How Many Pasta Shapes Are There?

Agnolotti pasta shapes

Short answer
Traditional wisdom says there are between 300 and 350 pasta shapes, but thanks to the rise of 3D printing the number is now virtually unlimited.

Long answer
Everyone has their own way of categorising pasta shapes, but we like to classify them into nine distinct groups: minute, stuffed, short cut, speciality, irregular, ribbon, long, 3D printed, and shapes created by AI.

Within the first seven of these groups, there are hundreds of different shapes - with the Encyclopaedia of Pasta stating that there are over 300 pasta shapes in total.

Slight differences in a pasta shape’s size, the type of dough used to make it and a plethora of regional nuances means that even shapes that look pretty much identical can have a whole host of different names. That makes categorising shapes a tricky task.

Take farfalle, one of the UK’s most popular pasta shapes, as an example. In parts of Northern Italy you’ll hear it called strichetti. A small farfalle shape is known as farfalline, whilst a larger one is called farfalloni. Outside of Italy you may hear it called “bowtie” or “butterfly” pasta, so you can see how quickly the number of shapes starts to add up. Let's look at our nine categories in turn...

Minute
These are the smallest pasta shapes that tend to be served in soups rather than with a sauce. The only shape from this group sold in UK supermarkets is orzo, but in Italy there are numerous different shapes including risoni, anellini and the smallest of the lot, tempestine.

Orzo pasta shape

Stuffed
Everyone knows ravioli, but there are dozens of types of filled pasta shapes with tortellini coming a close second in terms of popularity. Different sizes, crimping techniques and fillings makes this group of shapes one of the most exciting in terms of customisability.

Short cut
Penne is the most obvious shape to be categorised in this group, although in Italy you won't have any trouble getting hold of its close cousins, macaroni, rigatoni, ziti and many more.

Penne, a popular pasta shape

Speciality
These intricate and elaborate pasta shapes are headed up by farfalle, but joined by shapes that include corzetti, torchio and radiatori among many others.

Farfalle pasta shape

Irregular
These shapes are generally the offcuts and scraps that are left over when producing filled pasta. You won’t find these on supermarket shelves, but you will find them served in Italy as budget pasta dishes. Traditionally these scraps would have been given away to the poor, maltagliati being the most well-known example.

Ribbon
We class these shapes as anything that is long and flat and that includes everything from one of our favourite shapes to pair with pesto, fettucine, right up to pappardelle and super-wide sheets of lasagne. Many of these shapes are cut using a fluted pasta cutter which produces stunning zig-zag edges.

Long
This category includes not just the most famous pasta shape in the world, spaghetti, but a whole variety of long, slender shapes with very specific names depending on the exact thickness of the dough. Vermicelli is a good example, as is angel hair, but there is an even thinner shape that is often cited as the rarest shape in the world, su filindeu.

3D printed
Although still far from mainstream, the advance of 3D printing technologies means that the possibilities for inventing new and exciting types of pasta is unlimited. It allows creative cooks to produce insanely intricate shapes that simply couldn't be created using any other method.

AI
Chat GPT exploded onto the scene in late 2022 and even though it was still in relative infancy, it was already able to make up new names and shapes of pasta. With research labs like Midjourney already using AI to create pasta shapes inspired by celebrities, this technology is here to stay and is set to be the biggest disrupter the pasta industry has ever seen.