Udon noodles are used in a variety of Japanese cuisine such as yaki udon and udon noodle soup. Unfortunately if you are avoiding gluten for any reason, udon noodles are not the best option considering they contain flour. Luckily, there are a variety of alternatives that can be enjoyed on a gluten-free diet.
Are udon noodles gluten-free?
Unfortunately udon noodles are not gluten-free. The ingredients are very simple, just water, flour and salt. Some brands of udon noodles may have additional ingredients to preserve the noodles or enhance their texture.
Udon noodles are a thick noodle with a rather chewy texture. Imagine a very long, thick and white spaghetti noodle. You can purchase udon noodles fresh or frozen depending on how long you would like them to keep. I personally purchase them frozen and boil them in water for several minutes before adding them to a dish.
They are made using wheat flour. But it’s important to get the right kind of wheat flour. A protein content of 8-10% works best. Lower protein flours are great for pastries and cakes, but not for noodles. All-purpose flour is usually fine to use when making udon noodles from scratch.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. This includes a variety of wheat products such as wheat berries, durum, emmer, semolina, spelt, farro, graham, kamut and einkorn. Gluten acts as the glue that holds food together and helps to maintain their shape.
Commonly consumed foods containing gluten include pasta, bread, baked goods, cereals, gravies, soups, salad dressings, malt, beer and, of course, noodles.
Oats are an interesting food because oats themselves are gluten-free, but they are often cross contaminated with gluten. If you have celiac disease or another medical condition that requires the strict restriction of gluten, it’s best to avoid oats or purchase oats that are labeled as gluten-free.
Who should avoid gluten?
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder where gluten ingestion leads to damage in the small intestine. If you have celiac disease and you consume gluten, your body mounts an immune response that leads to damage on the villi, small fingerlike projections in your small intestine that absorb nutrients. When these villi are damaged, your body won’t be able to properly absorb nutrients from food leading to various nutrient deficiencies.
If you have celiac disease, it’s important to adhere to a very strict gluten-free diet and avoid cross contamination. Any amount of gluten can lead to damage in the small intestine, whether you have physical symptoms or not. Long term health complications can arise if someone with celiac consumes gluten regularly such as heart disease, small bowel cancer, type I diabetes and multiple sclerosis.
Apart from those with celiac disease, you also may need to avoid gluten due to gluten intolerance. Gluten intolerance is usually caused by an intolerance to fructans, which is a kind of carbohydrate also found in wheat, rye, garlic, onion, artichokes and brussel sprouts. If you fall into this category, you still may be able to consume small amounts of wheat products without any symptoms. Sourdough is typically well tolerated for those with a sensitivity to fructans.
Symptoms of gluten intolerance can include gastrointestinal issues like gas, bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea or constipation. These symptoms often overlap with symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome or IBS and those suffering from IBS might benefit from a gluten-free diet.
Wheat allergies develop when the immune system overreacts to something, in this case wheat. An allergic reaction can look like hives, gastrointestinal issues, stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, headaches, asthma, asthma or anaphylaxis.
A reaction can occur if you consume wheat products, but also if you interact with objects containing wheat such as Play-Doh or body soaps. Food allergies can be serious, so if you suspect you have a wheat allergy, be sure to speak to your doctor or allergist and get an allergy test to be certain.
Will avoiding gluten aid in weight loss?
A common misconception some people have is that a gluten-free diet can lead to weight loss. While gluten can cause bloating and water retention in some people, there is no research to indicate gluten itself causes fat gain.
That being said, many food products containing gluten may lead to weight gain, such as baked goods, desserts and refined grains. This isn’t because gluten causes weight gain, but more because these products tend to have a higher added sugar content along with a low amount of fiber and protein, which makes them less satiating and filling.
If you are trying to lose weight, there is no need to eliminate gluten from your diet. Instead, ensure your diet consists of mostly nutrient dense foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. In fact, gluten-containing foods like whole wheat bread, brown rice and whole wheat pasta can be a healthy addition to a weight loss diet.
What Japanese noodles contain gluten?
Some Japanese noodles contain gluten. These noodles include ramen noodles, somen noodles and of course udon noodles. All of these noodles are made using wheat flour which contains gluten.
Somen noodles and udon noodles are made with just water, flour and salt, but the size of the noodles make them different. Somen noodles are very thin, similar to angel hair pasta, while udon noodles are very thick with a chewy texture. Also, somen noodles are typically purchased dry, while udon noodles are typically purchased fresh or frozen.
