By Cindy Yuong, AOS of Baking & Pastry
March 4, 2016
Noodles are a staple food prepared in many cuisines. There are many varieties of noodles, and much of them are made with ingredients that some people cannot eat. Noodles can have wheat gluten, egg, and soy, three of the top eight food allergens. One of the main types, pasta, is ubiquitous in menus but includes egg and flour, meaning the noodle is non-vegan and not gluten-free. The college-life savior, instant ramen, is also made with wheat flour. In order to cater to the consumer’s needs, we should be able to prepare dishes that do not set off their sensitivities. There are many alternatives to noodles that are both gluten-free and vegan, safe for anyone to eat.
Gluten is found in the most popular noodle products, but it is possible to enjoy our favorite noodle dishes despite gluten sensitivity. Soba noodles are a Japanese originating variety made with buckwheat, which, despite the name of the flour, do not have wheat gluten in them. Soba comes in packaging much like pasta noodles and can be eaten in both cold and hot dishes after boiling and straining. The word soba is also used to describe any thin noodle variety in Japan, so be sure to check the label for ingredients before preparing.
All rice noodles are also naturally egg, soy, and gluten-free. Rice noodles are widely used in many Asian cuisines , from the rice vermicelli in our beloved Pho, to the thicker noodles in Pad Thai or the thinner ones in Pancit, and the fried rice noodles in other dishes. Similar are the cellophane or glass noodles that are made from mung bean or other starch and water. They are sometimes called Chinese vermicelli or clear noodles, hence their translucent appearance. The noodles can be adapted into other dishes and take in the wonderful flavors of their sauces or base. If pasta in its bounty of different shapes is needed, there are many gluten-free choices being produced. A variety of brands is creating pastas out of quinoa, corn, and also rice flours. It may not be the original pasta recipe, but the alternatives are made to taste and act just like the original.
Noodles that are free of wheat and egg, but include soy are shirataki noodles made from tofu. These noodles are especially known for being low in fat, carbs, and overall calories and can be used just like any other noodles now that they come in different noodle sizes and shapes. If soy is of concern, there is another type of shirataki noodles that are made from a certain type of white yams. These yam shirataki noodles even claim to be calorie-free, since they contain are made of an indigestible fiber in the yam starch. These shirataki noodles are found packaged with liquid in the refrigerated section of supermarkets and can be used straight from the bag, rinsed, or cooked again.
Even safer to eat are noodles made from vegetables, free from all eight top allergens in food. Surely spaghetti squash is not named as such for no reason. Once roasted and scraped from the rind, the inside of a spaghetti squash is as good of spaghetti as any egg noodle. Zucchini or yellow squash noodles, also called zoodles, are also growing in popularity, especially with the rise of vegetable spiralizers. These can be eaten raw and with any sauce just like other noodles. Zoodles are a delight when eaten cold with a great pesto. The same can be done with cucumber and just a simple mandolin or thin slicing. Moreover, zucchinis, and eggplants too, can be sliced like thick planks and be used as lasagna pieces. Kelp noodles are also gaining popularity in Japan and the health community as gluten-free alternative for ramen and other noodles. Even fresh fruit can be shredded and eaten in sweeter noodle dishes.
When needed, noodle alternatives are definitely available so that anyone can eat it. Even if someone does not have a sensitivity to the noodles, it may be even more healthful to try one of the other alternatives to the classic noodle. There are many ways to highlight a dish with a non-classic noodle combination in use.