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Guide to Asian Noodles: Udon, Soba and Rice Noodles

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You may have noticed a bunch of new fangled noodles cropping up on your favorite organic grocery store’s shelves. These Asian noodles aren’t really new (some of them have been around for centuries) but they’re new to many of us. Soba noodles. Udon noodles. Rice noodles. Understanding the differences between these noodles can really hurt your noodle. Here’s a breakdown about these versatile and delicious noodles.

Udon noodles

Udon noodles are a Japanese favorite. These plump noodles have a distinct chewy texture. But their quirks don’t stop there. The traditional way to knead the dough to make udon noodles requires your feet! Really, it’s a genius idea. You use your feet and your body weight to do the kneading instead of tiring out your arm muscles. For you germ-o-phobes, don’t worry. You place the dough in a Ziploc bag, cover that with a towel and only then do you knead the dough with your tootsies.

Fresh udon noodles are made using just flour, sea salt and water, but they can be finicky and difficult to make just right. So, lucky you. You can also buy dried udon noodles. The dried noodles even come in brown rice udon noodle varieties for those of you with gluten sensitivities. (Just check to make sure wheat flour isn’t added.) Whether you choose to use dried or freshly made noodles, udon noodles can be served hot or cold. These Asian noodles are often prepared and served in hot broth or stir fried. When cold, they accompany grated vegetables along with a dipping sauce.

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From the Organic Authority Files

Soba noodles

They may resemble spaghetti, but soba noodles are nothing like the Italian favorite. These traditional Japanese noodles are made from buckwheat flour, which—despite its name—has nothing to do with wheat. Buckwheat is actually a plant cultivated for its seeds. The seeds can be eaten raw. Or, when ground into flour, the seeds can be used to make noodles and other gluten-free products. Be careful about buying soba noodles for their gluten-free perks though. Many soba noodles are mixed with wheat flour to help bind the noodles together.

Still, soba noodles offer a bowl full of health benefits. They’re rich with fiber and B vitamins. Buckwheat also contains two health-promoting antioxidants, called rutin and quercetin. These antioxidants may provide cancer-fighting benefits. A diet rich in buckwheat has also been linked to lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure.

Soba noodles are delicious served in both hot and cold dishes. These brown noodles offer a slightly nutty flavor. Traditionally the hot dishes serve soba noodles in some kind of soup, but you could use them like a regular pasta or stir fried with veggies. They also make scrumptious cold salads.

Rice noodles

Made from rice flour, these super soft Asian noodles are extremely versatile. Rice noodles work equally well in hot or cold dishes. Their neutral flavor makes them pair well with a variety of sauces, vegetables and meats. (My favorite way to eat them is in Vietnamese pho.) Rice noodles come in several sizes. The super thin variety is known as vermicelli, while the thicker varieties are referred to as sticks, ribbons or sheets. Rice noodles don’t contain as many vitamins and minerals as regular pasta, but they also don’t contain gluten. Plus, you can look for brown rice varieties to get an extra dose of whole grains and fiber.

Follow Kirsten on Twitter @kirsten_hudson, Google+ and Pinterest.

image: mac.rj

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