TL;DR Oodles and oodles of doodles of noodles.

I use the words “noodles” and “pasta” interchangeably. I remember being teased in middle school at an Italian classmate’s house for asking for more “noodles” at dinner. We were eating spaghetti and meatballs. I felt embarrassed back then.  But now I’m an adult and couldn’t care less what you think of my noodly vocabulary. Pasta was likely invented in China anyway, which means pasta = noodles.

Without further ado, a discourse on noodles.

A Quick History of Noodles:

Pasta

  • The world’s oldest known noodles were discovered at an archaeological site by the Yellow River in China, and carbon-dated to be more than 4,000 years old (can you say yum).
  • Marco Polo was likely the source of introducing noodle/pasta to Italy.
  • Early Spanish settlers were among the first to bring pasta to America

Types of Flour: Pasta/Noodles can be made from many types of flours, here are the most common ones.

Wheat

  • Soft, may be eggy, potentially yellow due to alkalinity
  • Wheat noodles are the most popular type of noodles in China and definitely in Italy
  • The Chinese usually eat pasta/noodles in broth, while Italians prefer pasta boiled, strained, and tossed with sauce
  • Dishes to Note: Beef Noodles, Spaghetti Bolognese

Rice

  • Very soft, white
  • Typical in the cuisines of Southeast Asia
  • More delicate than wheat noodles, rice noodles require less cooking time and can usually be added to soup dishes in the last few minutes
  • Can also be stir-fried after boiling – be sure to undercook the noodles a bit if you plan to do so
  • Dishes to Note: Pho, Pad See Ew

Sweet Potato

  • Chewy, springy, flavorless, clear/see-through
  • Commonly used in Korean and Northeast Chinese cooking
  • Dishes to Note: Japchae

Buckwheat

  • Nutty, toasty, slightly bitter, light brown/gray in color
  • Buckwheat noodles contain a ton more fiber and half the calories of wheat noodles
  • Buckwheat noodles are best served cold with a side of dipping sauces
  • Dishes to Note: Cold Soba

Shirataki

  • Flavorless, chewy yet crunchy, slippery, grey or clear/see-through
  • 0 calories! Shirataki has long been a miracle diet food of Japan and has only recently picked up by the American market
  • Shirataki can be substituted into any dishes that call for noodles/pasta, but does not has any traditional recipes of its own
  • Dishes to Note: Shirataki Stir-fry

Types:

 

While pasta and noodles can be made into any shape (Hello Alphabet Soup!), here are some general guidelines on when to use which noodle.

Wide Noodles: Generally wide noodles will pick up less sauce and is better suited for heavier sauces (think alfredo). Example: Fettuccine

Skinny Noodles: Generally skinny noodles will pick up more sauce and is better suited for lighter sauces (think tomato-based). Example: Angel-hair

Fancy-shaped pastas: Great to show-off in a salad. Example: Tri-colored Rotini

Twisted Pastas: Great to catch lighter sauces (think Pesto). Example: Fusilli

Flat sheets: Casseroles, or get creative and make a flappy soup. I like to make soup with wonton wrappers. Example: Lasagna

Minis: Great for soups or to thicken up a stew. Example: Orzo, Pastina

And that’s it!

To read more about Japanese noodles specifically, check out our guide to Japanese Cuisine.

 

Some Helpful Pasta Related Equipment: