Consumers continue to enjoy a big love affair with noodles. While sales of Asian rice noodles and buckwheat soba noodles, and dishes featuring them, have grown by leaps and bounds, Italian durum pasta is a mainstay in every US home. Yet the category keeps expanding with newer noodle offerings, such as mung bean noodles and yam pasta (commonly from the healthful Asian konjac yam).

Newer to the American market are pastas from peas, lentils, chick peas, black beans, soy and adzuki beans.

The whole-wheat category, too, is growing—following a huge kick-start from the now-billion-dollar, gluten-free category—noodles made from grains such as amaranth, quinoa, brown rice, corn and other ancient or heritage grains.

This enormous gluten-free trend is pushing growth in these and other non-wheat pastas, as well as noodles from vegetable flours and starches, like artichoke and potato. The ingredients and techniques product developers employ to create successful pasta dishes to suit the noodle-loving consumer are as varied as the noodles themselves.

All pasta formulations—even couscous and orzo—require special care to gain successful use in prepared products. In addition to the noodles themselves, research chefs are beginning to recognize the considerations of whole-grain flavors and textures. Following years of failures, product developers have finally grasped that a formulator cannot just plop whole wheat, corn, brown rice or other whole-grain pastas into a recipe in a direct swap for durum pasta.

The main challenge arises as food scientists solve the riddles of how to keep such noodles together through the production process and all the way to the table. The wrong combinations of flour and water—or flour, egg and water—can result in a plateful of gummy sludge rather than the expected noodles.

When Noodles are Pasta

“In the minds of consumers, pasta is often nearly synonymous with Italian cuisine,” says Michael Angelo Renna who, along with his brother, Tony, owns Michael Angelo’s Gourmet Foods Inc., makers of authentic Italian prepared and frozen meals. “As a mainstay in Italian culture, many families in the US now turn to pasta dishes when they need a bit of comfort. Home cooks, Italian or not, now incorporate traditional Italian pasta dishes into their weekly meal plans, and dishes like lasagna and spaghetti and meatballs have emotional significance to many families.”

Michael stresses that, as a family owned and operated business, Michael Angelos was created more than 30 years ago based on the way the Renna’s mother, Sara, cooked for the family when they were growing up.

“My mom and I have been cooking Italian food the same way for years,” he stresses, “using traditional Italian cooking methods and flavors in a full line of single-serve meals and multi-serve meals found in the freezer sections, most of which include pasta.”

Renna adds that, as a “single mom with five boys to feed, mom would cook a full week of dishes on Sunday that could be frozen and then easily reheated throughout the week to make a hearty and homemade dish. Years later, we built our business on the same concepts.” He also remarks that consumers are becoming much more “educated and savvy when it comes to the meals they consume and the meals they serve to their families and friends,” and they are “looking for transparency in the food products they buy at grocery stores.”

Renna also points to the increasing demands for “clean ingredient labels filled with real food rather than fillers, alternatives and preservatives,” and how consumers actively seek out information about what they eat “beyond what’s written on a package.”

Renna sums up the Michael Angelo’s ingredient philosophy succinctly: “This is the way we’ve always done it, because this is how Mom made meals for us growing up. She didn’t have to use anything unnatural then, and we’ve managed to reproduce the cooking and freezing process on a larger scale to make our meals today. As I like to say, if you can’t find it in mom’s kitchen, you won’t find it in our meals.”

Pasta is a big part of Italian cooking, and traditional Italian pasta is made with 100% durum semolina. Durum wheat is made from the very center of a type of wheat kernel that is exceptionally dense. Semolina refers to the milling process that results in extremely fine, sand-like flour. Michael Angelo’s uses this high-quality pasta in its Signature Line of frozen meals.

“When we first started growing our company around 30 years ago, we had a need for a noodle producer that could keep up with our demand while still meeting our needs on quality,” says Renna. “It was a surprisingly hard challenge, as many pastas aren’t made in the traditional style anymore; most companies dry their pasta with high heat, which does speed up the process, but decreases the beneficial elements of the grain.”

