightforward as we would wish it to be. Even the Italians have their own favorite flours and techniques for making pasta. This can vary from region to region and even door to door!
Below is a semi-comprehensive outline of the flours used to make pasta in Italy. We do have a simplified version HERE and we hope that we have been able to go some way to answering the question. We would say however, that we are constantly learning of new styles of dough, new ingredients and techniques. So if you are just beginning your pasta making journey, we wish you confidence – because that is all you are going to need!
About Tipo 00 flour
Tipo 00 flour is the most commonly used flour in Italian households where they use it for making cakes, pizza dough and egg pasta by hand on the kitchen counter. This particular flour is not high in protein and therefore not suitable for making pasta without egg.
Tipo 00 flour is not high in protein and therefore not suitable for making rustic Italian breads. Italians will often create a blend of semolina flour and Tipo 00 for bread and pizza making.
‘Tipo ‘OO‘ is a term from Italy. Italians use the term ‘Tipo O‘ and ‘Tipo OO‘ to describe how finely the flour is milled. Importantly, the gluten levels in Tipo “OO” flour can range from 6% – 12.5%. This is due to the difference in the tender wheat grown in Europe. This is the reason why here in America, you will often find labelling to describe Tipo 00 suitable for making pizza and making pasta by hand using egg.
If you are unable to get Tipo 00, then a great substitute is Swans Down cake flour. This is readily available in many American supermarkets and at very reasonable prices.
Importantly, Tipo 00 by itself does not make what is considered to be the best pasta because it does not have high enough levels of gluten for creating an elastic dough. However, for making cakes and pastries, Tipo 00 is Italy’s go-to flour. Interestingly, the flour is not grey like American all purpose flour but very white and it has a delicious, creamy aroma.
In general terms there are 5 choices when selecting flour for making pasta
Strong bread flour
A good strong white bread flour is sometimes used for making pasta. Although in our experience, this type of high gluten flour can give your pasta a pasty texture if made without the addition of egg. The pasta can be made with or without eggs because there is enough strength in the gluten in a good flour to hold the pasta together. The eggs are not essential and merely make a richer pasta.
This is the one that the purists use and is also the one recommended by Antonio Carluccio in his books on Italian food. A bag of OO flour usually says on it “di grano tenero” which means soft grain. OO signifies very fine so what we’ve actually got is a fine soft white flour. Because it is a soft white, it will be low in gluten and will therefore need something to keep it together and that means you have to use eggs as a binder. Carluccio talks about the “dentiness” of pasta meaning that pasta al dente should have some firmness, almost crunchiness to it and should not have a paste-like texture. A very high gluten flour can manage this on it’s own, but as OO is low gluten, the eggs provide that degree of firmness required, as well as holding the pasta together.
Is a halfway house between a strong flour and OO flour. It is usually a blend of a very strong flour such as durum flour and a softer white wheat flour. Because of the strong flour, it will contain more gluten than OO flour and will generally make pasta without the addition of eggs. However the pasta itself will be less firm if the eggs are left out. It will require less egg than OO because it already contains more gluten. The balancing act between eggs and gluten will determine the final texture and really it comes down to personal preference and how rich you want the pasta to be. In short, the more Os that there are in the name of the flour, the more eggs it will need. If you want to put lots of eggs in, go for a OO. If you only want a little egg in, go for the O or the strong flour. If you are not bothered about egg at all, then use the strong flour. However, this pasta will be a little pasty, doughy and sticky.
Comes from durum wheat which is a very hard high gluten variety. It is finely ground semolina and is used commercially for blending with other flours as in O flour above and for the manufacture of dried pasta. Many varieties of dried pasta list their ingredients as durum flour or durum wheat semolina (in pasta terms it’s the same thing) and that is all. This is the flour that we and other makers of great pasta, choose to use to make pasta. It can be mixed with water to form a dough or with egg for a very rich, egg pasta.
Comes from the heart or endosperm of the wheat grain. Durum wheat semolina is used for dried pasta because it is very high in gluten and because as semolina it is ground fairly coarsely, rather like ground cornmeal, so it absorbs less water. It therefore dries faster whilst maintaining it’s shape and will cook without falling apart.
It needs no eggs and so from a commercial point of view is far easier to handle. In Italy, semolina flour is preferred for making handmade, shaped pastas like orecchietti, trofie, cavatelli, etc.