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When did noodles become pasta?

I've always called all "pasta" noodles. I grew up refering to lasagna, spaghetti, spaetzle or other noodles as noodles--not only when they're in Chinese dishes. I first started hearing the term "pasta" around the mid 1980s when in my 20s. Now it seems to be pushing the older term "noodles" out. When did this start happening? Does anyone think it has to do with media manipulation of language--i.e. by using the term "pasta" it will sound more upmarket. Comments please.

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  1. I blame foodies and the associated pretentiousness that they spout.

    2 Replies
    1. re: dave_c

      I have to respectfully disagree. I didn't grow up in a "foodie" household at all and macaroni was always macaroni, spaghetti always meant spaghetti, bowties were always bowties, etc. Collectively they were all pasta. We never called macaroni or shells "noodles" only egg noodles, Kluski noodles, ramen noodles, lasagna noodles or other stretched pasta were noodles. This was also in the '70's and 80"s. I guess it's the same thing in some families with "gravy" as we never called spaghetti sauce gravy. I think it's just a matter of where you're from and what your family traditionally calls things. No need to hate on it.

      On the same note, are soft drinks called "pop", "soda" or "Coke"? There is no right or wrong answer- it all depends on the same things.

      1. re: LorenM

        Noodle comes from German, pasta, of course, Italian.

        The distinctions I would have made growing up were:
        noodle - flat, varying width, often with egg (or Chinese)
        spaghetti - the long string shape
        macaroni - almost any other Italian shape

        pasta is a more recent addition to my vocabulary, covering both spaghetti and macaroni.

    2. I think when people started learning more about Italian food--that there was more to it then spaghetti--then they began exploring all sorts of pasta including egg pastas, filled pastas and the like. I would never call ravioli a "noodle" but I would call it pasta.

      1. In my house growing up (Hungarian background) noodles meant egg noodles. As others have offered further up the thread, spaghetti was always called that, and all other non egg pasta forms were called macaroni.
        I don't have a problem with the current terminology.
        In fact, I don't think I ever even thought about it until clicking on and reading this thread.

        Pasta, noodels, macaroni...doesn't matter to me. If there's a bit of melted butter and a dash of salt on it...it's _ all_ good!

        1. Roughly the same time that squid became calamari, which is also about when corn meal became polenta, but much later than when rocket became arugula.

          I'll even bet that most people don't know that arugula is an Italian word, and the green we call arugula has an English name. If you go back and look at old American cookery books you will find rocket; arugula came along more recently.

          Pate de foie is liver paste; cervelles au beurre noir are fried calf brains. Most restaurants use the French not the English.

          Redfish is really drum. Drum was and is considered a rather common fish, at best fair quality, and was cheap until Paul Prudhomme came along with blackening. Then "redfish" suddenly became a high quality and expensive fish.

          It all just marketing.

          11 Replies
          1. re: johnb

            Americans (and English) have been using French on menus for a long time. There examples of that from California gold rush days (see Foodtimeline).

            As with noodles there are German derived names for liver pastes, like Braunschweiger and Liverwurst. Frankfurter, weiner, and hamburger are other common food names of German origin. I read someplace that something like 40% of Americans can claim some German background. German influences on our food and food terminology are probably second only to English.

            The English rocket comes from the same Latin root as arugula, eruca (via Italian and/or old French). The other 'rocket' comes from a Germanic root.

            1. re: paulj

              Yes. Since 'rucola' made its way across German restaurant menus in the last decade or so -- and I mean it's being thrown on every single freaking dish here --, everyone's forgotten that what they're eating is good ol' German "Rauke".

              Having said that, I couldn't care less what people call their food. You can call it Dorothy for all I care. Feh.


              1. re: johnb

                "most people don't know that arugula is an Italian word" — including Italians.

