Macaroni is a variety of dry pasta made with durum wheat. Macaroni noodles normally do not contain eggs, (although they may be an optional ingredient) and are normally cut in short, hollow shapes; however, the term refers not to the shape of the pasta, but to the kind of dough from which the noodle is made. Although home machines exist that can make macaroni shapes, macaroni is usually made commercially by large-scale extrusion. The curved shape is caused by the different speeds on either side of the pasta tube as it comes out of the machine. The name derives from Italian "maccheroni", however Italians use "maccheroni" to refer to a straight, tubular, two-inch or longer pasta, and a different name, "chifferi" is used to refer to the pasta shape of this article.

According to legend, macaroni was brought to Italy by Marco Polo, returning to Venice from China in 1292. This hypothesis has long been disproved, since it seems that macaroni was already used in Italy at least a century before, like pasta in general; Moroccan geographer Muhammad al-Idrisi who lived in Sicily, witnessed the existence of macaroni in Sicily and in particular in Trabia.

The academic consensus supports that the word comes from the Greek μακαρία (makaria), a kind of barley broth which was served to commemorate the dead, which in turn comes from μάκαρες (makares), "blessed dead", and that from μακάριος (makarios), collateral of μάκαρ (makar), meaning "blessed, happy". Italian linguist G. Alessio argues that the word can have two origins: the first from the Medieval Greek μακαρώνεια (makarōneia) "dirge" (stated in sec. XIII by James of Bulgaria), which would be passed to mean "funeral meal" and then "food to serve" during this office (see today's μαχαρωνιά - macharōnia in Eastern Thrace, in the sense of "rice-based dish served at the funeral"), in which case the term would be composed of the double root of μακάριος "blessed" and αἰωνίος (aiōnios), "eternally", and the second from the Greek μακαρία "barley broth", which would have added the suffix -one.

In North America macaroni is most associated with the "elbow" shape commonly found in American-style macaroni and cheese. "Elbow macaroni" is also used in a milk pudding, similar to rice pudding, called macaroni pudding.

In areas with large Chinese populations open to Western cultural influence, such as Hong Kong, Macao, Malaysia and Singapore, the local Chinese have adopted macaroni as an ingredient for Chinese-style Western cuisine. In Hong Kong's cha chaan tengs ("Chinese diner") and Southeast Asia's kopi tiams ("coffee shop"), macaroni is cooked in water and then washed of starch, and served in clear broth with ham or frankfurter sausages, peas, black mushrooms, and optionally eggs, reminiscent of noodle soup dishes. This is often a course for breakfast or light lunch fare.