Noodles have been around for centuries which seems a very bland statement to make about a food which has such an illustrious past as a staple. Literally, they have been around though for a very long time. We don’t know if it is a popular myth but the great explorer Marco Polo brought noodles back from China to Venice on his return in 1296. Whether they were invented in Italy is not really true as they were certainly about in China and probably in various parts of Arabia too. In 2005 a pot was found in the Lajia archaeological dig in China which was over 4,000 year old; it contained beautifully preserved noodles.
Most dried noodles are the saviour of a student – how many college guys do you know who have lived off these packs ? They are very convenient for camping and hiking. Sometimes it has been the only foodstuff worth taking on a long wet hike through the Cascades in the USA or up into the Lake District of Cumberland in the UK.
When you look at who is eating noodles we can see that there are probably five countries in the world that would not consider them to be part of their traditional food culture. The United States of America is the first – why ? Because they are only really confined to specific cultures. Russia, Brazil and India certainly eat noodles but not as effectively as their neighbours. Finally a number of African countries but especially Nigeria have not developed a noodle or pasta culture.
The Makeup Of A Noodle
Noodles are usually prepared from wheat or rice, or even a combination of both. The other type of grain is buckwheat as in a soba style noodle. The other ingredients will be water and a salt. The salt is often the defining material.
They can also be classified according to the salt composition which is usually based on the presence of absence of alkaline compounds such as sodium carbonate and/or potassium carbonate.
Rice noodles unlike wheat-based types have the benefit of being gluten-free and possessing a low-glycaemic index. These noodles can also appear as flat ribbons which are twisted into convenient bundles for packaging and storage (Lu & Collado, 2019)
The consistency of the noodle depends to a great extent on its protein content. This is correlated with firmness and with elasticity. The white salted noodles are between 8 and 11 per cent protein and are probably the most flexible of the noodle types. Yellow alkaline noodles have a content between 9 and 13 per cent protein whilst instant noodles are between 8.5 and 12.5 per cent.
How Are Noodles Prepared
Noodles are prepared as a flat or rolled string of dough which has not been leavened. The source materials for noodles are usually wheat or rice depending on which staple is more commonly available. Asian noodles are always made from one or the other although some mixes are known of. Most processors produce them by extrusion. To store fresh noodles means keeping them at as a cool a temperature as possible.
The general recipe for noodles is the following:-
You’ll need the following for serving 4 people:
- 2 to 2 and 1/4 cups of all-purpose white flour although wholemeal can also be used
- 2 egg yolks and 1 whole egg which is lightly beaten
- 1/3 cup water
- 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil such as maize or corn oil or olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- All-purpose flour
Preparation Of Noodles
A dough mixture is prepared using the following method:-
- Into a large bowl stir together 1 and 3/4 cups of the flour and the salt. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture.
- In a small bowl combine the egg yolks with a whole egg, the water, and oil. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture, stirring to combine.
- The dough will certainly become sticky at this point but becomes smoother as it is kneaded.
Kneading The Noodle Dough
- Sprinkle a clean surface for kneading the dough with the remaining flour.
- Place dough onto the floured surface.
- Knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic. The whole process takes between 8 and 12 minutes in total.
To knead dough effectively, fold the dough and then push it with the heel of your hand. Turn the dough and repeat this folding and pushing until the dough reaches a smooth and elastic consistency.
- Cover the dough and let it rest for 10 minutes.
You can make the dough in advance to this point. Transfer the dough to an airtight container; freeze up to 3 months. Thaw completely in the refrigerator, then continue with the next step.
Roll the Dough
- Divide the dough into four equal portions.
- On a lightly floured surface, roll each portion into a 12 x 9-inch rectangle. It can be passed through a pasta machine until 1/16 inch thick.
- Dust both sides of the dough portions with additional flour.
- Let the dough stand, uncovered, about 20 minutes.
Cut the Noodles
- Loosely roll the dough into a spiral.
- Cut the spiral crosswise into 1/4-inch-wide strips.
- Unroll the strips to separate.
- Cut the strips into 2- to 3-inch lengths.
- At this point you can cook the noodles immediately, or dry and store them (see next steps).
To Store Cut Noodles
- Spread the noodles on a wire cooling rack.
- To store in the refrigerator: Let the noodles dry for 2 hours. Place in an airtight container and chill for up to 3 days.
- To freeze: Dry the noodles for at least 1 hour; place them in a freezer bag or freezer container and freeze for up to 8 months.
Most packaged noodles come with explicit instructions on preparation. In most cases the noodles along with any powder mixes or soup bases are added to boiling water (2 and one third of a cup is enough). They require cooking in boiling water for between 4 and 5 minutes. Simply remove them from the heat and enjoy as a broth.
