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Are soba noodles whole grain?

Junie D May 3, 2011 01:35 PM

I know they are usually made with some refined wheat flour, but is the buckwheat flour used to make soba refined or whole grain flour? I have been googling and googling and can't seem to find even a label.

  1. Junie D May 3, 2011 02:03 PM

    So apparently Eden brand is made from only whole buckwheat flour


    Is this typical?

    2 Replies
    1. re: Junie D
      paulj May 3, 2011 02:38 PM

      Note their price - $14/lb. Buckwheat noodles selling for $4/lb in the Asian market will not have this high a proportion of buckwheat.

      Buckwheat groats are probably the easiest way of getting whole buckwheat. Markets aimed at Eastern Europeans are the best place to find these.

      1. re: Junie D
        rabaja May 3, 2011 10:42 PM

        No, it's not at all typical.
        I seek out the Eden brand, although the price is off-putting.

      2. paulj May 3, 2011 02:34 PM

        Buckwheat does not have gluten, but it does have some starch that acts like a gum. So it is possible to make noodles with pure buckwheat, but it is trickier to handle. My impression is that only highly skilled Japanese cooks can make pure buckwheat noodles. All of the dried noodles that I've seen in markets list wheat flour as the first ingredient. None give proportions, but I suspect most are more than 50% wheat.

        In general the darker the buckwheat flour (and noodle) the more hull remains; conversely light colored flour will have less of the hull.

        One food encyclopedia puts it this way:
        Buckwheat kernels 'are filled with a soft, starchy endosperm (80% starch, 14% protein) and encased in a thin seed coat that is dark green or tan. The hulls are removed, but some hull may be present in buckwheat flour, lending it an overall brown coloring with dark brown-black specks.'

        It is possible to buy pure buckwheat hulls - they are used to fill pillows.

        16 Replies
        1. re: paulj
          Zeldog May 3, 2011 07:58 PM

          It's fine to want to have minimally processed foods, but the term "whole grain" does not make much sense for buckwheat because it's not wheat or even a grain, if you define grain as coming from a species of grass (as wild rice is not rice). I'm not sure what Eden means by whole grain, but I've seen buckwheat hulls and I doubt they are milling buckwheat without separating the seeds from the hulls. That would be like milling wheat without separating the grain from the chaff or making almond flour without removing the nuts from the shells.

          I can't say for sure, but I suspect Eden is just using the term "whole grain" as a marketing gimmick.

          1. re: Zeldog
            goodhealthgourmet May 3, 2011 08:40 PM

            to be fair, all the major retail brands of buckwheat flour - e.g. Bob's Red Mill, Arrowhead Mills, Hodgson Mill - label/market it as "whole grain." they do the same thing with flour made from quinoa & amaranth, both of which are also pseudocereals and not true "grains."

            in the cases of these flours, they may not qualify as grains in the botanical sense, but they're still typically categorized as "whole grain" for nutritional purposes.

            1. re: goodhealthgourmet
              Junie D May 4, 2011 08:34 AM

              Right, I understand buckwheat is no more a grain than quinoa. So maybe my question should have been more like "is the buckwheat flour in soba made from the intact seed (not including hull)?" I guess what I am wondering is if buckwheat is similar to grains in the sense of having not only a fibrous hull (discarded as for other whole grains), but also a bran-like layer. It certainly has a starchy endosperm-like component and germ. To rephrase again: is soba made from the "whole" germ, endosperm, and bran of buckwheat? Assuming buckwheat seed is similar to grain seeds in having these components.

              1. re: Junie D
                paulj May 4, 2011 09:01 AM

                read the chapter on buckwheat milling from this book on Asian Foods


                Apparently the germ is in the middle, and not hard like in grains, so it is not separated out. The amount of seed coat in the flour varies with the 'grade'. Some grades have no seed coat, some more. All grades can be used for noodles.

                1. re: paulj
                  Junie D May 4, 2011 10:47 AM

                  Thanks that was very helpful. I think the answer to my question is, soba is not necessarily whole seed because while the buckwheat may be whole seed (minus hull of course), the amount of refined wheat flour added to the buckwheat flour to make soba (and perhaps necessary for strength added by the wheat's gluten) varies a lot.

                  Apparently Eden's pricey soba noodles are 100% buckwheat, and as you point out above some soba makers don't add wheat flour.

                  When I think about whole buckwheat groats, they do indeed have a thin bran-like layer. But it appears not as tough (fibrous) as the bran of grains.

                  1. re: Junie D
                    la2tokyo May 4, 2011 11:14 AM

                    For handmade noodles, typical soba restaurants use 80/20 buckwheat:wheat ratio, and often also make 100% buckwheat noodles too. A lot of people prefer the 80/20 because it has a better texture, and the taste and aroma is almost the same. For machine made the ratios fluctuate much more widely, with some brands shamefully using more wheat than buckwheat. There are 100% buckwheat brands available in Japan, and naturally they command a higher price. I assume if you wanted to make 100% buckwheat noodles by machine you would just use more #1 flour as it is relatively easy to make into noodles. The more #3 flour you add the more easily the dough cracks when it's rolled out because there are hard particles of seed coat in the flour which are harder to grind to a fine texture, and also because they have little binding ability. The highly refined #1 flour is probably not much better for you than wheat flour, so the nutritional value of 100% buckwheat flour that has been separated and reconstituted in a ratio that's not normal probably isn't the same. I guess it's possible that they don't add extra buckwheat starch (which is basically what #1 is), but I kind of doubt that they just grind the flour and make soba on an industrial scale without adjusting its content to make the dough easier for machines to work with.

                    1. re: la2tokyo
                      Junie D May 4, 2011 11:21 AM

                      Very interesting about adjusting the ratios of different buckwheat flours. That is just the sort of insight I was hoping for. Thank you!

            2. re: Zeldog
              paulj May 3, 2011 08:45 PM

              The recent Hokkaido episode of No Reservations has a segment on hand made soba.

              I haven't found a review that compares these Eden soba with other Japanese soba. The price does support the 100% claim, as does the fact that no gluten-free Americans have complained. But whether the price is worth it is another question.

              An informative article on soba

              Article on making Italian alpine buckwheat noodles

              and a soba class in Tokyo

              1. re: paulj
                la2tokyo May 3, 2011 11:24 PM

                Assuming the OP wants to know whether buckwheat is whole grain because that would presumably make it more nutritious, even if we can answer the buckwheat question accurately I still don't think that you can infer that "whole grain" buckwheat benefits parallel those of wheat. Zeldog basically summed up the problem with calling soba whole grain. First of all, buckwheat is nothing like wheat, so even if is "whole grain," anything you would say about the benefits of eating whole grain would probably not apply to eating "whole grain" buckwheat. Buckwheat hulls are removed before refining to flour. I am fairly sure that the hulls have very little nutritional value, as they are not even good for animal feed. Indeed, as other people have said, the hulls are most notably used for stuffing pillows. After being hulled, buckwheat flour is refined to various degrees to make soba. #1 flour, used to make sarashina soba is only from the center of the buckwheat, and is basically pure starch. Less refined flours #2,3, and sometimes #4 and up are used to make different kinds of soba. In almost every case some portion of the groats close to the hull is discarded because it makes producing noodles more difficult. There are some places that produce arabiki, also known as inaka soba, that uses almost all the grain, and sometimes even put part of the hull back in, but I doubt that anyone can claim that they grind down the entire groat and then make the soba out of the resulting flour without sifting anything out of it first. You could make soba-gaki, or dumplings out of whole grain flour, but making noodles out of it would be almost impossible. Because it's almost impossible to do by hand it should be even more difficult with a machine, which makes Eden Food's claim that their soba is "whole grain" kind of suspicious.

                Also note that I am not talking about making soba without wheat flour, which is more difficult, but something that most soba makers have no problem doing.

                1. re: la2tokyo
                  paulj May 4, 2011 12:01 AM

                  'The book of Soba' (Udesky) says that the center #1 flour is higher in the viscous (or gluey) starch, while the part of the kernel close to the seed coat is low in that starch (but higher in protein). Sounds as though a 100% buckwheat noodle is more likely to be made from the more refined (#1) flour, while one using #4 is more likely to include some wheat flour (for its gluten).

                  1. re: paulj
                    vil May 4, 2011 11:01 AM

                    Maybe that explains why I found Eden's soba to be flabby and gritty compared to the soba I am used to, which is usually the popular nihachi soba. Nihachi is literally "two-eight", referring to the proportion of wheat flour to buckwheat flour (i.e. 2:8).

