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Pasta, Brass Die Better?


dcarch
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The How much water to boil pasta thread made me think of this.

I know there is a common believe that pasta made with brass dies are supposed to be better.

Has there been any side-by-side comparison done?

I cannot understand how a highly polished brass extrusion die can produce rougher texture, and rougher texture makes sauce stick better. In any case a good sauce sticks to any pasta in my experience .

dcarch

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I believe the dies you are referring to are made of bronze. They look like brass, and get referred to as brass by laymen, but they are made of bronze.

The texture part is important for dry pastas, especially shapes which are supposed to hold sauces, if the sauce is thin. You can see the difference when you buy the pasta, the regular, cheap supermarket stuff has a super-smooth and shiny surface and looks golden in color. The bronze die pasta doesn't have a shiny surface, and it can appear white or dusty white. I think there's a difference. Side by side comparison would be easy, buy packages of the same shape of a cheap pasta and a good bronze die one, set up two pots of salted water and have sauce hot and ready to eat.

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I agree with Lisa, but there's also more to the situation. Generally (and I say generally because I do not know how every pasta is made), the pastas made with bronze dies are dried for longer times and at lower temperatures. This time/temp routine changes the taste, and, I believe, the texture of the pasta.

In addition, the good artisan, bronze die pastas, are often made with a much simpler ingredient list - frequently no additives at all are used. As an easy example (because I just bought some), TJ's organic Italian pasta is made with just flour and water. Read the ingredient lists of some of the "commercial" pasta brands.

The listed ingredients on a box of Barilla spaghetti is: Semolina, Durum Flour, Niacin, Iron (Ferrous Sulfate), Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Folic Acid (Vitamin aB)

Edited by Shel_B (log)

 ... Shel


 

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Has there been any side-by-side comparison done?

This was one of the things Heston looked at in his "In Search of Perfection" series, when he made spaghetti bolognese. I just did a quick google and found the full episode on Youtube. The bit about pasta and bronze dies begins about 20 minutes into the episode. He visits a factory in Italy where they make the pasta with bronze dies, and talks about the differences with plastic / teflon, and does a fairly simple comparison of their sauce-holding properties.

While it's interesting TV and I really love his spaghetti bolognese recipe, over here in Australia the exact brand that he uses in the show (La Pasta di Aldo) goes for about $20 a packet and is only sold by a handful of specialty food outlets. That's about 20x more expensive than generic brand dried pasta, and about 5 times more expensive than the supermarket egg pasta we usually get. Although I'm curious, I'm not going to spend $20 on a packet of pasta that I can only get here by mail-order just to try the difference for myself...

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1. Having worked with machine tools, I can't seem to understand how a die, any die, can have a way to change surface texture when used in extrusion. In my thinking, they all will have smooth textures, regardless of die material.

2. If bronze die is so desirable, I would imagine all pasta makers will be using it. Bronze is used for die making because it is a very easy metal to work with.

3. I have never heard anyone complained that "Waiter, take this defective pasta back! my sauce is not sticking to the pasta".

Obviously I can be totally wrong. That's why I ask if there has been side-by-side comparisons done. A comparison using identical dough, one goes thru a bronze die, and one goes thru a non-bronze die. A comparison comparing two manufacturers would not be valid because they may use entirely recipes.

dcarch

Edited by dcarch (log)
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Barilla has a bronze die extruded range called Voiello . Divella has a red package range of products that are teflon die extruded and a green label range that is bronze die extruded . A head to head between the bronze and teflon versions of the same company might help you figure out if it makes any real difference to you. A little research may show that your favourite brand also does a bronze die version.

I tend to think the drying temperatures are they real key in differences betwen the mass producers and the smaller "artisinal" ones moreso than the bronze dies. . I read an article recently that explained that most mass market pasta is force dried at a higher temp and this produces a mailard effect which is why the mass market stuff is a darker yellow colour. If this is the case then the teflon and bronze die versions from large producers might have less differences than the small artisinal companies. It would give a better straight up comparison on strictly the differences between the dies though.