Ramen noodles are different from these other two noodles because they are typically made using kansui powder, also known as sodium carbonate. This ingredient gives ramen its yellow-ish color and distinct texture, making it different from somen or udon noodles.
What Japanese noodles are gluten-free?
There are a variety of noodles that are gluten-free. These noodles include soba noodles, shirataki noodles and cellophane noodles.
Soba noodles or buckwheat noodles are made using buckwheat flour. While the name includes the word “wheat”, they are actually gluten-free (I know, it’s confusing). These noodles have a nutty flavor and have a grayish-brown color. They are typically served cold, such as in zaru soba.
Shirataki noodles have less calories compared to other noodles and are made using glucomannan, a type of fiber derived from the konjac plant. They have a very high water content, making them low in calories and can be a healthy alternative to traditional noodles for those trying to lower their caloric intake.
Cellophane noodles or Japanese glass noodles are made using starch from tubers or beans. They are clear noodles with a smooth texture. I love using cellophane noodles in stir fry and noodle dishes. They are also used in a variety of Asian cuisine including Thai and Korean. My favorite dish using glass noodles is japchae.
What is the healthiest kind of Japanese noodle?
There is no kind of Japanese noodle that is inherently “healthier” than another. It really comes down to our personal nutritional needs and preferences. For example, if you are trying to lose weight, shirataki noodles may be a healthy option since they are very low in calories. But, if you are trying to gain weight, they probably aren’t the best choice.
Overall, variety is important when it comes to eating a healthy diet. There is research to suggest that consuming over 30 different plant foods a week can be beneficial for your gut microbiome and therefore overall health. Considering this, it may be a good idea to corporate several different varieties of noodles into your diet, such as udon noodles, shirataki noodles, glass noodles and soba noodles.
Also, variety is important to avoid diet burnout. The more variety in your diet, the less bored you will become and the more likely you will be to adhere to a healthy diet.
What Japanese foods contain gluten?
A lot of Japanese food contains gluten, including the noodles mentioned earlier. Popular Japanese foods containing gluten include soy sauce, okonomiyaki, mugi-cha (barley tea), miso and tempura. Be sure to avoid these foods if you can’t consume gluten.
Popular gluten-free Japanese foods include white rice, tamari, mirin, rice vinegar, bonito flakes, sesame seeds, seaweed and pickled vegetables. Be sure to double check the ingredients because even these foods may contain gluten or be cross contaminated depending on their preparation.
Popular gluten-free Japanese dishes
If you are gluten-free and love Japanese food, luckily there are a variety of dishes you can eat that contain no gluten. If you are ordering Japanese food at a restaurant, make sure you alert your waiter about your dietary restrictions before they prepare your food to avoid cross contamination.
Gluten-free Japanese foods include:
- Onigiri: triangles of rice and seaweed
- Mochi: pounded rice cakes
- Yakiimo: baked sweet potatoes
- Edamame: immature soybeans
- Sashimi: raw fish
- Nigiri: raw fish over rice
- Donburi: rice bowls
A note of caution, sometimes even the above foods will have gluten-containing ingredients, so be sure to speak to the waiter or chef beforehand to ensure they are gluten-free. It’s better to be safe than sorry in this scenario.
Are organic udon noodles better?
There are fierce debates online as to whether organic food is superior to conventional food. Currently, the research is undecided. Some studies show a benefit to consuming organic food, while others show no benefit. While there is a strong correlation between consuming organic and improved health outcomes, this is likely because those who seek out organic groceries tend to eat healthier diets overall.
There is likely no health downsides to consuming organic, so if you choose to do so, I won’t stop you. But, organic food is typically more expensive than conventional, so if you are on a budget, it may be better to just choose conventional options. If you can find organic udon noodles and enjoy them, then go for it. But I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily by any means.
Different varieties of udon noodles
There are a few different varieties of udon noodles you can try besides the regular kind. If you are looking for a more health conscious version of udon noodles you can try whole wheat udon noodles. There are also gluten-free udon noodles variations you can try out if you adhere to a gluten-free diet or if you’re just curious. Here are a few to try:
Gluten-free noodle recommendations
If you are looking for gluten-free options, you can find a variety of gluten-free noodles online or at your local Asian or Japanese grocery stores. These varieties include gluten-free rice noodles and gluten-free soba noodles. Here are a few options:
Gluten-free flour alternatives
If you are doing some baking at home, there are a variety of gluten-free flour alternatives to try out. These include brown rice flour, almond flour, coconut flour, cassava flour, potato starch or cornstarch. The best option is probably a gluten-free all purpose flour blend since these can be a one-to-one replacement for regular all purpose flour. Here are few options: