Pasta is the latest food to receive a better-for-you makeover with the debut of Noodles & Company’s “LEANguini.” The fast-casual pasta chain claims the new noodle has 56 percent fewer net carbs, 30 percent fewer total carbs and 44 percent more protein than traditional wheat noodles, all while maintaining the same taste and appearance as traditional linguine.
“Menu innovation is extremely important to Noodles & Company. When adding new better-for-you options to our menu we use only the freshest ingredients to deliver food that is not only better for you but robust in flavor,” said Nick Graff, executive chef and vice president of culinary at Noodles & Company, in a press release.
Noodles & Company’s culinary team spent around two years developing LEANguini to offer guests a better-for-you version of their favorite dishes on the menu. The chain has been actively exploring low-carb pasta alternatives since 2018 when it rolled out zucchini noodles, followed by cauliflower noodles in 2019 and cauliflower gnocchi early in 2021.
LEANguini is made with HealthSense Flour, which contains ten times the fiber of traditional wheat flour, plus egg, vital wheat gluten and durum flour. To introduce the new pasta to guests, Noodles & Company is testing three new dishes available in select markets in Colorado, Illinois and Ohio, according to the same press release:
- “LEANguini Lemon Parmesan will feature a new lemon parmesan sauce with roasted zucchini, Roma tomato, spinach and topped with parmesan and parsley;
- LEANguini Fresca is a salad-like creation with balsamic vinaigrette, olive oil, roasted garlic, tomato, red onion, spinach and topped with parmesan cheese; and
- LEANguini Shrimp Scampi includes shrimp in light scampi sauce, roasted zucchini, Roma tomato and topped with parmesan, parsley and lemon.”
To encourage guests to try LEANguini, Noodles & Company created the January Healthy Options Challenge. Throughout the month, guests who opt for a noodle swap of LEANguini, Zoodles or Caulifloodles at the test locations will receive double the Noodles Rewards points on their order.
Healthier alternatives to traditional pasta have been around for many years, including soba noodles, rice noodles, egg noodles, chickpea pasta and red lentil pasta. Where LEANguini differs from these alternatives is that it closely mimics the taste and texture of traditional linguine rather than using vegetables or other ingredients to simply augment its nutritional profile.
But LEANguini may face some competition on the consumer-facing side. In November of last year, a better-for-you macaroni and cheese called Goodles was launched on its direct-to-consumer (DTC) website. Outside the pasta space, but still in the carb space, California-based startup Better Brands launched the Better Bagel, a low-carb, high protein bagel that harnessed the power of food tech.
While these better-for-you versions of fan-favorite snacks and meals may seem too good to be true in terms of nutrition, there tends to be a recurring caveat: price. Four boxes of Goodles will set consumers back $20, while four Better Bagels cost $18, neither of which include shipping. Even LEANguini comes at a higher price tag since it commands an $8 to $10 surcharge when substituted in any made-to-order dish.
Despite the markup, there is a clear demand for better-for-you alternatives in all sectors of the food and beverage industry. According to Research and Markets, the global health and wellness food market size was estimated at $95.56 billion in 2020 and is expected to reach $162.06 billion in 2026 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.2 percent.