This blog has some interesting info on bronze die pasta and good pictures of side by side comparison of colour and outside texture of dried pasta. The bronze die pasta does look rougher than the teflon die pasta.

http://www.azeliaskitchen.net/bronze-die-pasta-and-a-little-pasta-history/

If the difference is worth the cost and effort to find it is only something you can decide .

Edited by Ashen (log)

"Why is the rum always gone?"

Captain Jack Sparrow

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1. Having worked with machine tools, I can't seem to understand how a die, any die, can have a way to change surface texture when used in extrusion. In my thinking, they all will have smooth textures, regardless of die material.

2. If bronze die is so desirable, I would imagine all pasta makers will be using it. Bronze is used for die making because it is a very easy metal to work with.

3. I have never heard anyone complained that "Waiter, take this defective pasta back! my sauce is not sticking to the pasta".

Obviously I can be totally wrong. That's why I ask if there has been side-by-side comparisons done. A comparison using identical dough, one goes thru a bronze die, and one goes thru a non-bronze die. A comparison comparing two manufacturers would not be valid because they may use entirely recipes.

dcarch

And on this occasion (unlike so many others, I hasten to add), you are totally wrong! :) Lisa and Shel have this one right. It is not the bronze die alone, which is rough-hewn and adds striations to the pasta which catch the sauce like tiny rain gutters, but also the process. The universal use of a more elaborate, more time-consuming artisanal process would jack up the price of a relatively cheap industrial product considerably. You do not hear the complaints that you allude to because, as nickrey pointed out on the pasta water thread, most American restaurants (and home cooks as well) destroy the balance and subtle pleasure of pasta by supersizing the sauce element, and even now, relatively few have experienced truly great, properly made pasta.

No grand scientific experiment is needed here. Find a top-notch, imported bronze-die spaghetti and cook it al dente alongside a comparable portion of comparably sized Mueller's spaghetti. Sauce both with no more than a couple of ounces of good Bolognese made with finely minced meat and just enough residual liquid to be moist. Apply the sauce to the center of each dish of pasta, then work it into the pasta with your fork. Take bites of each. The differences should be obvious, in flavor, texture and the overall experience. And if you finish both portions, I will be surprised if there is not noticeably more sauce left in the bottom of your Mueller's bowl, unless you ate a couple of forkfuls of sauce only along the way. Of course, many may enjoy wiping up the rest of the sauce with a piece of good bread, but in Italy, the bread typically finds its way to the sauces, juices or gravies of most anything but a properly-turned serving of pasta. The bread-and-sauce experience is better enjoyed as pizza! A note on fresh pasta: by its nature, it absorbs liquids and has a very slightly tacky texture, so the sauce integrating and adhering is rarely an issue, and it is usually handmade rather than extruded, so bronze dies do not come into play...

Bill Klapp

bklapp@egullet.com

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I have to agree that most Americans use way too much sauce on pasta. I was taught as a child (Italian family) that you should always be able to taste the pasta itself first and foremost. A lot of times I see people, both at home and in restaurants, use 4-5 times as much sauce as I consider to be 'normal.' I generally just put a couple tablespoons of sauce onto my portion, and I have seen it just slide complete off of supermarket spaghetti.

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Lisa, by way of a (weak) defense for i americani, most of whom grow up eating what is put on the table with little or no opportunity for discussion or debate, I would think that the sauce generally has a lot more flavor than the typical grocery-store pasta that it is poured upon (remembering that, outside of a few large urban markets, even De Cecco and Barilla are relative newcomers to America).

Bill Klapp

bklapp@egullet.com

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"-------And on this occasion (unlike so many others, I hasten to add), you are totally wrong! :) Lisa and Shel have this one right. It is not the bronze die alone, which is rough-hewn and adds striations to the pasta which catch the sauce like tiny rain gutters, but also the process.------"

That i can totally understand because it makes perfect sense.

I have two pasta machines, one is a roller type and the other extrusion type.

I actually made two identical geometry dies for the extrusion machine, one plastic and one bronze. The pasta, using the same batch of dough, came out identical for both the plastic die and the bronze die.

dcarch

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Two other big differences are, of course, the flour used and the curing methods employed in the artisanal pastas over here. Several producers (Latini being one with its Senatore Capelli durum wheat) are actually growing and milling their own strains of wheat. Dried pasta can get pretty complicated in the Old World, and the best of it is absolutely worth all of the effort, fuss and cost.

Bill Klapp

bklapp@egullet.com

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... Find a top-notch, imported bronze-die spaghetti and cook it al dente alongside a comparable portion of comparably sized Mueller's spaghetti. Sauce both with no more than a couple of ounces of good Bolognese made with finely minced meat and just enough residual liquid to be moist. Apply the sauce to the center of each dish of pasta, then work it into the pasta with your fork. Take bites of each. The differences should be obvious, in flavor, texture and the overall experience. And if you finish both portions, I will be surprised if there is not noticeably more sauce left in the bottom of your Mueller's bowl, unless you ate a couple of forkfuls of sauce only along the way. ...

This is NOT a valid comparison. It simply isn't.

I actually made two identical geometry dies for the extrusion machine, one plastic and one bronze. The pasta, using the same batch of dough, came out identical for both the plastic die and the bronze die.

dcarch

This is a valid comparison.

-----------

Why you (BK) would think that a "comparison" between one manufacturer with one process and a different manufacturer with another process would "demonstrate" the difference between brass dies and non-brass dies is beyond me. I must profess my bewilderment at your "comparison".

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I agree with Lisa, but there's also more to the situation. Generally (and I say generally because I do not know how every pasta is made), the pastas made with bronze dies are dried for longer times and at lower temperatures. This time/temp routine changes the taste, and, I believe, the texture of the pasta.

In addition, the good artisan, bronze die pastas, are often made with a much simpler ingredient list - frequently no additives at all are used. As an easy example (because I just bought some), TJ's organic Italian pasta is made with just flour and water. Read the ingredient lists of some of the "commercial" pasta brands.

The listed ingredients on a box of Barilla spaghetti is: Semolina, Durum Flour, Niacin, Iron (Ferrous Sulfate), Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Folic Acid (Vitamin aB)

. These additives are the additives of enriched flour. That is required by law I believe.
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The Philip Mahl Community teaching kitchen is now open. Check it out. "Philip Mahl Memorial Kitchen" on Facebook. Website coming soon.

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... Find a top-notch, imported bronze-die spaghetti and cook it al dente alongside a comparable portion of comparably sized Mueller's spaghetti. Sauce both with no more than a couple of ounces of good Bolognese made with finely minced meat and just enough residual liquid to be moist. Apply the sauce to the center of each dish of pasta, then work it into the pasta with your fork. Take bites of each. The differences should be obvious, in flavor, texture and the overall experience. And if you finish both portions, I will be surprised if there is not noticeably more sauce left in the bottom of your Mueller's bowl, unless you ate a couple of forkfuls of sauce only along the way. ...

This is NOT a valid comparison. It simply isn't.

I actually made two identical geometry dies for the extrusion machine, one plastic and one bronze. The pasta, using the same batch of dough, came out identical for both the plastic die and the bronze die.

dcarch

This is a valid comparison.

-----------

Why you (BK) would think that a "comparison" between one manufacturer with one process and a different manufacturer with another process would "demonstrate" the difference between brass dies and non-brass dies is beyond me. I must profess my bewilderment at your "comparison".

