16 Boxed Penne Brands, Ranked

As pasta goes, penne is one of our favorite types. Its tubular shape makes it ideal for holding onto a more substantial sauce, like a Bolognese, and its slightly more toothsome texture makes it satiating, helping us feel fuller, faster and longer. With so many types of penne out there, it may seem like pasta is pasta. How different could one type be from another anyway? Well, we can tell you they can vary widely from brand to brand and from type to type, particularly when you begin factoring in gluten-free, whole wheat, and high-protein alternatives.

We set out to determine which penne pasta reigned supreme. We scoured a few grocery stores looking for as many brands as possible, finally settling upon 16 different types of penne. While only a couple of the brands labeled themselves as a penne rigate, meaning penne with little ridges lining each noodle vertically, every penne variety we sampled was rigate-style. This is for a reason. The furrows on penne-rigate tend to hold onto sauce better than their smooth cousins.

For each pasta, we cooked them al dente and tasted them plain without any sauce to get the best sense of the pasta flavor itself. We graded each on a scale of one to 10 based on smell, texture, taste, and, most importantly, aftertaste, which for some gluten-free varieties, was a serious factor. Once we graded each one, we ranked them from worst to best.

16. Banza Penne Made From Chickpeas

Before getting too far into the weeds on this, we have to clearly state that we understand the need for and deliberately sought out gluten-free penne options to include in this list. We wanted to give those needing gluten-free options a clear sense of what they may be in for and where to focus their attention when seeking a suitable alternative for a pasta fix. With that out of the way, at the bottom of the list of penne brands was the Banza Penne Made From Chickpeas. The Banza brand, while gluten-free, is more about shifting eating habits away from animal protein to bean protein for health and environmental reasons. There's a lot to like about that mission. Sadly, there's not a lot to like about this pasta.

The back of the box of this pasta reads: "Why make pasta out of chickpeas?" When it comes to this pasta, we agree. Why? While the texture of this pasta was the best of the chickpea pasta types we tried, it smelled like raw chickpeas. Its flavor was redolent of raw falafel batter before you fry it. We love chickpeas and falafel, but typically the uncooked chickpea flavor dissipates once you fry a falafel, leaving you with a delicious crispy chickpea fritter. No amount of cooking or pasta sauce could mask the raw chickpea flavor of this pasta. As such, despite its nutritional value, we don't recommend it.

15. Veggiecraft Farms Pasta Made With Zucchini Penne

The second lowest-scoring penne on our list was the Veggiecraft Farms Pasta Made With Zucchini Penne. Veggiecraft Farms is a brand focused on helping people incorporate more vegetables into their diets. It offers various pasta shapes made from cauliflower, sweet potato, and zucchini. We only found the zucchini flavor in stock at the grocery store, so we picked up this one. We love zucchini and zoodles, so we had high hopes for this pasta. Sadly, those hopes were quickly dashed.

The first thing we noticed the second we drained this pasta from the pasta water was its smell, which though slightly reminiscent of zucchini, smelled more like dirt. Its texture was also problematic, having a grainy mouthfeel and a starchiness that left a film on our tongues. The pasta also tended to fall apart easily, making it hard to top with any sauce without turning into a soggy mess. And the flavor tasted like grass, for lack of a better description. The one place we could conceive of this pasta possibly working if the shape would hold is as a salad with a bumper crop of fresh vegetables tossed in an Italian vinaigrette. That said, we'd be curious to see if the cauliflower or sweet potato flavors were any better, as we do like the idea of this pasta, and it is gluten-free.

14. Barilla Chickpea Penne

One of the biggest names in pasta internationally, Barilla started in 1877 when Pietro Barilla opened his first pasta shop in Parma, Italy. Over its more than a century legacy, the company has continued to evolve and reinvent itself to accommodate every corner of the market, including those needing gluten-free, low-carb, and ready-made options, all with the pursuit of maintaining the highest quality and upholding its stellar reputation. That said, it is not surprising that it should delve into the chickpea pasta business, and while this penne is high in protein and gluten-free, it has some issues we couldn't get past.