                    I was wondering for the longest time why, that while the nihachi soba would give me a pleasant chewy-gooey bite (compared to the cheaper versions that is mostly wheat), the Eden soba, even though being 100% buckwheat, would fail to give said pleasant texture.

                    Edit: I realize "chewy-gooey" can be interpreted as synonymous with the "flabby" that I associate with Eden's soba. I cannot think of words to describe it now but can tell you that one of these textures are desirable and one is not!

                  2. re: la2tokyo
                    tastesgoodwhatisit May 4, 2011 01:05 AM

                    My guess is that the "whole grain" designation is pretty useless, but what they are charging $14 a pound for is the 100% buckwheat/no wheat flour version.

                    I would also guess that whatever method they use to make it is totally different for a machine than by hand, and therefore not really comparable.

                    1. re: la2tokyo
                      Junie D May 4, 2011 11:00 AM

                      Nutrition is one of my questions, but what I am really concerned about is whether I could classify soba as a "whole grain" product. Buckwheat is technically not a grain of course, but we tend to lump it in with grains, along with other non-grains like quinoa, because it is high in carbohydrate.

                      A more accurate term would be simply "seed" but then you get confusion about legumes (also seeds but nutritionally distinct because they are higher in protein and lower in carb than "grains) and nuts (also seeds but lower in carb and higher in fat than "grains"). Plus buckwheat is more similar to grains in the way it is processed.

                      1. re: Junie D
                        paulj May 4, 2011 11:22 AM

                        Why do you need to classify it one way or the other?

                        1. re: paulj
                          Junie D May 4, 2011 11:24 AM

                          Because I am giving a presentation on, among other things, the health benefits of whole "grains"

                          1. re: Junie D
                            goodhealthgourmet May 4, 2011 12:15 PM

                            well in that case it's product-specific. the ADA *does* classify buckwheat nutritionally as a whole grain (which i assume you obviously already know), so as you concluded in one of your responses above, if the noodles are composed of 100% buckwheat flour that was made from the whole, crushed seed, then they're whole grain. so if the ingredient label on the package says "whole buckwheat flour" then they're whole grain. if it just says "buckwheat flour" or if there's another flour listed that doesn't specifically say "whole" then technically it's not 100% whole grain.

                            so...you can recommend a specific product - like the Eden 100% Buckwheat Soba that *is* whole-grain - or you can just educate them about how to read the label and determine the whole-grain status for themselves based on what the ingredients say...which is what i do with my clients. just don't even bother with the pseudocereal vs seed vs true grain classification because you'll likely confuse the heck out of everyone :)

              2. paulj May 4, 2011 12:46 PM

                describes the products of a major processor of buckwheat, Minn-Dak (note the state names). They have trademarked product Farinetta which is enriched in the outer layers of the seed. I found them by following a few links for D-Chiro-Inositol (DCI).

                I don't think anyone, American or Japanese, simply grinds the whole hulled seed to be sold as 'whole buckwheat flour'.

                2 Replies
                1. re: paulj
                  goodhealthgourmet May 4, 2011 06:12 PM

                  I don't think anyone, American or Japanese, simply grinds the whole hulled seed to be sold as 'whole buckwheat flour'.
                  then how do you explain the flour from companies like Bob's Red Mill with "whole grain buckwheat" as the only ingredient listed on their packaging? i'm not trying to be difficult, i'm genuinely curious about how else you'd interpret that.

                  1. re: goodhealthgourmet
                    paulj May 4, 2011 06:34 PM

                    I have some buckwheat flour, bought from a bulk bin, but probably from Bobs. It is light gray with some dark flecks, so clearly has some of the seed coat or hull.

                    The Book of Soba says that in the USA and Canada 'the hull is ground together with the soft, inner kernel and only later is it sifted out.' In Japan and Europe the hull is first removed, and then the kernel is ground. The NA method is 'more economical, but also accounts for a slight bitterness in the final product.'

                    That grind & sift method is consistent with Bob's description. Contrary to what I wrote it probably does meet the definition of 'ground whole seed', even if some of the seed coat is removed when the hull is sifted out.

                    Whether that applies to Japanese made buckwheat noodles is another question.

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