This is about taste and texture, not a high-school science project. The means count for nothing, the ends when you are finished eating the pasta everything. The difference between the materials used for dcarch dies is the LEAST important factor, because dcarch cannot make an antique bronze die of the type used by Italian artisanal pasta makers, and, absent that, there is no experiment and no valid test there. He might be able to fashion a plastic die (or, more likely, one of some metal other than bronze) that could deliver the characteristic striations that bronze dies deliver, but frankly, the odds are stacked against any of us who try to compete with Italian artisans who have been doing this longer than any of us have been alive. Remember, this applies only to dried, water-and-hard wheat pasta. I suspect that what dcarch was extruding was, in fact, fresh pasta that is being dried to some degree. Not even the same type of pasta. Look again at what I said about the curing process, wheat varieties, etc. and dried vs. fresh pasta. All of that eclipses a simple, homemade plastic vs. bronze die experiment...

Bill Klapp

bklapp@egullet.com

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The listed ingredients on a box of Barilla spaghetti is: Semolina, Durum Flour, Niacin, Iron (Ferrous Sulfate), Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Folic Acid (Vitamin aB)

. These additives are the additives of enriched flour. That is required by law I believe.

I'm not so sure about that since I have seen the ingredient lists of numerous pastas, and many do not contain these, or any other, additives. If these ingredients are "required by law," how is it Trader Joe's sells pasta without such "enrichment?" Is TJ breaking the law? Shall we call the Pasta Police? <LOL>

 ... Shel


 

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Some TJ's has it and some do not.

"enrichment" of pasta with a few Vits. has probably saved as many poor children's lives as anything else, aside from vaccines which in some circles no longer have the that " chiii chii chiii" good luck to them!

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1. Having worked with machine tools, I can't seem to understand how a die, any die, can have a way to change surface texture when used in extrusion. In my thinking, they all will have smooth textures, regardless of die material.

2. If bronze die is so desirable, I would imagine all pasta makers will be using it. Bronze is used for die making because it is a very easy metal to work with.

3. I have never heard anyone complained that "Waiter, take this defective pasta back! my sauce is not sticking to the pasta".

Obviously I can be totally wrong. That's why I ask if there has been side-by-side comparisons done. A comparison using identical dough, one goes thru a bronze die, and one goes thru a non-bronze die. A comparison comparing two manufacturers would not be valid because they may use entirely recipes.

dcarch

I've used both in our pasta business and can tell you brass or bronze makes a difference. I'd guess the main reason you didn't see a difference was the hydration of the dough you used-if it was on the wetter side it extrudes more easily and even bronze dies won't give much more texture. There are other possible causes but that is the most common. The extruder you use has to be able to handle a dryer mix, create more pressure to get the most benefits from those dies. Did you dry the pasta before cooking it?

Here's a video that says to show a side by side.

ETA: Sorry copying the YouTube link doesn't seem to be working-if you search YouTube for bronze vs Teflon pasta you will see it.

Edited by jvalentino (log)
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I own a Venetian Bigolaro (aka Torchio, vertical hand pasta press: http://pastabiz.com/torchio-hand-press.html) which happens to accept the (thicker, more expensive) dies meant for the "Dolly" electric extruder. Leaning rustic in ways that were dropped by even the Italians a century ago, I grind my own flour, sieving out variable amounts of bran and adding variable amounts of semolina.

As an experiment, I deliberately bought a teflon die rather than a bronze die for bucatini, reasoning that my rougher flour eliminates the need for a bronze die as my flour also contributes texture. I'm not sure if that was the right call, but my point: There is an evident difference, I'm a bit astonished that this could be called into question.

In my experience with actual science (far from cooking) there's a perennial conflict between "what stands to reason" and what one experiences empirically. It takes an Einstein-grade mind to successfully get out in front using reason. For the rest of us, "what stands to reason" is invariably wrong until it expands to explain what people actually observe. Tight little hermitically sealed logic nuggets always make sense in isolation, but leave something out, and it's always hardest to spot the person that's not there in the photo. My facebook feed is littered with comparisons between a national budget and a household family budget, as if driving to the store bears some relation we can all understand to intergalactic travel. (I have to wonder if even the person posting believes this bunk? Sadly, probably.) Same problem here with pasta: what's at issue isn't the picture, which looks great in isolation, but what's missing from the picture. Yes, also in my experience, one wants a very dry mixture, which is problematic no matter what you do, but which shows up differences in dies.