“After a long search, we found a partner that makes the best pasta we’d ever found,” enthuses Renna, “led by a pasta maker named Charlie Campo.” Today, Campo’s son is carrying on the tradition by making the pasta for Michael Angelo’s products in what Renna says is the “same, traditional way,” with slow and low heat to create better taste and texture that provides Michael Angelo dishes with true al dente texture.

Almost Gluten Free

In the recently published fifth edition of the “Gluten-Free Foods in the US” report by market research Packaged Facts Inc., it was noted that retail sales of foods categorized as “gluten free” had attained an annual growth rate of 34% over the five-year period ended in 2014, with the total dollar amount hitting $973 million.

This incredible level of growth comes in spite of only about 3.5 million Americans having an actual clinical diagnosis of celiac disease, requiring a specific medical need to avoid gluten. About two times as many more can be deemed “gluten sensitive,” showing some sensitivity symptoms related to the ingestion of the gluten and gliadin proteins in wheat and its relatives, such as rye and, in some cases, oats and barley (likely due to cross-contamination with wheat).

Yet, for a number of reasons and perceptions, about 40-50 million Americans have indicated they avoid wheat and/or gluten-containing products. But for a large segment of the population who think they’re gluten-sensitive, research is showing that ancient strains of wheat, such as kamut, einkorn, spelt and others, might not trigger the same reactions as modern wheat.

Recognizing the need to provide classic pasta dishes for this burgeoning population facing a pasta-less future, as well as for those Americans wanting to incorporate more whole and ancient grains into their diet for general health, the Renna family stepped up to the plate.

In keeping with the incorporation of clean label trends into its products, Michael Angelo’s launched a new “Made with Organic” line of meals. Each includes more than 70% or more organic ingredients, certified by Quality Assurance International (QAI).

“We created this new line in response to consumer demand for food that offers both the health benefits and peace of mind associated with organic ingredients. The pasta found in this line is made from an ancient form of wheat called khorasan (Triticum turgidum) wheat.

Khorasan is the common name given to the large-grain, Middle Eastern ancient grain to reflect its origins in the Fertile Crescent (a crescent-shaped region containing the comparatively moist, fertile land of otherwise arid and semi-arid Western Asia, the Nile Valley and Nile Delta of northeast Africa). It’s rich in proteins, as well as individual amino acids, plus healthful lipids, vitamins and minerals. Today, it’s grown in the US and Canada, and trademarked as Kamut, which is actually a registered brand name for organic, non-GMO khorasan.

Non-hybridized, non-modified khorasan wheat has been found to be more easily digested among people who have wheat sensitivities, according to several clinical studies. Due to the high content of selenium, khorasan wheat also boasts a high antioxidant capacity.

Michael Angelo’s uses khorasan wheat pasta in its Made with Organic line specifically to “appeal to customers looking for an alternative to traditional pasta.” According to Renna, “Of all the non-traditional grain pastas we tried—and we tried a lot—pasta made with khorasan wheat is the closest in taste and texture” to modern durum semolina pasta.

In the Kitchen

Food manufacturers must keep up with a constant evolution of consumer demands. For Michael Angelo’s, the strategy for keeping up includes “keeping it simple.” For example, the Rennas decided at the outset to place at the forefront their mother’s authentic, Sicilian recipes and cooking processes and adapt the production process to fit them. Her recipes were modified for a slightly larger scale, and then “small tweaks [were made] along the way, so our consumers get the same homemade meals we grew up with as kids.”

Michael Angelo’s does not fall back on the use of common fillers and additives to modify their formulations, because they know that the quality of ingredients is what guarantees the quality of the meals.

“The ingredient list of every meal is simple, clean and recognizable;” says Renna. “We use the common, everyday Italian staples, such as tomatoes, eggplant, garlic, mushrooms and spinach.”

