A friend of ours who embarked on a gluten-free diet was heard complaining about wheat-free pastas that are gummy, mushy, and just plain unappetizing. We suggested exploring Asian noodles, instead. Although noodles made from ingredients like acorns, mung beans, and sweet potatoes might not work with your favorite marinara sauce, they do offer wonderful textures and flavors of their own. Their appeal isn't just limited to those on gluten-free diets, either.
• Acorn noodles (dotori guksu) – Korean noodles made from a mixture of acorn flour and buckwheat or wheat flour. Chewy, nutty, and slightly sweet, they're good in cold noodle salads and as a substitute for soba. Learn more in our post on Acorn Noodles.
• Bean threads – Also called cellophane noodles, glass noodles, or bean vermicelli, these thin, translucent threads are made from mung bean starch. Found in countries throughout East and Southeast Asia, the almost flavorless noodles may be used in soups, stir fries, salads, and summer rolls.
• Buckwheat vermicelli (naeng myun) – Korean noodles made from buckwheat and sometimes arrowroot or Korean sweet potato. The delightfully chewy, clear noodles are traditionally served cold, such as in mul naengmyun.
• Harusame – Japanese noodles made from potato, sweet potato, rice, or mung bean starch. Thin and translucent, they can be used in dishes where you'd use bean threads and in salads, such as in this recipe from Sumo Kitchen.
• Kelp noodles – Korean noodles made from kelp (seaweed). Found in the refrigerated section, these clear and crunchy noodles are relatively flavorless and can be eaten raw in salads or cooked in stir fries and soups.
• Rice noodles – Made from rice flour, these soft-textured noodles are eaten in many cultures of East and Southeast Asia. Skinny rice noodles are often called vermicelli, while thicker ones may be referred to as sticks, ribbons, or sheets. For cooking suggestions, check out these Five Cool Summer Dishes with Rice Noodles.
• Shirataki – Japanese konnyaku noodles made from the starch of a tuber called konjac or devil's tongue, and sometimes tofu. Though they can be eaten raw, rinsing and boiling helps neutralize the noodles' fishy odor, which, along with their rubbery texture, may be an acquired taste for some.
• Soba – Japanese noodles made from buckwheat flour and sometimes flavored with green tea, mugwort, or seaweed. (Wheat flour is often added, so check the ingredients. Eden Foods makes a 100% buckwheat version.) With a nutty flavor and slippery texture, soba noodles are equally good in cold or hot dishes.
• Sweet potato vermicelli (dang myun) – Korean noodles made from Korean sweet potato starch. Glassy and chewy, the noodles have little flavor on their own but pick up other seasonings when cooked in a stir fry (such as Korean chap chae) or soup.
• Tapioca noodles – Southeast Asian noodles made from tapioca starch. These translucent, chewy noodles are good in soups, such as the Vietnamese Hu Tieu Nam Vang, or stir fries.
• Tofu or soy bean curd noodles – Chinese "noodles" made from pressed tofu. Sold refrigerated or dried, the strips have a nice al dente texture and can be used in salads, stir fries, and soups. Our favorite recipe comes from Mandarin Deli in Los Angeles.
Note: Some of these noodles may include wheat flour or be processed in shared facilities, so check the ingredients if you are on a strictly gluten-free diet.
1 buckwheat vermicelli (naeng myun)
3 kelp noodles
4 sweet potato vermicelli (dang myun)
5 rice sticks
7 rice vermicelli
Related: What's the Difference? Soba, Udon, and Rice Noodles
(Image: Emily Ho)