                1. re: DeppityDawg

                  Bravo! "Arugula," unknown in standard Italian, must be dialect for "la rucola". Proper Italian uses rucola or ruchetta. In Rome it's rughetta, but the terminology is in flux, and there are two botanical families in play here. Thirty years ago, when I began to frequent Roman markets, it was all rughetta, divided into wild for the more bitter pointy leaf (Dipolotaxis tenuifolia or murali), cultivated for the rounder-leafed Eruca vesicaria, recognizable as what is called arugula in the US. It is my unscientific impression that in the decades since then new varieties (hybrids) have appeared and the differences between the two plants are disappearing. If anyone can shed light on this topic, I would be very pleased.

                  1. re: mbfant

                    I just recently had the pleasure of having a salad with wild arugula -- the leaves are much rounder and wider, not at all like the scraggly things I'm used to seeing in supermarkets (both in Germany & the US), it confused me at first. My taste buds were saying 'arugula' all the way, whereas my eyes were saying 'huh?'

                    It was delicious.

                    1. re: linguafood

                      Sounds like the "roka" leaves that are served with fresh grilled fish in Turkey. Mmm…

                      1. re: DeppityDawg

                        You know, that may well be the case! The salad was a bed for grilled octopus @an Italian place in Cleveland.

                        Since octopus is pretty popular in Turkey, too.... damn, now I'm gonna be on a quest to find the wild stuff. It is soooo tasty!

                        1. re: linguafood

                          Everything that I've had labeled "wild arugula" in the US (though actually cultivated), including what I buy in bulk at my local market looks like most of the photos in this google image search: https://www.google.com/search?q=wild+...

                          If I plug in Dipolotaxis tenuifolia, the botaniical name mbfant cited, it turns up similarly shaped leaves, long and serrate, not rounder and wider. So sounds like what you had is different than what she cited and what I know. I'm curious now about what you had.

                          Regarding mbfant's question, I can say that to my palate the cultivated "wild arugula" I've had here in California tastes very similar to standard cultivated arugula, and not more bitter, though its appearance is distinct.

                          1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                            Sorry -- I wrote "Dipolo" but meant Diplo. Those pictures of "wild arugula" (thank you, Caitlin) are what I would call rughetta and would be inclined to translate, trepidatiously, as rocket. The terminology (my main professional concern) is really tricky, since not even the Italian is that clear. But it appears that what used to be called rughetta selvatica in Rome is now called wild arugula in the US. If I could be the terminology czar, I would try to make a distinction between the two families and certainly between truly wild and cultivated. Seems to me it used to be possible to use rocket for the D. tenuifolia and arugula for the E. vesicaria.

                            1. re: mbfant

                              Interesting. As a translator who specializes in food, I was of the impression that rocket is the British term and arugula the American ("Rauke" in German, "Rucola" in "neo-gastro-German").

                              What Caitlin posted is what I see in supermarkets, too. What I had at the resto looked very different. As I said. Roundish leaves. Tasty stuff.

              2. I never used "noodle" as a blanket term for pasta...

                1 Reply
                1. re: LeoLioness

                  nor did we...bowties, ravioli, penne at al aren't noodles. we always called them "pasta" or used the specific shape name. "noodles" was reserved for egg noodles in soup or kugel.

                  but for my friends who grew up in traditional Italian homes, any sort of pasta with red sauce was *always* "macaroni with gravy" regardless of the shape :)

                2. Just your house -- "spaghetti" or "pasta" was from the grocery story (first from a box, later available fresh) and served with some sort of sauce.

                  Noodles were (and still are) handmade and boiled with chicken or beef (or served under beef stew or similar)

                  1. Interesting responses. For me, noodles was always the blanket term (i.e. pasta), even though, when being more specific I say "spaghetti or lasagna or rigatoni," or whatever may be. I was once told by someone hearing me use the word that way that it sounded "low class"--that's about 20 years ago, and that got me thinking about it.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Wawsanham

                      20 years thinking about it? Well, now you don't have to think about it any more. Isn't Chowhound wonderful...