First, it smells like hummus, which we found promising, as we love hummus. Unfortunately, that aroma didn't transfer into its flavor, which was very vegetable-forward and almost herbaceous. Most of all, the texture was an issue. Even if you cook it al dente, it quickly begins to crack, fall apart, and is incredibly grainy, like a hummus that hasn't been puréed adequately, which left an unappealing blanket on our tongues. With that, though it was better in flavor than the Banza, it was still not a pasta we'd seek out for a low-carb or gluten-free pasta variation.

13. Simple Truth Organic Gluten Free Chickpea Penne Pasta

Our final chickpea pasta variety came from the Simple Truth Organic line of pasta, the Kroger Co. Family of Stores' USDA certified organic store brand. One interesting thing we noted from the Simple Truth Organic pasta line was that it was the only pasta encased in an extra plastic bag that was vacuum sealed inside the box it was packaged in. We presume this is to help keep moisture away from the pasta and give it a longer shelf life.

While this was the best of the chickpea pasta flavors, it was still not a great pasta. It has the most minimally offensive smell of the bunch, which was pleasantly chickpea-forward but not in an aggressive way. Its flavor was also decidedly chickpea, but not displeasingly so. Its main issue was its texture, which was mushy, thin, and fell apart almost instantly. It also left a distinct film on our tongues that lasted quite a while — at least as long as it took for us to cook our next batch of pasta to sample, so that's about 10 minutes. The bottom line with chickpea pasta — leave the chickpeas for salads, hummus, and falafel, or make fried chickpeas, which are delicious snacks.

12. Barilla Red Lentil Penne

Our next batch of gluten-free pasta was made of red lentils, which are a great source of protein and can be delicious in soups. In fact, we generally prefer red lentils to any other type of lentil in almost all recipes thanks to its delicate texture, which tends to be creamier and cook faster. Unfortunately, our fondness for the red lentil ended with pasta. Though these were markedly better than the chickpea kinds of pasta, they still left much to be desired.

The Barilla Red Lentil Penne had an overwhelmingly sour aroma and was reminiscent of soil. The texture was extremely grainy and gummy, and while its flavor was that of lentil, it had an almost minerally metallic aftertaste that was incredibly aggressive. It remained in our mouths for more than five minutes. Anecdotally, we were also informed by parties we trust who happen to require a gluten-free diet that the lentil and chickpea kinds of pasta had a somewhat undesirable gastrointestinal side effect due to the high fiber, which may make those prone to gastrointestinal distress choose to reconsider any bean or legume-based kinds of pasta.

11. Simple Truth Organic Gluten Free Red Lentil Penne Pasta

Of the bean or vegetable kinds of pasta, the Simple Truth Organic Gluten Free Red Lentil Penne Pasta was the best by a small margin. This pasta had a delightful aroma. It was earthy and lentil-forward with a nuttiness that was quite inviting. Its texture was also superior, with a chewiness similar to wheat-based pasta. Initially, it had a good flavor. While it obviously tasted like lentils, it seemed to us that it could be topped with a nice tomato sauce, and we would be satiated.

Unfortunately, things soured after we swallowed the pasta. There was an overtly synthetic, plastic flavor that was incredibly bitter. We blurted out an audible "yuck" when that hit, which was deflating since it started so well. Despite that, it could be salvageable if made into a pasta bake with lots of vegetables, meat, sauce, and cheese. These would mask that aftertaste well enough to allow the pasta to act as the binder for the other ingredients.

10. Barilla Gluten Free Penne

And the winner of the best gluten-free pasta goes to Barilla. That is correct. For our money, this gluten-free pasta was the best impasta (see what we did there?). In all seriousness, though, it had a fairly neutral flavor, which was welcome compared with the other gluten-free options. Its smell was redolent of corn and rice, its main ingredients, but not so much so that it was distracting or off-putting. Though its texture was slightly gummy, it was the most akin to a wheat-based pasta, making it the clear favorite.

