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When I lived in Italy some years ago I remember an Italian friend explaining the numbering system for spaghetti (perhaps also other long pasta). How spaghetti was sold in Italy with a number indicating its fineness.

She told me that different kinds of recipes called for specific numbered spaghetti, if you wanted to be precise.

Can anyone else explain the numbering system for spaghetti better than my vague recollection? Do people in Italy really worry about matching the right numbered spaghetti with a given dish, and has anyone outside Italy encountered a recipe calling for a specific number spaghetti?

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I used to get lost in the letter soup... –  BaffledCook Nov 11 '11 at 16:26
    
I have no answer specifically,just a comment. My Mother made a delicious crusty Macaroni & Cheese baked in an earthenware casserole every Christmas Eve. I followed the tradition with my own family up until about ten years ago, when I no longer could find the pasta. It was a #17. It was a long spaghetti length noodle with a wide hole,not as wide as rigatoni, nor small as penne. I always assumed it had to do with the hole width. No Mac&Cheese since has ever been as good as that #17. –  user15367 Jan 22 '13 at 6:03

9 Answers 9

up vote 10 down vote accepted

They are just a "product number", and it may vary for the same kind of pasta from a manufacturer to another.

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Ok, here is the straight dope, directly from De Cecco customer service:

With reference to your question we would like to inform you that the numbers you mention do not have a logical criteria but are just code numbers which we give our products each time we make a new shape.

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thanks for checking it out! –  Tea Drinker Aug 11 '10 at 14:12
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+1 for calling the company! –  yossarian Aug 12 '10 at 13:14

As an Italian, I really don't know the logic behind the number. I also asked my mother, to no avail. We don't know, but as far as my feeling goes, it's just a numbering system for the product, e.g. there's no implicit meaning into it.

As far as we worry about it or not, sure we do. Matching the wrong pasta with a given sauce is almost blasphemy and as a feedback for the mistake you can be frowned upon up to being openly insulted. I'm not kidding. For example, meaty stuff (such as ragu', also known as bolognese, but only outside of Italy) are matched with penne, tagliatelle, fusilli, and in general all egg-based pasta (e.g. strozzapreti, paglierini, pappardelle, spaghetti alla chitarra). Spaghetti bolognese is heresy for us.

Spicy sauces, such as puttanesca, amatriciana, carbonara and so on, require normal pasta, and can be matched with spaghetti, or also penne. Pesto always goes with bavette, although sometimes we use spaghetti for convenience, but I feel it unnatural.

To sum up, there is no simple rule, although instinctively, if you tell me a sauce (even invented brand new) I can tell you which pasta is appropriate and which one is not.

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Yeah, I've heard this before, and there's often reasoning behind matching the pasta with the sauce (though sometimes it's just tradition). "Spaghetti bolognese" was always an English modification/take on an Italian dish. –  Noldorin Aug 12 '10 at 13:41
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Yes, like the "Fettuccine Alfredo" that no one knowns in Italy. Also, Italians are very conservative in cooking, and they dislike variations that are not "traditionally Italian". This also means that we don't have variations of the same dish: for an Italian carbonara should always have guanciale and not bacon (even if you can hardly tell the difference...), the proper mixture of parmigiano and pecorino... I like much more foreign attitude to innovate dishes. –  Lorenzo Aug 12 '10 at 16:39
    
for sure you can't use the wrong sauce with the wrong shape. i know and understand that. my question was about using the "right" or "wrong" number of a particular shape (spaghetti 12 versus spaghetti 72). –  Tea Drinker Dec 1 '10 at 13:10
    
And don't forget regionalities... you'd better not put two Italians (esp. from different regions) cooking in the same kitchen if you don't want to start hearing them yelling about which is the right way to do this and to do that :D (I'm Italian btw) –  nico Aug 4 '11 at 8:49
    
@nico: totally true. –  Stefano Borini Aug 4 '11 at 15:57

It surely defines the tickness of the Pasta; tipically, more thicknesses corresponds to a greater number value.
Example for Barilla:

  1. Capellini #1
  2. Spaghettini #3
  3. Spaghetti #5
  4. Vermicellini #7
  5. Vermicelli #8
  6. Bucatini #9
  7. Bavettine #12
  8. Bavette #13
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There appear to be a correlation, but I think it's just out of chance. –  Stefano Borini Aug 11 '10 at 21:10
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@Stefano actually is what Wikipedia (Italy) claims it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spaghetti –  systempuntoout Aug 12 '10 at 12:48
    