Because of this strong commitment to quality ingredients and refusal to compromise, the Rennas are able to disclose a company secret: “There are no secret ingredients or secret processes when it comes to our pasta – our pasta noodles are only made with flour and water, handled in the traditional fashion.”

When assembling its pasta meals, Michael Angelo’s operates its industrial kitchen along the same lines as most home cooks. Even preparing larger quantities, each batch of pasta is made from scratch, to order.

“To maintain the integrity of the ingredients, each meal run is only made once a request or order is received,” says Renna. “Once cooked and assembled, each meal is flash-
frozen to capture the peak levels of nutrients, freshness and taste.”

Matters of Scale

Obviously, cooking on a larger scale while maintaining taste and quality can be challenging.

“Finding and selecting ingredient source partners is one of the most crucial steps to ensuring a quality end-product,” says Renna. “After carefully selecting our partners, we cultivate and nurture relationships with each one to ensure they are meeting the same high standards we set for the meals we provide for our customers.”

Because of this approach to partnership, Michael Angelo’s is able to fine-tune ingredient orders the exact quantities needed to create each meal from the freshest ingredients possible. “For example,” says Renna, “the ricotta we use is not found in any store. Through the help of our supplier, we customize the exact level of creaminess; the exact level of nuttiness; and the exact level of straining necessary to balance out our final lasagna product.”

All Michael Angelo’s pasta noodles are certified-organic, as are other key ingredients, including butter, cream, honey and vegetables–eggplant, mushrooms, spinach, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, kale, squash and zucchini.

Another key factor to a successful product is understanding the ingredients that go into a pasta formulation, especially how they work in combination with others. For example, since large-batch processing can make it difficult and expensive to use fresh herbs, not to mention impractical, as they can develop unpleasant grassy notes after only a short time, dried herbs usually must be used.

Michael Angelo’s uses high-quality, dried herbs that are often more potent than fresh ones. “They allow us to flavor the meals without fillers or additives,” adds Renna. Another trick Michael Angelo’s employs is to purchase dried herbs in their whole-leaf form. Notes Renna, herbs dried this way have flavor and nutrient power of each component at their peak.

Animal proteins, too, must be handled with more attention in a batch process to avoid toughness on the one hand or breakdown on the other.

“We purchase all of our beef in large pieces and grind it ourselves,” says Renna. “This way, we can control texture to our exacting specifications, plus have full control of fat levels to ensure the perfect mouthfeel and flavor.

All of the proteins in the company’s new line are of the utmost quality, including grass-fed beef, and chicken and turkey raised without antibiotics. But keeping things simple doesn’t mean sacrificing efficiency or making adjustments as needed.

“To us, keeping it simple is all about maintaining integrity and respecting the very processes that have worked for generations,” says Renna, advising product developers to “not cut corners when it comes to your product; rather, create ones you would personally be proud to serve on your own dinner table and customers will notice that dedication.”

A Good Retort

“A major challenge for development is that, once you retort the product, it changes the flavor profile,” explains Lorenzo Boni, executive chef for Barilla America Inc. “Working with a retorted sauce can be more stressful [to ingredients] than traditional stovetop preparation; some ingredients lose their impact and the flavor balance profile changes. The color of the sauce can change as well, and all the vibrancy usually is lost during the retort process.”

 “The most unfavorable impact of the retort process is on flavor” notes Boni. “Flavors can get out of balance, so there’s a lot more fine-tuning than with stovetop cooking. For example, some fresh herbs, such as basil, are just too delicate for retorting—the method changes the flavor profile dramatically and the dish loses all of that delicate, aromatic quality that is desired. The loss of more volatile aroma and flavors enhances  the stronger and more resistant notes leading to an overall flavor intensity and balance very different from the one you could have obtained with a stovetop preparation.”

To overcome such issues, in addition to fine-tuning ingredient amounts, the developer might opt for combining preparation methods in order to develop and enhance flavors (e.g. sauté notes) before the product undergoes the retort treatment necessary to guarantee the safety across shelf life.  The starting quality of the ingredients is also very important in delivering an optimal end product.

