Pasta is more complicated than you may think

There are over 1300 types of pasta shapes invented by Italians.

Pasta is more complicated than you may think
Source: The Smithsonian

Don't even try to pretend that you don't have a favorite pasta shape. We're all adults here, and we all have a special place in our hearts for one type of pasta over all of the others. Are you a macaroni fan? Perhaps you prefer the formality of bowtie pasta? Or maybe you like those artisan little snail shapes that catch all the sauce.

There are over 1300 types of pasta shapes invented by Italians. But did you know that pasta comes in different shapes to match up with different sauces? And here we've all been throwing the two together all willy-nilly.

"It's important to pair the correct type of noodle with a particular type of sauce so that the sauce can bind to the pasta or allow the pasta to absorb the sauce dependent on its style," explains Chef Barry Tonkinson, Director of Culinary Research and Development at the Institute of Culinary Education. "Different pasta shapes and styles add a good contrast in texture to the sauce you're using."

As a general rule: a "big, thick, hearty noodle can stand up to big, thick, hearty sauces, whereas thinner and lighter noodles need to be treated with lighter style sauces and more finesse," says Hari Cameron, owner and chef at grandpa (MAC) and a 2016 James Beard Best Chefs in America semifinalist.

Many of the different shape names have meanings, too. You know campanelle? The rolled-up flower-like pasta shape? Well, in Italian, "campanelle" means "bell flowers" or "little bells." And cavatappi, which is a ridged, curled-up noodle, gets its name from the Italian word for "corkscrews." A single shape can have a couple of different names, too.

Surprisingly enough, some pasta shapes are also patented. Specifically, pasta shapes that are supposed to look like a specific cartoon character, animal or object. The people who design these shapes can even get design patents for them.

In 1991, the US Patent and Trademark Office granted Edward Meyers, Jr. three design patents for three cosmic pasta shapes: an astronaut, a spaceship and the planet Saturn. He previously worked for CPC Foods, which is now part of Unilever, making those Knorr "Pasta Sides" and other dishes that kids love, hence Meyers also creating pasta in lots of animal shapes like elephants, lions and giraffes.