Ingredient Intelligence

Everything You Should Know About Soba Noodles

published Jan 28, 2023
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Close up photo of dried and cooked soba noodles
Credit: Photo: Andrew Bui; Food Styling: Rebecca Jurkevich

If I want to eat noodles, whether at home or at a noodle shop, I often go for soba, otherwise known as buckwheat noodles. Soba is a flavorful and nourishing food that offers so much more than just a good slurp. Read on to learn more about soba noodles and how to cook them.

What Are Soba Noodles?

Soba (also referred to as Nihon soba and Wa soba) are one of many types of Japanese noodles. Soba noodles are made from buckwheat and are enjoyed for their nutty flavor and pleasant nodogoshi (chew). Despite its English name, buckwheat is technically not a wheat but rather a pseudo grain related to the rhubarb plant. The seeds produce a creamy and nutty flour that makes the most delicious noodles. The word soba is also used to refer to Chinese noodles, Chuka soba, and Okinawa soba, which are wheat noodles.  

Soba can be seasonal and regional. Shin soba, for instance, is made from freshly harvested buckwheat in the fall. Shin soba is the most sought-after noodle and commands a higher price than the standard soba. It is hard to associate flour with freshness and seasonality, but that is what soba brings to the table during its peak season. In fact, you will find that some soba shops in the U.S. offer fresh soba as an option on the menu.

How Soba Is Traditionally Served

There are various ways to serve soba like Zaru soba, cold noodles served in a woven basket with a dipping sauce on the side, or Kake soba, hot soba in a soup. Seiro soba refers to cold soba that is served in a wooden box. You can even turn soba into a salad, or fry soba and make chips.  

Soba is also appreciated for its high nutritional value. It is high in protein and fiber and loaded with vitamins and minerals. It has been regarded as a medicinal food in Asia for centuries. In particular, the Japanese eat soba on New Year’s Eve to bring good luck in the new year. 


How Are Soba Noodles Made?

Buckwheat doesn’t contain gluten so it is challenging to turn it into noodles — this is why mastering the art of hand-cut soba takes practice. The main binding agent for these noodles is water for Juwari, or soba noodles made entirely from buckwheat. If any wheat flour is added as a binder, it cannot be called Juwari.

Nihachi sobasoba noodles made with an  80/20 ratio of buckwheat flour to wheat flour — is the most popular variety of soba. Aside from wheat flour, egg, seaweed, and konjac starch are also used to bind soba. Some sobas also contain green tea, black sesame, seaweed, yuzu, and shiso leaves for added flavor and eye appeal.

How to Cook Soba Noodles

Most soba noodles sold in the U.S. are available in fresh, pre-cooked and frozen, or dried form. Always rinse soba noodles under cold running water to remove the surface starch and drain them well afterwards. Keep in mind that fresh soba cooks faster than dried soba. Once the soba noodles are cooked, be sure to serve them immediately while they are fresh.

Soba is traditionally served cold with a dipping sauce or in a hot seafood broth with seasonal vegetables and seafood tempura. Duck and scallions also make a good pairing with soba. Soba also makes a good salad with a sesame, ginger, or miso dressing. The broth and tare (a mixture of soy sauce, mirin, and sugar) are just as important in determining the flavor of good soba as the noodles themselves. The basic broth is usually made with konbu seaweed, bonito flakes, and dried shiitake mushrooms. 

How to Eat Soba Noodles

To eat soba, the etiquette is to slurp it quickly and be done with it before they go limp and mushy. Slurping the noodles along with the air and then exhaling the air through your nose allows you to appreciate the optimum fragrance and aroma of soba. Don’t be afraid to make noise. It’s good soba manners.