In Defense of Angel Hair, the Most Loved and Hated Pasta

Away with your bucatini. You can keep your fettuccine. And don’t you dare come at me with tagliatelle. I will choose capellini (or angel hair, if you’re more celestially inclined) every time.

I have had a lot of great pastas in my life. Some highlights include homemade butternut squash gnocchi with crispy sage leaves prepped by a Ukrainian chef in Brooklyn, my parents’ cozy tortellini in brodo, pappardelle covered in truffle shavings in Tuscany, and spaghetti drowning in a mix of marinara and pesto from the Pasta King himself at the Sonoma County Fair (side note: Pasta is a perfectly acceptable fair food). But the bowl of noodles I remember most fondly consisted of angel hair pasta doused in a mix of olive oil and melted butter, showered in finely grated Asiago. It’s a dish I ate many times growing up at the home of a childhood friend who only ate white foods that start with “P” (pasta, popcorn, pizza, potatoes). Each strand, so fine. Eaten one at a time, an angel hair noodle barely registers as a solid. You might not know you were eating anything save for the slick sensation of single, savory slurp. Twirl them together, and those fine noodles mingle together in your mouth like a tangle of buttery threads. So simple but so satisfying. 

And also, so hated. 

I’ve always been surprised by the indignation of the anti-angel hair faction. A culinarily trained friend calls it the “worst pasta shape in history” and “spaghetti’s shitty sister.” While others, such as my husband, complain that it’s too much like eating real hair (can’t fault it for false advertising). My colleague, Jordan, agrees with his critique and goes on to say that “eating an angel’s hair sounds like it’s probably a sin.” 

These noodles don’t have the best names, I’ll give you that. You’re either eating an angel’s hair (and, yes, ingesting anyone’s hair, even a messenger of the lord of the universe, is objectively gross) or you’re eating cappellini aka little/thin hairs. Not great options. But, as the old saying goes, what’s in a name? A noodle by any other name would taste as good. So, not-so-great names aside, what else is wrong with angel hair?

“Not enough girth,” says Jordan. (*Looks at camera, raises eyebrows.*) “You have to eat so much of it to get full.” The idea that angel hair isn’t substantial enough is preposterous. If you don’t think it’s “enough” then you also can’t think that rice is “enough.” If it’s not “enough” just put “more” on your “fork.” While I do enjoy eating it strand by strand (a practice that carries over from childhood, which I admit is not normal), you can twirl large forkfuls into your mouth. Just like any other pasta, angel hair comes in one-pound boxes, just filled with thinner, more numerous noodles. You can eat the exact same amount of wheat in angel hair form as you can in bowties. 

Jordan continues: “It doesn’t hold the sauce well because it’s so thin and smooth.” My culinarily trained friend agrees, “I want a noodle that sops up sauce, and angel hair does none of that.” This is simply user error. Don’t serve angel hair with bolognese. As Danny, another Sporked writer, explains, “Angel hair is a light, stringy pasta you can enjoy without a ton of sauce. It has its place in the light sauce world.” This is why pasta snobs often consider it a child’s pasta, since it’s particularly good with a simple sauce of oil or butter and garlic and cheese. But, I would argue, shouldn’t this be the test of a great pasta? It’s wonderful in a simple, pure state. No need to share the spotlight with a time-intensive ragu or a lobster fra diavolo. All you need is some good olive oil, a light tomato sauce, or a fresh pesto. Why? Because the noodles are the star of the show, like they should be.

Danny does go on to say that you “can’t really do much of the really great pasta techniques with it.” And to that I say, my pasta techniques start and stop with boiling and draining, which I can do just fine with angel hair. 

So, to all the angel hair haters out there, give it another chance. Make a big bowl. Toss it with some olive oil and butter and cheese. Try eating it strand by strand. Give up. Shovel it in your mouth. Picture angels with their heads full of oddly thick strands of hair. Enjoy yourself. And if you don’t? Fine. Go back to your bucatini. More little hairs for me. 

About the Author

Justine Sterling

Justine Sterling is the editor-in-chief of Sporked. She has been writing about food and beverages for well over a decade and is an avid at-home cook and snacker. Don’t worry, she’s not a food snob. Sure, she loves a fresh-shucked oyster. But she also will leap at whatever new product Reese’s releases and loves a Tostitos Hint of Lime, even if there is no actual lime in the ingredients.

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  • Angel hair is actually my favorite pasta! It’s delicious with a few chopped fresh summer tomatoes, roasted garlic and olive oil…. Yum!

  • Angel hair is the best. Tbh a big part of why I prefer it is how fast it cooks lol

  • leave your rigate and your tagliatelle to the Michelin star restaurants. angel hair is the Working Man’s Pasta

  • I grew up with angel hair pasta spaghetti. If I make spaghetti at home, that is what I use. I just enjoy the texture far more than standard spaghetti pasta.

  • Angel hair is my favorite! And I do enjoy it with Bolognese sauce. 🙂