                    2. Growing up Italian-American we called 'em as we saw 'em: lasagna, ziti, rotini, fusilli, etc. If we wanted to discuss the subject in general, we said macaroni. The word "pasta" always sounded pretentious to me until I went to Italy. Now I understand it's just a generic word for the category. On the other hand, the word "noodles" when referring to pasta makes me cringe. :)

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: ttoommyy

                        What did Yankee Doodle do when he stuck a feather in his cap?

                        1. re: paulj

                          well since its been two years since this riddle was posed, he called it chow mein.

                          1. re: KaimukiMan

                            Except that there was a discussion on one of the threads about chow mein not containing any noodles!

                      2. I get the impression from the responses that the discussion so far is entirely USA-centric. ;-)

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: huiray

                          And more about language than about food.

                          1. re: DPGood

                            And goodness knows neither of those issues has ever come up on Chowhound before.

                          2. re: huiray

                            That there's pasta in my bowl of ramen AND pho. AURGH!!

                          3. When that damn Marco Polo stole noodle making methods back to his own country.

                            5 Replies
                              1. re: PeterL

                                No, no and no! Pasta was found in Pompei. 79 AD, people. More than a millennium before Marco took that trip. So please, let's not mention that myth again.

                                  1. re: pdxgastro

                                    "Pasta was found in Pompei."

                                    Not to my knowledge, but I would be very happy to be enlightened. Can you provide more information on this? Documentation?

                                1. My husband's grandmother asked the same question. She was an old-school midwestern US gal of strong German descent. I tend to call it whatever the locals of the country where it's originally from calls it.

                                  1. Growing up in my Italian-American household, pasta was "macaroni", never "noodles". Sure, we'd use the specific shape name if we wanted to clarify.

                                    Then in the 80s it became "pasta".

                                    16 Replies
                                    1. re: pdxgastro

                                      That's how it was in my house growing up too. "Macaroni" for the shaped things, "Spaghetti" for the long things.
                                      "Noodles" to us were the egg noodles in various forms that my Grandmother made every few weeks.

                                      1. re: The Professor

                                        So the subject line should have been 'when did macaroni become pasta?'

                                        When did this happen? When college students came home from their Junior year abroad?

                                        1. re: paulj

                                          at 6:23 pm on April 1, 1969.

                                          (nobody else can put a date and time on it, so I'll offer that.)

                                          1. re: paulj

                                            Actually both words (pasta and maccheroni) are first recorded in the 1200s, pasta first. I hope I'm allowed to post a link to an article I wrote: http://www.gourmet.com/food/gourmetli...

                                            1. re: mbfant

                                              I don't doubt that in Italy both words go way back. Isn't 'pasta' related to paste or dough?

                                              But in common American usage, macaroni is older and more widespread than pasta. Considering that it appears in the Yankee Doodle Dandy lyrics, it probably goes back to pre-Independence English usage. I believe Thomas Jefferson is credited with introducing macaroni and cheese to Americans.

                                              There was a big influx of Italians around 1900, resulting in what we now call Italian-American cooking. What did they use? Macaroni, pasta, or the names of individual shapes.

                                              But my gut feeling is that 'pasta' came into wide spread use in the USA later, roughly the 60s and 70s, as part of a wave of 'authentic Italian' cooking became fashionable. That's why I half jokingly attributed it to students - Americans who had traveled to Italy , and came back with lots of ideas of what 'authentic' Italian cooking and terminology is. One could add to that cook book authors and cooking shows.

                                              1. re: paulj

                                                A survey of old cookbooks would be instructive. For example, subsequent editions of Joy of Cooking from 1930s on.

                                                1. re: paulj

                                                  From the Slate article

                                                  " In 18th-century England, rich young hipsters sported outlandish hairstyles (very tall powdered wigs with tiny caps on top) and affected clothing. They were called Macaronis because on their travels in Italy they acquired a taste for pasta, an exotic foreign food fad of the 18th century. If you’ve ever heard the song “Yankee Doodle,” this should sound familiar. The chorus mocks a disheveled "Yankee" soldier whose attempt to look sharp was to "stick a feather in his hat and call it macaroni.""