@systempuntoout: "Lo spessore li distingue in spaghettini (n. 3), spaghetti (n. 5) e gli ormai introvabili spaghettoni (n. 8). Lo spessore indicato dal numero può variare leggermente da un produttore ad un altro". It says that thickness differentiates kinds of spaghetti (along with their number), and that the number can be different depending on the producer. THe fact that thickness is indicated by the number does not necessarily imply that the number is a measure of thickness, just that there is an association between a given type of pasta (which has a given thickness) and a number. –  Stefano Borini Aug 12 '10 at 15:40
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Example, for de Cecco, Capellini #9, spaghettini #11, spaghetti #12, vermicellini #169, vermicelli #170, bucatini #15, linguine #7, linguine piccole #8. I agree that there seems to be an "implicit correlation" though. We have counterexamples in linguine piccole, and a very high value for vermicellini. It's a good mnemonic in any case, but as for the origin, I don't think it's due to that. –  Stefano Borini Aug 12 '10 at 15:41
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@Lorenzo : Spaghetti GOTO 20. oh wait... that's why it's called spaghetti code ! ;) –  Stefano Borini Aug 13 '10 at 21:29

Found a link here http://www.sicilianculture.com/food/pasta.htm

"Numbered" Pasta Often you will see pasta with numbers on the package like Thin Spaghetti #9. Why? What does it mean? Well, in the "old days" there were waves of immigrants that came in to work in the factories. There were the Irish, the Asians, the Germans, the Italians and numerous other ethinc groups. Other than the Italians, none of these other groups really spoke the language, and were much less able to pronnounce or decern or know the difference between "spaghetti or spaghettini". So, before the days of automated computers, the factory managers had to get everyone straight, so it was much easier to say "today, we are making #9".

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Awesome! Thanks for that. –  Tobias Op Den Brouw Aug 11 '10 at 7:02
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this sounds like an explanation which applies to the United States, not to Italy –  Tea Drinker Aug 11 '10 at 11:50
    
I'm not really convinced about it... just a feeling. –  Stefano Borini Aug 11 '10 at 21:08
    
True enough. Can't believe everything you read on the internet. But Michael's answer seems to reinforce the notion. –  Rake36 Aug 11 '10 at 23:12
    
I think Tea Drinker is right about this. It has no bearing on Italy itself... –  Noldorin Aug 12 '10 at 13:38

As far as I recall, I have seen numbers only when referring to spaghetti. Spaghetti #5 is the normal size, and spaghetti #8 (spaghettoni) are thicker; there are also spaghetti #3 (which in Italy are called spaghettini).

Normal spaghetti are always #5, but the thickness depends from the brand, in the same way shirt sizes depend from the brand.

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In Italy, they have a numbering system with corresponding names for each number. Larger numbers indicate thicker noodles. Some US manufacturers use the same numbering system. Here is a listing from an extrusion die manufacturer. See the full list here Pasta Shapes.pdf

#1  0.6 mm. 
#2  0.7 mm.
#3  0.8 mm.
#4  0.9 mm.
#5  1.1 mm.
#6  1.3 mm.
#7  1.5 mm.
#8  1.7 mm.
#9  1.9 mm.
#10 2.1 mm.
#11 2.3 mm.
#12 2.5 mm.
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That is a proprietary system used by one vendor of pasta making equipment--why do you think it is more generally applicable than just that manufacturer? –  SAJ14SAJ Jan 11 '13 at 16:43
    
Well, because I have seen it used by multiple Italian manufacturers. –  Leonard Jan 11 '13 at 17:02

Yes, it does refer to the size (in terms of thickness) of the pasta. I guess the number indicates the specific "drawing" (trafila in italian), where the higher is the number, the wider is the hole, and the thicker is the pasta. I don't think there is a standardized size for each hole so, depending on which trafila pasta producers use, the result might be different.

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This seems to contradict all of the other answers and duplicates the current lowest-voted answer which now admits that it's just a myth. Do you have evidence to support this? –  Aaronut Nov 11 '11 at 14:52

EDIT: apparently, the answer below is a 'common misconception'. See the other answers to this question. Learn something new every day!

Yes, there is a spaghetti numbering system. The smaller the number, the smaller the radius of the spaghetti.

For puttanesca, I've seen a suggestion of using #12.

Whether italians worry about this kinda thing - I dunno, but I imagine it depends on the Italian. I haven't run across recipes specifying size yet, and I don't look at it in the store (not even when i was in Italy).

I also have a great illustration for you about number spaghetti. :)

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aw, not that kind of numbering! made me smile though... –  Tea Drinker Aug 10 '10 at 19:39
    
Yeah, the picture is not serious. The rest is, though. –  Tobias Op Den Brouw Aug 10 '10 at 20:26
    
I don't think this is correct; see my answer below. –  Michael at Herbivoracious Aug 10 '10 at 23:09
    
Well, you learn something new every day. Thanks! –  Tobias Op Den Brouw Aug 11 '10 at 7:02
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"Whether italians worry about this kinda thing - I dunno, but I imagine it depends on the Italian. I haven't run across recipes specifying size yet, and I don't look at it in the store (not even when i was in Italy)." Italian recipes written in Italian language never call for a specific "number", but they do call for spaghetti vs spaghettini vs vermicelli vs bucatini, etc... –  Stefano Ricciardi Aug 13 '10 at 11:16

protected by SAJ14SAJ May 11 '13 at 20:22

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