We also appreciated that Barilla clearly denotes that its gluten-free pasta is manufactured in a dedicated gluten-free line, which means it is not susceptible to cross-contamination and is suitable for those who are gluten intolerant, have celiac disease, or have a wheat allergy. It also finished cooking in about the same amount of time as wheat-based pasta, which is convenient. This is a gluten-free pasta that you could serve the whole family regardless of whether or not they need to follow a gluten-free diet, and they would all be happy.

9. Kroger 100% Whole Grain Penne Rigate

Our lowest-rated wheat-based penne comes from the Kroger grocery store. Its 100% Whole Grain Penne Rigate had us pondering a penne for your thoughts. There just was not much there. It had a nice texture that you would expect from a whole grain pasta, chewy but not overly dense. But the flavor was almost non-existent. It was like eating cardboard. We tried it a few times to see if we were missing something, but this is a very neutral pasta that is fine — nothing special. 

That said, if you are searching for pasta with a bit more fiber in it from a store brand that might cost a bit less than some of the more premium pasta options, this would be serviceable. It is not offensive in any way, and if the point is to highlight an elegant sauce rather than the pasta itself, say an alfredo, puttanesca, or arrabbiata, this pasta could work perfectly well.

8. Great Value Penne

Next on our list was the Walmart Great Value brand penne. This may not mean anything, but it was notable that of all the pasta we sampled, the only ones that didn't have a plastic window through which we could see the pasta were the kinds of pasta that came from the Great Value line. These were solid boxes meaning the texture and size of the pasta were not visible. Beyond that, the pasta was, yet again, fine. 

It had a decent mouthfeel for wheat-based pasta and a bland flavor. What we most noticed about this pasta was its aftertaste, which, for lack of a better word, had a synthetic undertone. There was a chemical residue that was noticeable, but not intolerable. Again, for an inexpensive, plain, run-of-the-mill penne, this brand would fit the bill. On a scale of one to 10, it was the only penne that landed smack dab in the middle at five.

7. Barilla Protein+ Penne

The Barilla Protein+ Penne caught us off guard, to be honest. We were hoping for a lot but expected very little because the added protein in this pasta comes from lentils, chickpeas, and peas. After our experience with the other bean and legume-based pasta, we were a bit trepidatious. The first thing to hit you as you drain this pasta is the scent of split peas. This wasn't a deal breaker. We happen to love a great split pea soup, so it felt a bit nostalgic.

The texture was also fantastic, just the perfect al dente, not dense enough to make you feel like your jaw is getting a workout with every bite. Its flavor tastes less like peas than its smell would suggest, though it did have a pea-like aftertaste with a minerally, almost iron-like film that stuck to your teeth. This isn't entirely unexpected for something with peas, as these vegetables are one of the most iron-rich plant foods. For nutritional value, we could appreciate this pasta. And despite the slightly odd aftertaste, we'd happily incorporate it into our daily diets.

6. Simple Truth Organic 100% Whole Wheat Penne Rigate

The Simple Truth Organic 100% Whole Wheat Penne Rigate was a solid pasta. It has a great, nutty aroma that distinctly embodies that whole wheat goodness we had been hoping for with the whole wheat and whole grain variations of wheat-based pasta varieties. This is a scent that announces: "Eat me! I am healthy!" The only reason this pasta didn't score higher was because it had the least satisfying texture of the bunch. It was a bit on the soft side, which may have had to do with us slightly overcooking it, but even when overcooked, most of the whole wheat kinds of pasta still had a good bite to them.

Its flavor was also solid: wheaty, well-rounded, and natural, without any bizarre chemical aftertaste. It was a pasta that announced it was healthy from the get-go and followed through on that promise. One strange thing to note: The serving size of this pasta is listed at 0.667 cups or 56 grams of pasta. Who cooks 0.667 cups of pasta? Where does one even buy a measuring cup of this size?