Other challenges noted by Boni include the combination of specific sauces to certain shapes of pasta. “Some sauce types might not cover the pasta correctly, so viscosity of the sauce is crucial, too,” he explains. Boni recommends experimenting with the cook time to get each specific cut of pasta to the correct “al dente” texture. Once all aspects of the pasta preparation have been perfected, the developer can adjust sauce viscosity.

As the viscosity of a sauce changes, so will the impact of the flavors in the sauce. A thinner sauce that spreads easily over the tongue might enhance sharper notes, whereas subtler flavors can be sublimated in a creamier, thicker sauce.

“Getting the seasoning right is the hardest part,” admits Boni. He notes the delicate balance in the primary trio of salt, aromatic herbs and olive oil found in many such culinary applications. Translating and maintaining those flavors into a shelf-stable, microwaveable meal that can be ready in 60 seconds is a challenge above all because  Barilla chooses to use real ingredients while not relying on the use of industrial aids.

Sauces ‘n Love LLC founder and sauce maker Paolo Volpati-Kedra agrees. Having started more than 15 years ago by selling the simple, robust tomato sauces of his father’s recipes locally in the neighborhood, he grew the company into a national line of gourmet Italian sauces. The company recently branched off into making a selection of gluten-free sauces and pastas, including ravioli, tagliatelle, rigatoni and gnocchi.

The company, known for its line of refrigerated tomato sauces, pizza sauces, pesto and chimichurri also has gained recognition for its Scarpetta line of shelf-stable Italian sauces. Still, the company adheres to the traditions of its Italian roots through careful ingredient selection designed to promote the company’s credo of “living [the] Italian tradition of invention, simplicity and flavor.”

Great Grains

“From the Far East to the Mediterranean to the New World, pasta has been a focus of many a cook,” agrees Jonathon Sawyer, chef of Cleveland’s Restaurant Trentina/Trentina Pasta Lab, and author of the just-released Noodle Kids pasta cookbook.

“We conceptualize noodles of all sorts from the grain upward, using a wide variety of flours in our different noodles. Semolina, emmer, hard winter wheat, buckwheat, garbanzo, rye, spelt, all-purpose (AP) and masa are some of the flours that we currently use in production,” Sawyer says.

Sawyer explains that each of the different flours has its own distinct physiochemical properties that must be analyzed and understood before making a particular type or shape of noodle. “From hydration level to gluten content to grind, it’s important to know how each flour will react to the methods used to produce various noodles,” says Sawyer. “Understanding the production method for each noodle is also just as important. Will the dough be mixed by hand and sheeted, or will it be created using an extrusion machine?”

As an example of the unexpected subtleties involved in crafting pasta noodles, Sawyer points to how even atmospheric conditions can slightly complicate a product when mixing doughs.

“Relative humidity can increase or decrease the necessary hydration level by as much as 10%,” he says. “This can be easily combatted, however, by adding water to the dough slowly and incrementally. Repeated experience will further reveal what adjustments need to be made.”

Sawyer is a fan of Japanese-style buckwheat noodles (called soba in Japan), praising their “deep brown color, toasted earthy aroma, slightly bitter taste and buckwheat flavor.” However, using more than a small percentage of buckwheat flour would be overpowering. Instead, Sawyer produces soba noodles using a blend of buckwheat, semolina and AP flour, using the total weight of the blended flours to calculate how much water will be needed for the dough.

“In our tests, we found that increasing the percentage of buckwheat beyond 10% creates a noodle that is too bitter for the general populous of palates,” Sawyer explains. “Buckwheat also lacks gluten and needs heat and water to gelatinize the amylose and amylopectin within it. This means doughs made exclusively from buckwheat need to be made from cooked buckwheat that has been then dried, similar in method to the production of 100% rice noodles.”

In crafting a garbanzo flour noodle, Sawyer says that it is important to note that, like buckwheat, garbanzo beans lack gluten, although they do contain elevated levels of proteins and starches.