                                                  1. re: paulj

                                                    Actually, that North/South divide comes into play again. In the north of Italy they call it PASTA ASCIUTTA (with the elision between the last and first a's). In the south it's MACCHERONI.

                                                    1. re: pdxgastro

                                                      Asciutta - dry?

                                                      From the Online Oxford dictionary:

                                                      early 16th century: from Italian maccaroni (now usually spelled maccheroni), plural of maccarone, from late Greek makaria 'food made from barley

                                                      late 19th century: from Italian, literally 'paste'

                                                      late 18th century: from German Nudel, of unknown origin

                                                    2. re: paulj

                                                      I think you are actually correct that the generic "pasta" came into wide use in the US with the baby boomers' junior year abroad (guilty!). Elizabeth David has a chapter titled "Pasta Asciutta". The abridged English translation of the Talismano, which is what I used before Marcella's first book was published, has a chapter "Macaroni, Spaghetti and Rice." Marcella's first book has a chapter "I Primi" in which she uses the term "pasta".

                                                      As for Yankee Doodle, there is a great deal behind those cryptic lyrics. Google Macaroni Club London. Essentially, a macaroni was a fop (and his silly little hat worn atop a gigantic wig) who had picked up frivolous (and possibly dissolute) Italian ways on the Grand Tour.

                                                      1. re: mbfant


                                                        Between you and paulj -
                                                        What's the overlap/relative usage/history between macaroni and maccheroni. then? One is for the English-speaking world, the other for the Italian-speaking world?

                                                        In this regard here're a few links that I read before popping the question:
                                                        http://www.charmingitaly.com/what-kin... (nice chart)

                                                        1. re: huiray

                                                          None of the links is remotely authoritative or even reliable. Macaroni IS found in Italian (also French), but maccheroni is more usual. Meanings for both are all over the place. Neither word means just one kind of pasta. As far as I know, the earlier form is maccheroni but it is far from obsolete.

                                                          1. re: mbfant


                                                            What would you consider a reliable citation for this question? Specific references, if possible please?

                                                            1. re: huiray

                                                              I can't tell you off the top of my head. It would really take a search in some centuries of dictionaries in English, Italian, and French. The Oxford English Dictionary, unabridged, gives as its earliest citation 1599, Ben Jonson, maccaroni. The use as fop is mid-18th century. The Macaroni Club started in 1760. The spelling is very variable and fluid -- it's pointless to pinpoint just maccheroni and macaroni.

                                                            2. re: mbfant

                                                              Judging from the Italian Wikipedia:

                                                              There is a maccheroni entry http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maccheroni

                                                              The only use on 'macaroni' on that page is in reference to a French name for Italian immigrants.

                                                              The disambiguation page for 'macaroni' shows mainly personal names (Macaroni).

                                                              There is a short French page form 'macaroni', referring to both the pejorative use, and the 'Pâtes alimentaires' page (a major one


                                                              I suspect the English use of 'macaroni' comes via the French, though the English may have added the foppish meaning.

                                                      2. re: mbfant

                                                        Over on a Macarons/Macaroons thread someone posted a link to a Slate article connecting these with macaroni (starting, as you do with 1200 Sicily)

                                                  1. re: chocolatetartguy

                                                    Marco Polo commented that he had something similar to macaroni while in Asia. Meaning, it was already a staple at home prior to his trip, just different grains were being used.

                                                    Even the Arabs used a rolled out dough, cut into strips in the 5th Century, which was about 1000 years before Marco Polo's journey.

                                                    It's all a myth.

                                                    1. re: Novelli

                                                      Actually, what is now called pasta, we used to call macaroni here in Norcal, not noodles. When I hear noodles, I think of Asian, specifically, Chinese noodles.

                                                      1. re: chocolatetartguy

                                                        Egg noodles from eastern Europe were also common in the pre-pasta days. That includes venerable casseroles like tuna noodle and kugel (Ashkenazi Jewish). The word 'noodle' comes from German.

