Fresh or dried, baked or boiled, in a salad or smothered in a rich sauce, pasta is incredibly versatile as well as being one of the most popular and best-loved foods in the world.
With hundreds of different types, every year over 15 million tonnes of pasta is made around the world, with much of it being served up with a rich ragu or covered in hot, gooey cheese.
Here are the answers to the questions ‘how is pasta produced in a factory’ and ‘how is dried pasta made?’
Pasta - A Short History
The most common story about how pasta became so inextricably linked to Italy was that explorer Marco Polo brought a form of pasta back from his travels in China but this is largely believed to be apocryphal.
A type of millet-based noodle dated to around 2,000 BC was excavated from a dig in China and it is generally accepted that pasta was introduced to Sicily by North African traders around the eighth or ninth centuries. They would carry and eat dry strands of durum wheat on long voyages and the complex carbohydrates gave them the energy they needed for such long and arduous treks.
The industrial production of pasta started around the fifteenth century and by the 1700s, pasta had spread throughout Europe and to the Americas.
The first appearance of the classic tomato sauce on pasta is from Francesco Leonardi’s 1790 cookbook L’Apicio Moderno and today, lasagne, pasta bolognese and mac ‘n’ cheese is considered by many to be the ultimate comfort food.
Let’s take a look at the question on everyone’s lips – how is pasta manufactured?
The Production Process of Pasta
Pasta is made from a dough of flour and water, and can be either fresh or dried. There are many different types of pasta, each with its own unique shape and texture. The process of making pasta begins with mixing the flour – a milled durum wheat known as semolina flour – and water together. The process of how pasta is produced in factories usually follows a number of key steps.
The Mixing & Kneading
The wheat is either processed in-house or delivered to the processing plant from a flour mill, with the resulting semolina stored in silos which can usually hold as much as 70 tonnes depending on the size of the production plant. From the silos, it’s fed into a huge mixer where water is added and a tough, lumpy dough forms.
Rolling The Dough
From the mixer, the dough passes through a machine known as a laminator, where it’s rolled by giant cylinders similar to rolling pins. It’s then flattened to remove any air bubbles and remaining water, to reach an optimum moisture content of around 10-12%.
The pasta dough is then pasteurised to kill any existing bacteria. This process is done by steaming the dough at a temperature of 104°C.
Each different type of pasta is prepared differently. Long, straight pasta such as spaghetti, pappardelle or linguine are stretched and cut by rotating blades to the right lengths. Shaped pasta such as macaroni, fusilli or rigatoni are made by pushing the dough through an extruder. This forces the pasta through metal dies using a rotating screw and they’re again cut to size using rotating blades.
‘How is dried pasta made’ is one of the most common questions asked about the pasta production process, and in fact the answer is relatively simple. It used to be dried out in the sun but today, the methods are more mechanical. Different types of pasta need different drying times, for example macaroni only needs around three hours, whilst spaghetti requires as much as 12 hours to dry completely. The pasta is placed inside large industrial drying machines where a constant flow of circulating hot, moist air dries the pasta to a perfect consistency. The faster it dries, the more likely it is to break. The slower it dries, the more likely it is to spoil, so the process is very carefully monitored. Oxygen levels must be limited to prevent any bacterial growth.
Finally, the pasta can be packaged and sealed. Air is removed from the packaging and carbon dioxide and nitrogen added to give the pasta a longer shelf life. The packets are boxed up and shipped all over the world. This is the final step in the process of how pasta is manufactured.
Timeless Product, Modern Concepts
Today, more and more companies are packing their pasta in recyclable materials such as brown paper instead of plastic. Additionally, producers are increasingly developing what are known as pasta refilleries. These are pasta production plants that allow you to bring your own containers to be filled with pasta so there’s absolutely no packaging waste whatsoever.