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Italian pasta is as varied as it is delicious, as such it has inevitably become a staple dish, not just in Italy but also in nations all around the world. Pasta shapes and sizes can vary greatly, such as from ravioli to spaghetti with many being used to create a specific pasta dish. However, due to the sheer number of pasta varieties, to the untrained eye, some may seem incredibly similar, if not identical. Naturally then, some may end up confusing different types of pasta or thinking they’re the same thing, such as with rotini/fusilli. So fusilli vs rotini, what actually is the difference?

What Is Fusilli?

The word fusilli is derived directly from the word “fuso” which roughly translates to mean “spindle” in Italian. It is named as such because it is a spiral-shaped pasta that is spun around a small rod when made to form its twisted shape.

Along with the typical wheat and water commonly seen when making pasta, fusilli pasta will often contain other ingredients such as tomatoes, beetroot, spinach, or cuttlefish ink. These additions add extra flavour to the fusilli whilst also resulting in this twisted pasta coming in a variety of different colours such as red, green, and black.

Along with regular fusilli, there are also two variations of this type of pasta that are quite commonly seen. These variations are as follows:

  • Fusilli Lunghi: This is somewhat self-explanatory, as instead of using shot pieces, the pasta twisted into spirals will be closer in size to that of spaghetti.
  • Fusilli Bucati: This is a type of fusilli pasta where instead of thin strips, hollow tubes of pasta are twisted into a spiral shape.

In addition, the two variants above can also be combined to form fusilli lunghi bucati which is essentially a much longer version of fusilli bucati.

Often fusilli will be served with thick sauces or heavy creams since the deep groves provided by the spiral shape help it to hold onto sauces. However, it can also be used in pasta salad or a baked pasta dish with layers of meat and creamy sauces.

When cooking fresh fusilli it should be ready in three to four minutes. However, dried fusilli will take roughly seven to ten minutes. Either way, it should be cooked in already boiling water with salt to prevent the pieces from sticking together. 

What Is Rotini?

Similar to fusilli, rotini has a spiral shape. However, typically, this shape will be much tighter than seen in fusilli pasta and will be more akin to a corkscrew shape or a helix. This can be seen in the name rotini itself which roughly translates to mean little wheels.

Whilst rotini can be made with wheat and water, it will often be made using semolina flour.  Additionally, this corkscrew-shaped pasta may also be made using brown rice, whole wheat flour, or other grain varieties. 

Often rotini can be enjoyed in pasta salads and/or paired with less thick sauce options such as pesto, tomato sauce, or sometimes carbonara sauce. With thinner sauces, the strength of rotini really shines through as the tightly wound pasta shape helps it to more effectively retain flavours. 

Fusilli vs Rotini What is the Difference?

Fusilli Vs Rotini

As mentioned above, rotini is identifiable by being corkscrew-shaped, meanwhile, fusilli is more similar to a spiral or spring shape. 

If you know what to look for then, the difference between the two is clear. However, when in a rush in the supermarket it is very easy to accidentally grab one instead of the other since at a glance they do appear very similar.

Additionally, they can be quite similar texture-wise with the grooves in their spirals also being excellent at holding sauces or solid pieces of food such as meat, cheeses, or vegetables. 

However, fusilli is much better for thicker sauces or chunky meat. Meanwhile, rotini is better served with more watery tomato-based sauces and less chunky foods.

Whilst the plain pasta varieties of fusilli will taste the same as rotini, the flavoured options are a different story, however. This is because they will add flavours such as tomato, spinach, beetroot, or cuttlefish ink to the pasta and therefore the dish in question.

Can Fusilli And Rotini Be Substituted for Each Other?

With how similar they are, especially the unflavoured versions you may be wondering if they can be used interchangeably.

Honestly, the answer in most scenarios is yes. Whilst they may be slightly more suited to different thicknesses of sauce, this isn’t enough to make too much of a dramatic difference to your pasta dish. 

These two types of pasta are fundamentally very similar with even many stores conflating them. This is to the point wherein some parts of the world, such as in America, rotini pasta and fusilli pasta will often be labeled as the other type incorrectly.

Naturally, to native Italians and food purists, the distinction between the two types of pasta will be more important. Even for these individuals, fresh pasta that is al dente will often be more important than whether you’ve used fusilli or rotini.

Really for most people, the only time that you will likely need to be conscious of the differences between the two is if you plan on buying some flavoured fusilli. This is because you will likely have a difficult time finding rotini in different flavours. 

Although, if you or someone you’re cooking for has an allergy to a certain type of flour, then being conscious of the difference between what the two are made of is important. For example, if someone has an allergy to rice flour then you’ll need to be careful when buying rotini. However, this should not ever be an issue when buying fusilli.

Fusilli vs Rotini What is the Difference?

Substitutes for Rotini And Fusilli

Whilst rotini and fusilli can easily be used interchangeably with each other, what if there is none of either type of pasta available at the store?

Now, one option is to try your hand at making your own homemade rotini or fusilli pasta. However, for most people that isn’t viable or they just want something convenient and quick as opposed to following a step-by-step recipe.

Don’t worry though, with there being literally hundreds of different pasta types surely there are at least a few that can make for suitable substitutions.

Obviously, a good first place to start is the variations of fusilli since they will likely be closer to what you need. As mentioned above these are called fusilli bucati, fusilli lunghi and fusilli lunghi bucati. These will be either the same shape or a similar shape to regular fusilli and will differ in size.

If however, even they are not available then you should then look to different types of pasta entirely. When doing so though, the important thing to remember is that you’ll need a pasta shape that will hold the sauce and other ingredients well. Naturally then, they will need to have spirals, nooks, ridges, or other types of cranny to do this effectively.

Fortunately, though there are plenty of options in this regard. For a few starting suggestions though, check out the following pasta shapes:

Gemelli

Coming for the same route as the word Gemini, the route Italian word here means “twins”.

This name comes from the shape of the Gemelli pasta. Gemelli is made by cutting an “S” shape in the pasta, folding this in half, and then twisting it around itself.

The resulting pasta shape is particularly similar to that of rotini in terms of twistiness. As such it is ideal for catching and holding onto pasta sauce and bits of food.

In particular, Gemelli pasta will be an idea for casseroles, pasta salads, and saucy pasta bakes.

Rigatoni

Rigatoni is a cylindrical and hollow pasta with ridges around the outside edge and a wide hole on each side. The name rigatoni comes from the Italian word “rigato” which means ridged. A name resulting from the aforementioned ridges on the outside.

The benefits of these holes and ridges are most evident when preparing a particularly chunky and meaty pasta sauce. This is because the rigatoni will be able to latch on to them very effectively.

Additionally, rigatoni also works excellently with both cheese and pasta bakes. As such, if planning to make a cheesy pasta bake then nothing else will compare to rigatoni.

Fusilli vs Rotini: What is the Difference?

Cavatappi

Cavatappi is a type of pasta that gets its name from the Italian word for corkscrews. Additionally, it is also known by the name cellentani. As such you can probably guess that it has a similar spiraling shape to that of rotini.

However, whilst this is true, this type of macaroni pasta also has something in common with fusilli bucati in that these spirals are made from hollow tubes. 

Naturally, then cavatappi can make for an excellent substitute for both fusilli and rotini. Although, similarly to rigatoni, the thicker hollow tubes make it perfectly ideal for thicker sauces with chunks of meat and vegetables.

Radiatori

Radiatori as you may be able to assume is a type of pasta named as such due to a resemblance to that of a household radiator. Whilst this may sound strange it is honestly the best way of describing the general shape of radiatori.

Radiatori pasta is shorter but thicker than both rotini and fusilli pasta, making it roughly square in shape. In addition, it also has ruffled edges which combined with its shape makes it excellent for catching sauces and other food ingredients.

Due to it being particularly ideal for incredibly thick sauces it can be used with casseroles and soups to excellent effect. However, it is also a great choice for pasta salads.

Penne

Penne is perhaps one of the most commonly used shapes of pasta on the market, with the name coming from this shape in the fact it is similar to that of a pen.

The distinct hollow cylindrical shape of penne that is cut at diagonal edges gives it a particularly large surface area makes it so ideal for catching sauces and other ingredients in your dish.

Unlike the similarly shaped rigatoni, penne can either have a ridged or smooth exterior. Additionally, the hollow centres are usually also narrower. 

Just like both fusilli and rotini, penne is excellent for dishes with thick and chunky sauces. Additionally, it is also excellent for baked casserole dishes as that is how it is very commonly used.

Penne may be a little dull or uninspiring to some, but personally, I’m a fan.

Fusilli vs Rotini: What is the Difference?

The Difference Between Fusilli And Rotini

Fusilli and rotini are very similar types of pasta shapes that can and often are used interchangeably. Both have spiraling structures, however, the shape of rotini is more akin to that of a corkscrew whilst fusilli come in spring-like shapes.

Fundamentally both types of pasta work excellently for catching sauce and chunky ingredients within. However, fusilli and its variants will often be better for thicker sauces, meanwhile, rotini is often preferred for more watery sauces such as tomato sauce.

Speaking of variants, fusilli can vary in construction styles with three subtypes existing. Additionally, it is not uncommon to see coloured and flavoured fusilli options such as beetroot or spinach. 

Rotini though whilst often maintaining a consistent look can be made from a variety of different flour types. However, semolina flour is typically the most common variety.

Ultimately, though if worrying about which type to use, then you’re likely overthinking things since plain fusilli and rotini have near-identical textures and tastes. Additionally, even supermarkets often conflate them so you can likely gather that the difference will not be too dramatic.

If unable to find either though, don’t worry. Whether it’s penne, radiator, or anything in between so long as your pasta has ridges and nooks capable of catching food and sauce, it will do the job more than adequately. 

With that in mind, why not experiment a bit with some different pasta shapes? You never know, you may find something that works better than the options above. 

FAQS – Fusilli vs Rotini: What is the Difference?

Is fusilli bigger than rotini?

Fusilli and rotini are quite similar in shape and size with the former being a single spiral whilst the latter is similar to a corkscrew. Fusilli is slightly larger though due to being less tightly wound than rotini.

Can I substitute rotini for fusilli?

Rotini and fusilli can be used pretty much interchangeably so long as you are talking about unflavoured fusilli. This is because flavoured variations will make a difference to your dish whilst unflavoured ones will not.

Is fusilli pasta the same as rotini pasta?

Fusilli pasta and rotini pasta are incredibly similar due to both having spiral-shaped structures. However, fusilli is more akin to little springs in shape whilst rotini more resembles a corkscrew or helix structure. Despite this though, both types of pasta can and often are used interchangeably.

Why fusilli is the best pasta?

To many people, fusilli is considered to be incredibly high-quality pasta due to being the best of all worlds when compared to other types. For example, many see it as being easier to eat than spaghetti or tagliatelle whilst being more substantial than penne which can sometimes be a little bit slimy.