Many of us have embraced the pasta culture. But as you scout through the grocery store aisles for your favorite pasta, have you ever wondered what exactly “whole wheat” or “whole grain” pasta actually is and what goes with it?

They say that within 10 minutes of meeting, Italian men start discussing food. For them, food is synonymous to religion and mixing your pasta with wrong ingredients is sacrilege! Here, we take a look at pasta—the Italian way.

Italian pasta is made of durum wheat, from the Durum region. The wheat grain is composed of three parts: germ, bran and endosperm. While regular pasta (or semolina pasta) is made only with endosperm (the core), whole wheat pasta is made out of all three parts of the grain. It is more digestible and contains more fiber than the regular pasta—in fact, its rich fiber content is what makes whole wheat or whole grain pasta popular.

Contrary to the popular belief that whole-grain pasta is an American invention, it does, in fact, have its origins in Italian cuisine. However, it is gaining popularity worldwide. Paolo Consalvi, an Italian living in New York, works for De Cecco, an Italian pasta company. According to Consalvi, whole wheat pasta is becoming popular in Italy. While whole wheat pasta comprised only 1 percent of total pasta consumed there in 2008, it climbed to 2.7 percent in 2014. In the U.S., whole wheat pasta represents 5 percent of total pasta consumed.

Sal Francomacaro, originally from Naples, has been in the U.S. for more than 16 years. Francomacaro believes that most of his countrymen get disappointed when they visit the Italian restaurants in the U.S. “Here, people add a lot of condiments. Pasta is a light food with just two or three ingredients,” he said.

Francomacaro also recounts an experience when he went to an Italian restaurant on the first day of his arrival to the U.S. “At the counter, they asked me, ‘regular or small pasta’ and I said, ‘regular.’ He came with a bowl which had enough pasta for three people in Italy.” He considers most pasta in the U.S. to be of low quality, mainly because it cooks fast and breaks easily.

The basic ingredient of pasta is flour and water. A simple food, pasta is a first-course meal usually served with meat, which is the main course. Pasta is cooked differently in various regions of Italy—while pasta is more popular in the south, rice (specifically, risotto) is more common in the northern regions.

Different varieties of pasta are used with various ingredients—basically, you cannot use the same kind of pasta for all food types. For example, tagliatelle is the best variety for a meat pasta; meat also goes well with spaghetti or any other wider pasta. With any seafood always use long pasta, such as spaghetti or linguine. You can eat nearly any variety of pasta with vegetables.

“When you make pasta with meat, usually ground meat is used—pasta with chicken is purely American. And for a seafood pasta, we usually use shellfish, clams, mussels, shrimp, or lobster,” Franomacaro instructed.

Another interesting aspect of pasta is the variety of formats, such as long versus short pasta. Short pasta, such as penne, is used more often with red meat. Similarly, pasta with minestrone, beans, and vegetables are common ingredients in short pasta. Then, there are varieties for oven-baked pasta, such as rigatoni, macaroni, and more.

The last thing to note about pasta is that cheese is a major ingredient—and there are rules for the kind of cheese to be used with different dishes. The common varieties of cheese used are Parmigiano-Reggiano, pecorino, and Padano. For oven-baked pasta, mozzarella is used most often. However, cheese is not advised for any pasta with fish or seafood.

With all of this information about pasta, we hope that the next time you cook your favorite pasta, it’s as authentic as possible!