Carbonara vs. alfredo, they’re both pastas, right? Regarding classic Italian pasta dishes, carbonara and alfredo have a special place in the hearts of pasta lovers worldwide. While they are both creamy indulgent dishes there are distinctive differences between the two. Carbonara is a delightful tasty dish made by combining pasta with a little bit of pasta water, raw eggs, cheese, and usually pork meat. The Italians use guanciale which is cured meat made from pork. It is rich, salty, and fatty. However, alfredo is made in a saucepan which involves cooking down heavy cream and butter creating a thick rich creamy sauce. While these two may seem similar at first they each have unique characteristics. This article will compare the differences between carbonara vs. alfredo, their origins, preparation methods, nutritional values, and ingredients.

Classic Homemade Pasta carbonara Italian with Bacon, eggs, Parmesan Cheese on black plate.
Carbonara is a popular dish in Italy, as well as in other parts of the world.


What are Carbonara and Alfredo?

Carbonara and alfredo are two classic Italian pasta dishes. Both of these dishes are made with a creamy sauce and served with spaghetti or fettuccine.

The History and Origins of Carbonara and Alfredo

Carbonara was a traditional dish in Rome after World War II. Its origins, however, are Neapolitan. The dish was said to be created by Italian cooks who used ingredients such as powdered eggs and cream that were easily available to the American soldiers posted in Italy.

The Alfredo dish is named after Alfredo di Lelio, who created a simple sauce made with butter, cream, and parmesan cheese in the early 20th century. Alfredo used to work at a restaurant that was run by his mother Angelina in Piazza Rosa. The restaurant was forced to close down in 1910.  In 1914 on the via della Scrofa in central Rome, he opened his own restaurant called “Alfredo”.

Carbonara and alfredo are popular dishes because they are easy to make, delicious, filling, and satisfying. These dishes are also versatile and can be enjoyed with a variety of ingredients, such as bacon, chicken, beef, or shrimp.

Ingredients and Preparation of Carbonara and Alfredo

Carbonara is made with spaghetti or fettuccine, eggs, grated parmesan cheese, black pepper, and crispy pancetta or bacon. Some recipes also call for garlic and heavy cream.

To make carbonara, boil the spaghetti or fettuccine first. Then fry the pancetta or bacon until it is nice and crispy. Next, combine the eggs, parmesan cheese, black pepper, and heavy cream in a dish. Retain some of the water from the pasta. You can add a little bit to the sauce if it is too thick. Once the pasta has cooked drain it and add it to the pan, with the pancetta or bacon. Finally, pour the egg mixture over the pasta and stir until the sauce thickens.

Alfredo is made with fettuccine, butter, heavy cream, and parmesan cheese. Garlic can be added to most recipes, or left out for those who prefer a simpler dish.

To make alfredo, prepare the fettuccine according to the package instructions. While the pasta cooks, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Finally, add the heavy cream and parmesan cheese, and stir until the cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth.

Alfredo pasta dinner with creamy white sauce and herbs
Alfredo pasta is a great meal for those who are short on time. It can be prepared in under 15 minutes and requires minimal ingredients. Plus, it's a delicious and comforting meal.

©Tanya Consaul Photography/

Texture and Flavour

The texture of carbonara is typically creamier and thicker than alfredo. This is because of the eggs in the carbonara sauce, which thicken and emulsify the sauce. Carbonara has a slightly smokey flavor from the pancetta or bacon and a delicate hint of parmesan cheese. Alfredo has a rich, buttery flavor with a creamy texture.

Nutritional Value Carbonara and Alfredo

In the chart below we will compare the nutritional values of carbonara vs. alfredo according to Nutritionix.

Nutrition FactsSpaghetti Carbonara
Serving Size: 1 (about 3 cups) (512g)
Pasta Alfredo
Serving size: 1 (about 2 cups)(466g)
Total Fat33g73g
Saturated Fat11g44g
Trans Fat0.4g2.6g
Polyunsaturated Fat4.5g3.9g
Monounsaturated Fat14g18g
Total Carbohydrates133g106g
Dietary Fiber7.5g5.9g

Both carbonara and alfredo contain high amounts of saturated fat and sodium, which can increase the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure. However, carbonara does contain eggs and cheese, which provide some nutritional benefits. It's important to remember that these dishes should be enjoyed in moderation to help maintain a healthy balanced diet.

Popular Variations of Carbonara and Alfredo

Italian Variations

Though alfredo has Roman origins, unlike carbonara which originated in Italy, both these meals are now common throughout Italy. There are many Italian variations of both, such as alfredo made with cream and mushrooms, or carbonara made with guanciale instead of pancetta.

American Variations

Both carbonara and alfredo have been tweaked to include foods like chicken, shrimp, and veggies in the United States. To make alfredo a little bit healthier, there are additional variants made using low-fat milk or even Greek yogurt.

International Variations

The flavors and ingredients of carbonara and alfredo have been changed in many different areas of the world. For instance, soba noodles and fish roe are frequently used to make carbonara in Japan, while smoked sausage is a traditional addition to alfredo in Brazil. On the other hand, South Africans often like to add mushrooms, ham, parsley, garlic, basil, and chicken stock.

Tasty Serving Suggestions

Carbonara is a rich and hearty dish that pairs well with a simple green salad and a glass of red wine. You can also serve it with garlic bread or crusty bread for dipping.

Alfredo is a creamy and generous dish that pairs well with a crisp white wine served with a side dish of steamed vegetables, such as broccoli or asparagus.

Final Thoughts

When choosing between carbonara and alfredo, it's important to consider your personal taste preferences and dietary restrictions. If you prefer a dish with a strong cheese flavor and don't mind the extra calories, alfredo may be the right choice for you. Should you have any egg allergies keep in mind that carbonara contains eggs. There are also vegetarian and vegan options for carbonara and alfredo. Vegetarian versions typically substitute the meat with vegetables or mushrooms, while vegan versions use plant-based ingredients such as cashews, and tofu. By understanding the differences between carbonara and alfredo, you can better appreciate the taste and origin of each dish. So, whether you're dining out or cooking up a batch of pasta at home, don't hesitate to enjoy either of these classic Italian pasta dishes!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between carbonara and alfredo?

Carbonara and alfredo are creamy pasta dishes but differ in their origins, ingredients, and preparation methods. Carbonara is a dish from Italy, made with egg yolks, guanciale, pecorino romano cheese, and black pepper. On the other hand, alfredo originated in Rome but became popular in America, made with butter, heavy cream, and parmesan cheese.

Which is healthier, carbonara or alfredo?

Both carbonara and alfredo are high in fat and calories, so they should be enjoyed in moderation. Carbonara tends to be slightly healthier since it's made with fewer ingredients and relies on eggs for creaminess rather than heavy cream. However, alfredo can be made healthier by using low-fat milk instead of heavy cream.

What are some common variations of carbonara and alfredo?

There are many variations of carbonara and alfredo, depending on the region and your personal preferences. Some popular variations of carbonara include adding peas, mushrooms, or chicken to the dish. Alfredo can be enhanced with garlic, herbs, or additional vegetables like broccoli or spinach. Additionally, some chefs like to add a touch of wine to both dishes for added flavour.

Carbonara and Alfredo Recipes

Trying new recipes is a great way to mix up your weekly meal plan. Whether you’re looking to try something completely new or just want to change up your usual dinner rotation, here are a few recipes worth trying.

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