“Due to the hydration of these proteins and starches, a garbanzo flour pasta dough needs less water than others,” he says. “Adding too much water to this dough can cause it to develop a slimy, sticky texture that is extremely off-putting.”

Sawyer dubs one of the more unique pasta noodles he makes “masta.” it is a blend of masa ground nixtamalized corn called hominy—and semolina. Nixtamalization is a process whereby mature grains are dried, then soaked in a heavily alkaline solution (traditionally of ash and calcium hydroxide lime). Following this step, the corn is cooked.

The complicated treatment dissolves the sticky hemicellulose molecules as it helps separate the hulls from the kernels; breaks the oil down to mono- and di-glyceride components; and helps bond proteins.

“Our goal in creating this noodle was to create a product that was a hybrid of polenta and pasta, Sawyer states. “We wanted a pasta that would cook up like a porridge, yet still retain its shape.”

During trials, Sawyer and his team learned that, due to the lack of gluten in corn, the starches in the dough needed to be hydrated at levels above any grain he had previously worked with. “A 100% masa dough needed to be at 80% hydration by weight; this led us to realize that a blended masa dough would also need to be hydrated at a much higher percentage than other flour blends.”

“In conceptualizing and creating these different pastas, we learned that there is virtually no limit to what we can make,” says Sawyer. “First, we narrow down what we are looking for in taste. For fresh rolled pastas, we use AP, semolina and hardened-wheat sifted flours.”

Not Using Your Noodle

Pre-boiled pasta just might be the hottest trend in farinaceous dishes since “noodles” became “pasta” in American vernacular. They can be used in microwaveable, shelf-stable products or pasta meal kits.

Nathan Barker, owner of Nate’s Fine Foods LLC, set out to revolutionize the pasta industry several years ago after settling in California from Sydney, Australia. Barker saw that pastas, as well as rice and other grains, had been overlooked as far as the variables from salt, cook time, after-cook and shelflife have wide variety of meanings to many chefs and formulators.

“For organizations wishing to have a consistent product, these four items can result vastly different product,” states Barker.

Nate’s crafts custom, pre-cooked noodles and filled raviolis for both retail and select processors, in modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) or IQF. In addition to custom levels of cooking, Nate’s also controls other common variables, such as, salt content. Nate’s is the only facility in the country to offer the option of salted water.

“Often, chefs like to throw a customary pinch of salt into the boiling water with ‘no rhyme nor reason’ paid to the final product,” Barker says. “This can result an over- or under salted product, depending on the application of sauces or spices. With a pre-cooked MAP of IQF product, this variable can be allowed for in production, as it is guaranteed to have the correct salt-to-water content, and provide an identical product each time.”

Two other (and more primary) variables are cook time and stirring.

“Varying cook times can often be attributed to personal taste and chef error,” Barker describes. “One to two minutes [in either direction] in cooking pasta, rice or other grains can mean either a mushy, waterlogged product or a crunch that might not be expected. Lack of stirring will result in clumped pasta that is unevenly cooked.”

In addition to controlling for each pasta item’s varying cook time, Nate’s also cooks pasta in an oscillating blancher with agitated water. The benefit, he points out, again is in establishing consistency.

Once the noodles are prepared, timing is again crucial. “This is where chilling and gas flush come into place,” says Barker. The first step in the Nate’s chilling process is putting the cooked pasta through a rinse reel to wash off any excess starch and get rid of any broken bits. After this, it goes through a reverse-flow chill bath that hovers at around 32?F degrees, with the product leaving the chill bath where the water is coldest.

With these steps, the noodles end up going from more than 200?F to under 40?F in under 25 seconds. “This seals the pores of the noodle and makes the pasta more robust and firm, with a nicer bite,” says Barker. “After this, the product is sent down a shaking table which removes excess moisture.”

From this point, Nate’s noodles are cryogenically frozen for an IQF product. “The alternative to using liquid nitrogen for freezing is to put the product through a blast freezer,” says Barker, “but blast freezing takes 30 minutes to freeze the product and reduces moisture content of a previously perfectly cooked noodle. The better alternative is cryogenic freezing.”