Nevertheless, I'd agree that how one then dries the extruded pasta is the more significant factor, why Italian pasta is generally better. Marc Vetri makes this point in Rustic Italian Food, where he advises the home cook to dry extruded pasta in the fridge.

Per la strada incontro un passero che disse "Fratello cane, perche sei cosi triste?"

Ripose il cane: "Ho fame e non ho nulla da mangiare."

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... Find a top-notch, imported bronze-die spaghetti and cook it al dente alongside a comparable portion of comparably sized Mueller's spaghetti. Sauce both with no more than a couple of ounces of good Bolognese made with finely minced meat and just enough residual liquid to be moist. Apply the sauce to the center of each dish of pasta, then work it into the pasta with your fork. Take bites of each. The differences should be obvious, in flavor, texture and the overall experience. And if you finish both portions, I will be surprised if there is not noticeably more sauce left in the bottom of your Mueller's bowl, unless you ate a couple of forkfuls of sauce only along the way. ...

This is NOT a valid comparison. It simply isn't.

I actually made two identical geometry dies for the extrusion machine, one plastic and one bronze. The pasta, using the same batch of dough, came out identical for both the plastic die and the bronze die.

dcarch

This is a valid comparison.

-----------

Why you (BK) would think that a "comparison" between one manufacturer with one process and a different manufacturer with another process would "demonstrate" the difference between brass dies and non-brass dies is beyond me. I must profess my bewilderment at your "comparison".

This is about taste and texture, not a high-school science project. The means count for nothing, the ends when you are finished eating the pasta everything. The difference between the materials used for dcarch dies is the LEAST important factor, because dcarch cannot make an antique bronze die of the type used by Italian artisanal pasta makers, and, absent that, there is no experiment and no valid test there. He might be able to fashion a plastic die (or, more likely, one of some metal other than bronze) that could deliver the characteristic striations that bronze dies deliver, but frankly, the odds are stacked against any of us who try to compete with Italian artisans who have been doing this longer than any of us have been alive. Remember, this applies only to dried, water-and-hard wheat pasta. I suspect that what dcarch was extruding was, in fact, fresh pasta that is being dried to some degree. Not even the same type of pasta. Look again at what I said about the curing process, wheat varieties, etc. and dried vs. fresh pasta. All of that eclipses a simple, homemade plastic vs. bronze die experiment...

Then simply say that there can't be a true side-by-side comparison between an antique bronze die and something else. Since the whole process and the variations thereof are more important, a direct comparison between an artisanal spaghetti and Mueller's spaghetti simply illustrates that the artisanal spaghetti is better overall. Although you did not say it directly, it was implied in your comparison that the example you cited would illustrate the superiority of a brass die - but perhaps that was not your intention.

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I'd like to point out that you originally referred to the metal dies as being brass - a soft, malleable, easy to work metal made of copper and zinc. When I mentioned bronze, a tough, brittle alloy of copper and tin, suddenly you had made a die out of bronze, which is a much harder metal and is more difficult to work with. If your die was really brass, it would be very different from bronze. Bronze swords, knives and other cutting tools stay very sharp for a very long time whereas brass won't really hold an edge and the pressure of extruding would smooth out any roughness or sharpness pretty quickly.

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... Find a top-notch, imported bronze-die spaghetti and cook it al dente alongside a comparable portion of comparably sized Mueller's spaghetti. Sauce both with no more than a couple of ounces of good Bolognese made with finely minced meat and just enough residual liquid to be moist. Apply the sauce to the center of each dish of pasta, then work it into the pasta with your fork. Take bites of each. The differences should be obvious, in flavor, texture and the overall experience. And if you finish both portions, I will be surprised if there is not noticeably more sauce left in the bottom of your Mueller's bowl, unless you ate a couple of forkfuls of sauce only along the way. ...

