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Feb 21, 2007 06:42 AM

whole grain asian noodles?

so, nowadays its all the rage to talk about and search out whole grain versions of the noodles we all knew as kids. whole grain cereals, whole grain italian-style pastas, etc are increasingly popular and available but am i the only one who feels like many of the asian noodles are being left out? as if these noodles made of white, refined wheat flour (or even the white, refined rice flour ones) weren't as bad for us since they are from china, japan, korea, thailand, etc? i dont get it. double standard?
i know that there are indeed some available (i actually have tried many) so i dont need a list of links for where to order them; im just making a point and raising a question regarding public opinion concerning these noodles is alll.

i mean, think of udon noodles, ramen noodles, those little tiny rice noodles in pad thai etc - they're all completely refined, stripped down starches 100%. also, i mean thinking about breads and rices, etc in the west, these were all ORIGINALLY eaten in their whole grain versions quite naturally and it was only the industrial revolution, etc that led to the refining of grains. i can not but assume that in the east it was the same. so, that leads me to believe that 'back in the day' as it were there were all these naturally (as opposed to politically correct or trendy) whole grain noodle dishes. any help at all here? i'd love to here from someone who grew up in the countryside of thailand (or somewhere) eating what im talking about. thanks.

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  1. Asian noodle dishes are designed around the texture and flavor of the particular noodle components they use. Why throw all this out to pander to he obsessions of a few? One can probably find whole-grain noodles in the local health food store, right next to the brown rice.

    What'll they want next, low-fat foie gras?

    2 Replies
    1. re: Gary Soup

      my point was that old-school naturally whole grain noodles would specifically NOT be 'pandering' but the original way they were made.

      1. re: ben61820

        not necessarily. aside from parts of north asia, wheat has always been a much less important or available grain than rice. even today in several asian countries people literally greet each other by asking if one has "eaten rice." it's almost like saying "how's your day going?" wheat noodles were often used for ceremonial offerings and feasts, and i think they were, for some time, the domain of the wealthier, which wouldn't make it odd that they are made of refined white flour. japanese soba and korean naengmyon noodles are made of buckwheat, yes, but most traditional asian noodles i know are made from refined starches, be it rice, mung beans, sweet potato, etc. i don't think it follows that these noodles must have had whole grain ancestors.

    2. I have a package of Japanese buckwheat soba noodles at home, I thought that those were fairly traditional, and also whole (buck)wheat. I use them for sesame noodles all the time, and I believe I read somewhere that this is the traditional way to serve them.

      5 Replies
      1. re: ballulah

        Yes, sobas are my favorite, luckily they are whole wheat, but they would be my favorite anyway. Love the hearty toothsomeness.

        1. re: danna

          Make sure you check the ingredients when you buy soba if you're looking for whole grains. Most soba is primarily regular refined flour, with buckwheat farther down on the ingredients list. Soba that has buckwheat as the primary ingredient harder to find and usually pretty expensive.

          1. re: Humbucker

            Most brands that I've bought list buckwheat second. I suspect the more expensive ones are close to 50/50. Some also list yam. This may be the same yam that is used in shirataki noodles. According to one of my Japanese cookbooks
            'As soba made from just buckwheat flour lacks elasticity and stickiness, wheat flour is usually added to act as a smoothing, binding agent.'

            There's a paperback called 'The Book of SOBA' by James Udesky. It recommends a beginner start with a 3:7 ratio of wheat to buckwheat when making them from scratch, or even 4:6. With skill this can change to 2:8.


            1. re: paulj

              The yam is most likely yamaimo, the very starchy mountain yam (not same as konnyaku), which is also a good binding agent, and gives the soba a certain nice kind of slimy slippery feeling when cooked. (I would normally choose these for eating cold as zaru soba; for soup, the difference would probably be lost)

            2. re: Humbucker

              this is totally true and something that MANY westerners do not know. actually, most in Japan dont know/bother with this either. but we should all look at the ingredient list on those soba noodles. you at least want the buckwheat listed BEFORE the wheat, if there is any wheat at all that is. 100% buckwheat noodles are known in Japan as "juuwari soba". even over there they are the exception, NOT the norm. the taste is markedly different than the more 'normal' wheat and buckwheat versions. much nicer. like many whole grain products it def has a somewhat nutty flavor.

        2. In Vietnam, all the noodles are made from rice flour, which is processed from the majority of rice grown locally - which is white rice. When I was there in October, I visited a rice noodle making factory and it's because white rice is cheaper and easier to grow than brown rice...this is why most of those noodles are white instead of brown.

          2 Replies
          1. re: asturtz

            White rice is brown rice with the germ, husk, and bran removed. No such thing as a white rice plant.

            Which then begs the question as to why brown rice is often sold for more than white since there's less processing involved.

            1. re: missmu

              Because white rice is more popular. Since it is what sells the producers of rice would have to leave behind some brown rice which has a very small market rather than process it into the profitable white rice market.

          2. You can get brown rice noodles at bulk barn/ health stores. I have also bought brown rice vermicelli noodles from Loblaws. They do have a very similar texture (eg. not "grainier" then the normal white variety), so its hard to tell whether they were around before the refined era, or they have just come along as a result of the new whole grain shift. Either way, the taste difference is unnoticable, so its an easy dietary change to make.

            1 Reply
            1. re: pancake

              I first saw the brown rice vermicelli at T&T. So glad to also see it at Loblaws. It tastes almost like the regular kind.

              I also like the Eden brands of kamut noodles - soba, somen and udon. They don't have that "whole grain" taste.

            2. i love all the replies, thanks. however, i was looking a bit more for a perhaps theoretical discussion concerning the history of noodles.

              2 Replies
              1. re: ben61820

                The Soba book that I mentioned in another post may a good place to look for noodle history. A quick glance suggests that the noodle form goes back about 400 years, the the use of the 'grain' goes back much longer.

                I don't know if there are historical sources on noodle and grain use in China. One possibility is that refined, or at least well sifted, wheat flour has always been used for noodles, while the coarser flour and even whole grains were used for porridges and breads. With noodles texture is important, and the bran can interfere with that.


                1. re: ben61820

                  The argument by the seminal medical anthropologist Dr. Weston Price is that the introduction of non-native foods began the downfall of the natural vibrant health of native diets. The eating of refined grains -- including all those "traditional" noodle types -- probably HAS degraded health throughout Asia for the last few centuries. Why not? Asian civilizations are older and certainly not without their health problems, such as stomach cancer. On the other hand, by what measure are whole grains healthier, besides the current nutritional correctness you mention? Some of the naturopathic gurus currently banish all grains, and/or focus on a food's glycemic load; in the case of whole wheat, brown rice, buckwheat, and other whole grains, this is just as high as the refined versions.