Difference Between Pasta and Macaroni [Here’s What to Know!]


One of my favorite recipes is Macaroni. There is nothing in this world that this dish can’t heal. Well, it might be an exaggeration, but I like to believe it does! The little heavenly chunks of cheesy goodness taste equally good any time of the day. Also, it’s super easy to make! But, perfecting it is complex, just like the dish itself.

It raises the question of whether there are any differences between macaroni and pasta if any.

The key difference between pasta and macaroni is that “Pasta” is a generic term used to refer to all types of pasta. Whereas macaroni refers to tube-shaped types of hollow and dry pasta. In the US, macaroni mainly refers to the little curved-shaped tubes called elbow macaroni.

However, there is a lot more to understand about this topic. In this article, I will break down this topic in a detailed manner such that it is easy for you to understand. So, let’s get started!

difference between Macaroni and Pasta

You may have already understood the key difference between macaroni and pasta. But, the truth is, there are more subtle differences. Let’s understand them further –

Pasta   Macaroni 
Pasta is a generic term used to refer to all types of pasta. Macaroni(Maccheroni in Italian) is used for a specific type of tubular pasta. 
It comes in various shapes and sizes.   There are different types of tubular pasta. In America, the elbow shape is commonly referred to as Macaroni. 
Pasta originated in Italy and is authentically Italian.   The elbow macaroni became synonymous with macaroni due to a dish that became popular in America called Mac n Cheese.   
Pasta can be of the dry and fresh variety. Macaroni is a dry variety of pasta. 

Can I use Macaroni instead of Pasta?

An easy way to understand macaroni and pasta is if we understand that –  All Macaroni is pasta and but not all pasta is macaroni. So, essentially macaroni is pasta, and it is also called “macaroni pasta” or simply “macaroni.” 

Pasta refers to the various shapes made out of flour and water, and salt.  There are two kinds of Pasta – Fresh pasta, “pasta fresco” as it is called in Italian and Dry pasta called “pasta secco” in Italian. 

Fresh pasta is made from flour, water, salt, and eggs. It has a lesser shelf life compared to dry pasta.  On the other hand, dry pasta does not use eggs. The dough is made out of flour, water, and salt and created in the desired shape, and dried. This process not only alters the taste but also improves the shelf life of the dry pasta significantly. 

Macaroni is a version of dry pasta which is shaped like hollow tubes. Thus, it is also called tubular pasta in simpler terms. 

A few varieties of tubular pasta are ditali, cannelloni, manicotti, penne, rigatoni, and elbows. 

Is Macaroni American or Italian? 

The origins of Pasta lie in Italy, but macaroni is an American word for Italian pasta. In America, macaroni has become synonymous with the small elbow shape of the pasta, which is famously used in the dish ‘Macaroni Cheese’ or popularly called ‘Mac n Cheese’ and ‘Macaroni Salad.’ 

Can I substitute Macaroni for Pasta?

Macaroni can be easily substituted for any other Pasta. However, it is recommended that it be substituted within the same family. Maccheroni – the Italian term for tube-shaped dried pasta belongs to a family of tubular kinds of pasta.

Tubular pasta such as Penne is mostly famous for the large surface area of the pasta and its hollow shape, giving it the ability to hold sauces or cheese. So, every mouthful brings the softness and flavors of the sauce or the gooeyness of the cheese, and the rough texture of the pasta. 

The perfect way to cook pasta is “al dente”. Keep the pasta soft on the outside and firm on the inside. 

Is Macaroni better than Pasta?

It is difficult to say if macaroni is better than Pasta as Macaroni is also pasta. But, each pasta has its uniqueness

Different shapes of pasta blend with the sauces to bring different textures to the recipe. One or more shapes can also be mixed to give a recipe a complexity of texture. 

Such as mixing Penne and Spirali in tomato-based pasta can be an interesting and fun way to spruce up your regular recipe. 

Is Macaroni healthy?

Macaroni is touted as unhealthy mostly because it is loaded with carbohydrates. The addition of a heavy-based cheese sauce makes it even more calorie ridden. 

To get more benefits while eating pasta, one must choose whole wheat macaroni over regular macaroni. It has the benefits of fiber and is packed with complex carbohydrates, keeping you full for longer. Also, it has other nutrients such as protein, iron, magnesium, and zinc. 

Suggested Read – What Creams to Use for Pasta? [With Tables and Examples!]

One can even opt for pasta made from chickpeas, beans, or lentils. People who prefer being gluten-free have options for milk substitutes such as vegan milk.

Are Macaroni and Cheese a Pasta?

Macaroni Cheese or Mac n Cheese – is not pasta! Although this is highly debated and depends on whom you ask.

It’s a dish consisting of cheddar cheese, milk, and elbow macaroni mixed and baked. The melted cheese gives a soft gooey texture which became popular comfort food in America. Although the origins of the recipe are not known recipe was found in Northern Europe in the 1700s. Brought home to America by Thomas Jefferson, who discovered it on one of his diplomatic trips to France.  

Initially, it was restricted to the upper echelons of society but percolated downstream slowly. Kraft popularised a boxed version of the same. 

Fun Fact: Canadians consume the most amount of Kraft Macaroni Cheese. In Canada, it is popularly called KD.

Does Pasta Salad differ from Macaroni Salad?

Macaroni Salad is dressed with mayonnaise, mimicking the creamy, gooey, cheesy effect of Pasta. Pasta Salad, on the other hand, is doused with a generous dose of vinegar or vinaigrette and olive oil. 

Thus, the two differ completely. 

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