5. Great Value Whole Wheat Penne

Our top-rated whole wheat penne came from the Walmart Great Value brand. It was the least expensive of the bunch and the most satisfying. That's a win-win. We honestly couldn't find any fault with this pasta. It had a pleasing toothsome texture, a wheat-forward nose, a rich, nutty flavor, and zero aftertaste, at least not one that was intrusive in any capacity. In fact, we kept going back and forth to decide where to rank this pasta because it was neck and neck with some of the top premium pasta brands.

The only reason it placed where it did was that it might just be a slightly acquired taste for someone accustomed to regular pasta rather than a more hearty whole wheat one. For reference, if you are debating switching from plain pasta to whole wheat pasta for health reasons, the Great Value whole wheat has five grams of dietary fiber versus just two grams for its regular penne. We also felt that the whole wheat was markedly better in flavor than the plain Great Value.

4. Creamette Penne Rigate

The Creamette brand began with the ingenuity of James T. Williams, who in 1896 opened his first grocery store in Minneapolis. His invention of quick-cooking pasta put him on the map, eventually making his brand the "recipe company," where a recipe was included on every box of pasta. The brand was sold to the Borden Dairy Company in 1979, where it has remained.

The Creamette brand name and its existence under the umbrella of a dairy company encapsulate what we thought best described these svelte penne noodles: They are creamy. That sounds like a cop-out, but it was the first thing that came to mind as we bit into these noodles. Part of this may have to do with their distinctly narrow shape, which was the thinnest of all the penne we sampled. It also had the best nutty aroma. Its flavor was neutral, with no overbearing aftertaste. These also cooked the fastest of all the penne we tried. There's a lot to love about this pasta, and it doesn't betray its namesake.

3. Private Selection Italian Penne Rigate

The Kroger Company has diversified its store brand labels with more options than most grocery chains. Though it boasts several premium house brands, its Private Selection label is the most competitive premium brand behind its Kroger store brand. Due to streamlining its manufacturing, it has successfully kept these premium products at a discounted price, which is appealing to consumers.

Its Penne Rigate is no exception to this rule. It is a fantastic pasta. When we sampled it, we immediately thought of the pasta we ate while traveling in Italy, which says a lot. It had a fabulous al dente texture, a great taste with just the right amount of wheat flavor without being too overwhelming, and a pleasant aftertaste. Overall, this high-end brand is a premium pasta garnering a solid rating of nine out of 10 on our ranking system. It only came in third because it was so similar to the next pasta that we couldn't decide which was second and which was third, so we had to flip a coin, but these are neck and neck.

2. De Cecco Penne Rigate no. 41

De Cecco is an Italian company that has manufactured premium pasta since 1886. Its pasta is made with freshly milled semolina wheat, using a bronze-plated die cut, and slow-dried using a low-temperature drying method under strict quality control. The result is near perfection. What we noted most about this pasta was its distinctly sweet aroma, characteristic of semolina flour. It has a satisfying toothsome texture and a mild flavor with little to no aftertaste.

There is nothing wrong with this pasta, except perhaps its price tag, which is slightly more expensive than the other brands we selected, but not by much. In this case, we feel like you are paying for quality and consistency, which is conferred by the De Cecco brand name. If you are making a dish where you really want the penne to shine through, this is a great option. Perhaps use a lighter sauce that won't mask the inherent flavor and texture of the pasta.

1. Barilla Penne

With the only ranking of 10 out of 10 in our rating system, the classic blue box Barilla penne came in on top of our list of penne pasta. It would be hard to argue with a classic. 

This pasta is consistent, flavorful, and easy to cook to perfection every time. It is also moderately priced. Even after sitting for a while and cooling, this pasta maintained its shape and texture, making it ideal for a pasta salad or casserole with heartier ingredients. And these noodles won't collapse under a hefty meatball. It's just that good. Ultimately the most important factor determining our top choice for pasta came down to basics — no frills, no assertive flavor. When the average consumer buys pasta to feed their family, they want to know that what they purchase is a good value and will never disappoint. The classic Barilla blue box penne pasta encapsulates this in our book.