There are some great Youtube videos explaining how to make these noodles at home. Just check the link for one of the best. The presenter has a neat way of showing how these noodles are prepared using very simple ingredients. I’ve reproduced what she has done below.
Types of Noodles
It is not surprising that Asian noodles are regarded as the most authentic both in type, flavour and texture. There is an almost infinite variety of ingredients used to accompany noodles that they have earned this badge of versatility not found with other staples.
In Taiwan, South China and a few other East Asian countries we find a cooked noodle which is then treated with a vegetable oil that lends a special type of mouthfeel. This are the Hokkien-type noodles. They are always served ‘al dente’. The Hokkien style noodle is boiled once or twice, or steamed so that they are thoroughly cooked. Oil is added after this cooking.
Noodles have been an established ingredient and staple of Japanese cuisine for millenia. They are commonly used as a staple in broths and other hot dishes. There are many types which are now all available throughout the Western world.
The most popular and common are ramen. these are thin noddles made from wheat flour, some salt and water and a special type of alkaline water called kansui. The dough is usually risen before being rolled flat. These all have a firm texture and are commonly a pale yellow-beige in colour. It’s possible to buy these noodles in all sorts of shapes and sizes.
Ramen noodles are often served in a stock broth. There are a large number of dishes that make use of their versatility. The classic dishes are shōyu ramen, shio ramen, miso ramen, tonkotsu ramen, and curry ramen.
The thickest noodles are known as udon. These are white, wheat-based noodles, that are 4-6mm in width. Such noodles are commonly used in soups and broths in Winter months. The other noddles is prepared from buckwheat and wheat flour and these are the soba noodles.
The packaging of noodles is generally split between two types – a cellophane and flexible pouch which contains noodle and a sachet of sauce mix which can be of dried ingredients or a sauce. the other and perhaps more sophisticated alternative is for them to be contained in plastic cups or bowls to which water is added. The advantage of the bowl is that they are used for serving the product. One issues that has steadily come to the fore though is the high level of waste and environmental impact in using what is a generally a non-recycled package.
An interesting development is the development of the microwaveable pouch which allows heating up of a ready made product to which water has already been added. These can be a single noodle product or ones that is part of a dish containing other ingredients.
What Factors Affect The Quality Of Noodles
The key factors affecting noodle quality are probably applied to all other food products;
- raw materials
- process of mixing such ingredients to form the dough, paste or slurry
- dough resting
- rolling and sheeting
- cooking ( steaming, boiling, frying)
Noodle Products In The Marketplace
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When I read Amazon reviews about products I’m always wary of wholly believing all the information that is posted but there are some comments which I think have a ring of truth about them. The leading products are those in the top 100 for the category ‘Packaged Pasta & Noodle Dishes’. The current number one in September 2019 for the USA is Nongshim’s Shin Ramyun Noodle Soup, Gourmet Spicy, 4.2 Oz. which is coming as a pack of 20. Nongshim is a Korean company which is making and selling classic dried noodles. The no. 1 seller in the USA is claiming to be made in that country. The ingredient list is typically large when you consider what spice powder mix is being used. May be the sodium content needs to be a little less although on trying this brand noodles need plenty of flavour. I often try the serving suggestion shown on the pack and adding slices of what looks like lamb or beef seems to help improve the overall appeal of the product.
The second leading noodle pack is from Maruchan who offer Instant Lunch Chicken Flavour in a 2.25 Oz. product with 12 in a pack which looks reasonable value. The product is in a pot rather than sachet and comes as a classic Ramen Noodle Soup. This product has a surprisingly high sodium content given that it is claiming to be less sodium – I wonder what the original sodium content must have been. They also offer Lime flavour with Shrimp and Chipotle Chicken flavour.
A solid Japanese brand is Nissin which also offers a triple layered dried ramen noodle. Currently third in the rankings they have Umami Tonkotsu flavor in a 3.35 ounce sachet as part of a pack of six.
Some brands now help you avoid that difficult decision of what bowl to put the boiled noodles into without resorting to using the saucepan of course. Nongshim have a convenient bowl which is made of microwave safe BPA. Their offering is for a beef noodle soup which is strongly flavoured with onion. The real benefit here though is the soup bowl but its not reusable because of the way the ingredients are prepared in the bowl.
Pei Wei look to have a very wide distribution throughout the USA – we don’t see anything similar save for Wagamamas in the UK. Pei Wei (https://www.pwiwei.com) are spread across middle America and none in the NotherWestern states at the moment.
Lo, Z.-H., Collado, L.S. (2019). Chapter 17. Rice Noodles In: Rice. Chemistry & Technology 4th edt. AACC Int. (Article)