The appearance of the pasta can help you determine its quality. Dried pasta should be a translucent, creamy yellow color without any tint of gray. When held up to the light it should appear translucent, without signs of any air bubbles or dark specs. The dark specs should only appear if it due to the type of flavoring agent used. Dried egg pastas should have a bright yellow color and will not appear translucent. The surface of dried pasta should have a slightly rough matte finish, which helps hold the sauce to the pasta. Look at the thickness of different brands of pasta and if there is a difference, choose the thinner brand. Pasta that is too thick will become doughy when cooked.
When dried pasta is cooked, the less sticky it is the better the quality. It should not stick together in the strainer or when it is being chewed. Good pasta will have a chewy texture that has a bounce to it when chewed. These are qualities that you cannot determine until the pasta has been cooked but if the pasta wants to stick in a clump after being cooked or has too soft a texture when chewed, you will want to try a different brand of pasta in the future.
When selecting fresh pasta look for the expiration date to be sure it will be fresh up until the time it will be used. Fresh pasta should not look dried out, and it should have a good smell. Make sure that it has been stored properly to maintain its freshness. Fresh pasta found in a food store may have a tendency to be thicker than homemade or dried. It is manufactured thicker to help keep it fresh longer. The extra thickness causes the pasta to be a little chewier, but it also helps to minimize breakage during handling.