This is NOT a valid comparison. It simply isn't.

I actually made two identical geometry dies for the extrusion machine, one plastic and one bronze. The pasta, using the same batch of dough, came out identical for both the plastic die and the bronze die.

dcarch

This is a valid comparison.

-----------

Why you (BK) would think that a "comparison" between one manufacturer with one process and a different manufacturer with another process would "demonstrate" the difference between brass dies and non-brass dies is beyond me. I must profess my bewilderment at your "comparison".

This is about taste and texture, not a high-school science project. The means count for nothing, the ends when you are finished eating the pasta everything. The difference between the materials used for dcarch dies is the LEAST important factor, because dcarch cannot make an antique bronze die of the type used by Italian artisanal pasta makers, and, absent that, there is no experiment and no valid test there. He might be able to fashion a plastic die (or, more likely, one of some metal other than bronze) that could deliver the characteristic striations that bronze dies deliver, but frankly, the odds are stacked against any of us who try to compete with Italian artisans who have been doing this longer than any of us have been alive. Remember, this applies only to dried, water-and-hard wheat pasta. I suspect that what dcarch was extruding was, in fact, fresh pasta that is being dried to some degree. Not even the same type of pasta. Look again at what I said about the curing process, wheat varieties, etc. and dried vs. fresh pasta. All of that eclipses a simple, homemade plastic vs. bronze die experiment...

Then simply say that there can't be a true side-by-side comparison between an antique bronze die and something else. Since the whole process and the variations thereof are more important, a direct comparison between an artisanal spaghetti and Mueller's spaghetti simply illustrates that the artisanal spaghetti is better overall. Although you did not say it directly, it was implied in your comparison that the example you cited would illustrate the superiority of a brass die - but perhaps that was not your intention.

Huiray, I will say no such thing. The point is that there can be a true side-by-side comparison of the PASTAS produced using different dies. You cannot eat dies, so you need not worry about comparing them in any sort of pseudo-scientific fashion, and all of the faddish obsession with Modernist Cuisine and sous vide notwithstanding, while you can certainly apply science and technology to food preparation, it will inevitably be trumped by the wildly variable human palate. Taste being subjective, one is always free to prefer Mueller's spaghetti swimming in meat sauce. That is no reason not to strive for results that a majority, or at least a majority of like-minded (or palated) individuals, find to be superior; however, the final judgment of superiority will always reside in the mouth of the individual taster...

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Bill Klapp

bklapp@egullet.com

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The question is how much of good tasting pasta is related to the material of the die cmaterial. In the complicated process of pasta making, which part(s) really deserves more attention?

What ever the material of the die, be it brass, bronze or Teflon, based on the mechanics of the design and strength of materials, you will need several million tons of force to deform the material's surface to cause a corresponding deformity of the extrusion's surface texture.

The above linked video of "side-by-side" clearly shows a different shaped die was used, not identical for comparison purpose. You can also see the pasta came out of a different shape, so the sauce stickiness test is not exactly valid.

In any case, When you have two surfaces closely in contact, liquid's surface tension and capillary force will take over to make the liquid stay in place, and you will have a lot of surface area in contact with each other on a plate of pasta.

The other question would be, again based on the video, if that large pile of pasta only results in about a table spoon's of less sauce sticking on the pasta, can that make a noticeable difference to your taste? Of course I am not talking about there are some pasta simply taste better others.

dcarch

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Given the tremendous difference in hardness between pasta dough and plastic or metal its hard to imagine that that can be an issue. From the dough's perspective they all are hard.

Differences in slippery-ness or temperature of the die might be an issue that could affect pasta surface though.

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