                                                  2. I may have found the definitive answer.


                                                    I did a word search on public domain google books. This a plot from 1800-2000 for pasta, macaroni, and noodles

                                                    Initially macaroni was much more common than the others, peaking around 1920. In 2000 it was back to the 1880s level.

                                                    Pasta stayed low until about 1970, and since has grown substantially. It overtook the others about 1980.

                                                    Noodles climbed in the 1930s (German style noodles?), and again since 1970 (Asian noodles?).

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. Speaking of all sorts of noodles, it seems Seattle teems with them: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html...

                                                      4 Replies
                                                        1. re: pdxgastro

                                                          While pasta and macaroni apply almost exclusively to Italian durum wheat products, the term 'noodles' has come to embrace a whole range of produces, using wheat, rice, buckwheat and other starches, with most of that diversity coming from the largest continent, Asia.


                                                          1. re: paulj

                                                            So, precisely, noodle is the broader term, with pasta being within the definition of noodle (as durum is a type of wheat). Besides, to use these terms to create an Italian vs Asian divide seems silly, since noodles are an ingredient found in a lot of different cooking. they are not somehow inherently Italian or Asian. By the same logic there should be a different word for potatoes and rice depending on whether or not they are in Asian or non-Asian dishes.

                                                            1. re: Wawsanham

                                                              The terminology is not so cut and dried (no pun intended). And there really isn't a terminological divide between Italian and Asian, except that, as an Italian word, pasta is generally used for the Italian products (whether or not they are made of durum wheat). It is, however, a handy term available to all to mean the entire category of shaped dough eaten in soup or with a sauce or condiment. BTW the full correct Italian term is pasta alimentare, but that is a technicality, not everyday speech. "Noodle" in English tends to be used to indicate a particular shape of pasta, the long flat shape for which the generic Italian term is tagliatelle. Ravioli would be the corresponding term for stuffed pasta shapes, of whatever provenience, including, famously, Chinese. "Dumpling" is the generic term for the more lumpen shapes of whatever provenience. The fact is that most other makers of pasta or pasta-like products don't make anywhere near the variety of shapes that the Italians do, and so their products are easily covered by a couple of terms that have a specific meaning (flat ribbon, stuffed dough), where Italian has a bazillion names (the index of "Encyclopedia of Pasta" has about 1200 names of shapes), and some of these could quite correctly be translated as "noodle," given their shape. German uses "Nudeln" (which I hope is the correct plural of Nudel) for the whole category. I don't know the range of the French nouilles, but I suspect it is reserved for the ribbon shape, since French uses pâte much the way English uses pasta. Rice is born rice, potatoes likewise are always potatoes, while pasta is a product made by humans in many parts of the world, so I would submit there is no analogy.

                                                        2. My Italian grandparents call all pasta "macaroni".

                                                          1. growing up in Long Island in the 60s, 'noodles' was reserved for describing Chinese spaghetti.

                                                            1. It was always Macaroni in our Italian-American home...Noodles are what the "American" kids ate

                                                              2 Replies
                                                              1. re: cgarner

                                                                Precisely, cgarner,

                                                                As a non-Italian American, I grew up calling them noodles, and don't think I really heard the term "pasta" until over the age of twenty. The point is that the material noodles/pasta/macaroni are made from is not inherently Italian. It would be like saying apples were inherently Central Asian, but we continue calling them apples and don't use a word borrowed from Kazakh or Kirghiz languages of Central Asia. And, apples originally are from that part of the world.

                                                                1. re: Wawsanham

                                                                  It's easy to remember the Kazakh word for apple because it's also the name of the biggest city: Almaty.

                                                                  The original Big Apple.

                                                              2. Among the many, many old guys from Italy I know, and their Italian-American kids, a noodle is pasta with egg in it. Pasta never has egg, only semolina and water. Macaroni is a general term for the pasta course of a meal, but is used interchangeably with pasta.

                                                                FWIW, they are all from Rome to Sicily, no Northern Italians.

                                                                1. Probably when the price per dish reaches US $40. They cannot charge that for noodles, but can for "pasta."