I've been to a lot of Japanese restaurants where the noodle soups have an option of udon or soba noodles. While they're both Japanese noodles and are sometimes used interchangeably, there are quite a few differences between the two. Here's what you need to know!
Udon Wheat Noodles
Udon noodles are made by kneading wheat flour, salt, and water. These white noodles are sold dried, fresh or frozen. Dried udon noodles can vary in thickness and can be quite dense. While the shelf-stable dried noodles are a convenient option, fresh or frozen noodles have the best chewy texture and are quite thick, so don't miss an opportunity to pick some up when you see them.
Udon noodles have a mild flavor and are usually served in a light broth as a noodle soup, where they hold up quite well in the broth. They can also be made into a noodle stir-fry or served cold with a dipping sauce.
Soba Buckwheat Noodles
Soba noodles are made primarily out of buckwheat flour. While there are soba noodles out there that contain only buckwheat flour, making them gluten-free, most of what's produced contain some kind of wheat flour to help hold the noodles together during the production process. Definitely check the ingredient list if you're looking for a gluten-free version.
Soba noodles are generally thinner than udon noodles — they look like flat spaghetti and are usually light to dark brown-gray in color. Soba has a strong, nutty flavor and is mostly sold dried. While soba noodles are also served in noodle soups like udon, they are most often served cold in salads or with dipping sauces.
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