Pasta is a versatile ingredient that can be paired with all kinds of meats and vegetables. It is easy to cook and makes a filling meal. But can you eat pasta if you are vegan or have lactose intolerance?
Does pasta have dairy? Pasta noodles don’t contain any dairy. They are made with wheat flour and water. Many pasta sauces and stuffings, however, do contain dairy ingredients. Additionally, pasta is almost always topped with cheese.
Continue reading to learn if pasta is also vegan, what are common dairy-free pasta sauces, and what to keep in mind when ordering pasta at a restaurant in case you need it to be lactose-free.
Is Pasta Dairy-Free?
People who have lactose intolerance need to always check if the dishes they are eating are dairy-free or not. While lactose intolerance is a common problem especially among adults, not everyone understands what this problem is.
You have lactose intolerance if your body is unable to break down lactose in dairy. Lactose is the sugar found in milk and dairy products made of real milk, including cheese, butter, and various creams.
But lactose intolerance is only one of the reasons why you may wonder if pasta is dairy-free or not. People following a plant-based diet should also check if the foods they are eating are dairy-free.
Almost everyone loves pasta, no matter what their food preferences are. So, it is a popular question if pasta is dairy-free.
The answer is yes, pasta is dairy-free. Pasta is typically made of wheat flour and water. It doesn’t contain any dairy ingredients. So, you can safely eat pasta even if you have lactose intolerance.
Is Pasta Vegan?
So, pasta is dairy-free. But is it vegan? Most packaged pasta is vegan. As mentioned above, the main ingredients are wheat flour and water.
But eggs are a possible ingredient used in the making of pasta. Fresh pasta, in particular, is very commonly made with eggs.
With this said, you may still come across pre-packaged pasta varieties that have eggs in the ingredient list, such as egg tagliatelle, pappardelle, etc. So, pasta is dairy-free but it is not always vegan.
What To Consider When Ordering Dairy-Free Pasta
If you are eating dairy-free, there are a few things you should keep in mind when ordering a plate of pasta.
You can certainly ask the waiter to help you out, but knowing a few basic things about the popular pasta sauces and varieties is surely helpful. Here’s what to consider.
Even if pasta noodles themselves are dairy-free, the most common pasta varieties are almost always served with a cheese topping. So, you may ask for a plate of pasta without the cheese topping or a vegan cheese substitute.
If you are making vegan pasta dishes at home, you can substitute the parmesan topping with nutritional yeast.
Nutritional yeast is rich in vitamins and minerals. It also has a savory flavor that many people consider to be similar to real cheese. Additionally, when you sprinkle nutritional yeast on top of pasta, it looks quite similar to cheese.
Pasta dishes may contain sauces made of different ingredients, including dairy. So, if you are not familiar with the sauce in the pasta dish you are ordering, check with the waiter to make sure there is no dairy in it.
There are so many varieties of stuffed pasta. Just like pasta sauces, the stuffings may also contain dairy ingredients, such as cheese, milk, heavy cream, sour cream, etc.
What Are Popular Dairy-Free Pasta Sauces?
Pasta is delicious when it is topped with a hearty sauce.
However, if you are lactose-intolerant or have to keep up with a plant-based diet, you should choose your pasta sauces carefully as many of them contain milk products. Here are three dairy-free pasta sauces.
Marinara is the ultimate tomato-based sauce. It is easy to make at home but you can find delicious marinara in cans at your local stores.
Marinara sauce contains tomatoes as the main ingredient, as well as herbs, garlic, onions, as well as olives, and capers in some cases.
When buying marinara sauce, check the label to confirm that it is dairy-free and vegan. This is because some brands may use chicken stock for the base or add parmesan cheese for flavor.
Aglio e Olio
Aglio e olio may not be as popular as marinara sauce, but it is one of the simplest pasta sauces you can make. Translated from Italian, aglio e olio means garlic and oil, which is exactly what this sauce is made of.
It is typically served with spaghetti. Spaghetti aglio e olio is one of the most popular dishes in Neapolitan cuisine.
You can add parmesan to enrich this sauce. But if you want to keep it dairy-free, enjoy this simple combination of ingredients as is.
Things are a little controversial with the popular Bolognese sauce. Bolognese sauce is one of the widely-known Italian sauces.
The main ingredients being ground beef and tomatoes, this sauce usually goes on long pasta varieties, including spaghetti and fettuccine. Ground pork can be used for Bolognese too.
But is Bolognese sauce dairy-free? Most modern recipes don’t call for any milk or cream for Bolognese sauce.
However, the traditional recipe does include milk. So, if you are eating Bolognese pasta at a restaurant, check to see if they make it with milk.
If you like the creaminess dairy products add to sauces, you can add some dairy-free cream into the Bolognese sauce.
Which Pasta Sauces Contain Dairy?
Many of the popular pasta sauces contain dairy. This is because the milk and cream you add into the sauces improve their texture and flavor. Here are the common pasta sauces that have dairy.
When it comes to pasta sauces that contain dairy, alfredo sauce is the first to come to mind. It is especially good when you want to take a break from all those tomato-based sauces.
But don’t get it wrong, alfredo sauce isn’t any lighter. Alfredo is a rich sauce made with cream and lots of cheese, a big no-no for anyone with lactose intolerance unless it is dairy-free alfredo.
Even if you are not much of a cook, and you love eating but don’t usually remember various dish names, you still probably know pasta carbonara.
Like alfredo sauce, carbonara sauce is quite heavy in dairy ingredients. It contains a good amount of cheese and cream. It also contains eggs, as well as bacon bits.
This super-thick sauce usually goes on spaghetti or other long thick pasta varieties.
Unlike alfredo and carbonara sauces, pesto sauce doesn’t contain as much dairy. This green Italian sauce is traditionally made of basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, and a small amount of parmesan cheese.
That last ingredient is what makes traditional pesto unsuitable for people with lactose intolerance.
Luckily though, there are numerous pesto variations that skip the parmesan cheese. So, you can enjoy this sauce with your pasta for the ultimate plant-based meal.
Many people think of ragu as a dish as they confuse it with ragout. The latter is a French stew-like dish.
Ragu, in its turn, is a popular Italian sauce often served with pasta. Ragu is made with minced or ground meat.
You can use different types of meat for ragu, including beef, pork, veal, poultry, and even fish. Unlike Bolognese, there is only a small amount of tomatoes in a ragu sauce.
Similar to Bolognese sauce, ragu sauces for pasta may or may not contain dairy. Though in the case of ragu, dairy ingredients are more common.
Most ragu recipes add a small amount of heavy cream or milk into the sauce to enrich the flavor, but you can always skip it. You can also buy pre-made dairy-free ragu sauce.
Stuffed Pasta: Is It Dairy-Free?
If you are ordering stuffed pasta, there is a risk of it having lactose-containing ingredients.
One of the most popular fillings for ravioli, a type of square or round enveloped pasta, is ricotta cheese.
This is obviously unsuitable for people who need to eat dairy-free. But you can make dairy-free ravioli fillings using meat, mushrooms, spinach, and more.
The same goes for tortellini. The traditional version of this pasta is stuffed with meat and cheese. But you can always skip the cheese or make tortellini with vegetable stuffings.