Cryogenic freezing takes only a few seconds—the cooked and rinsed pasta becomes “snap frozen,” locking in moisture and flavor. “Both methods allow for an IQF product, so chefs can use 1 cup or 25lb of product, depending on the application,” Barker adds. “In both applications, frozen shelflife will be from nine to 12 months.

Across the Pacific

The explosion of interest in Asian pasta formulations is well into its second generation in the US What started out as a Japanese ramen fad with four-for-a-dollar instant noodle soup packets fueling college kids everywhere in the 1970s got a huge cultural infusion throughout the 1980s. Thai pad Thai and Vietnamese phô noodle bowls became mainstream, thanks to a wave of immigration into the US from those countries and a big growth in travel to Asia by Americans.

“According to the World Instant Noodle Assn., the US ranks fifth in instant noodle consumption in the world and is one of only two non-Asian countries in the top 10,” notes Gary Hou, PhD, technical director and wheat foods specialist for the Wheat Marketing Center Inc.

“In addition to instant noodles, there are many other types of Asian noodles, such as yakisoba, egg noodle, ramen, udon, soba (buckwheat noodle), and a variety of rice- and other starch-based noodles that are now popular in the US,” says Hou.

Hou further notes that, in this year’s National Restaurant Assn. “Hot Trends” survey, chefs rated non-wheat noodles number 11 in their top 198 trends. Asian noodles, as a specific mention, came in at  number 94—and that category was also listed with the “movers and shakers”—since it was up 5% over last year.

“Many of these noodles were initially, and still are, produced fresh in close proximity to where [consumers] are located,” Hou continues. “They often are produced by small manufacturers who specialize in making one or a few of certain types of noodles. The noodles usually are supplied in the raw form, having limited shelflife.”

Hou points out that culinary quality of the noodles is “often good,” but that the “production environment and the quality control system in place can sometimes be ‘meager.’”

Package Perfect

With the growth in demand for various types of Asian noodles, a number of noodle companies have expanded to match, notes Hou. They’ve revamped their operations and innovated to produce noodles that have a longer shelflife, so they can be distributed to a national base of customers. This has necessitated an accompanying change in noodle formulations.

“Technologies, such as post-package heat treatment, acidification, microwaving, high-pressure processing, modified-atmosphere packaging and the use of preservative systems, have been employed,” says Swee Seet, vice president of quality and R&D for Passport Food Group LLC, one of the largest Asian noodle manufacturers in the US “These companies are now able to produce 30- to 90-day-shelflife refrigerated noodles and frozen noodles that have a shelflife of 9-12 months.”

Other trends in Asian noodles include reduced-sodium and lower-calorie versions, similar to other food products in the US And, while most non-wheat Asian noodles are gluten-free by virtue of their traditional ingredients—rice flour, konjac flour or buckwheat (not a true wheat), formulations using wheat noodles traditionally are accommodating that growing demand, as well.

“Asian noodles manufactured by the large-scale manufacturers often are very good in quality and are readily accepted by the mainstream customers,” says Seet. “However, customers who are looking for a particular noodle product—for example, an authentic ramen—might find the texture a little softer and the noodle not as smooth as those you can find in Japan,” or those supplied by US companies as fresh, raw noodles that are prepared right before consumption. 

Part of this reason is that there are different types and blends of noodle flours, explains Hou. “For example, the ramen flour in Japan is milled differently and uses wheat grains that are grown in certain regions or from other countries. Strong interest in both ethnic foods and gluten-free foods has helped consumers stretch their awareness beyond traditional refined-wheat noodles.”

“At the Whole Grains Council, we’re registering more quinoa, rice, buckwheat and other grains being used for noodles and pasta,” says Cynthia Harriman, director of food and nutrition strategies for the Council’s parent, Oldways Preservation Trust. She notes that the quite recent “big trend for broth” is giving an “extra lift” to noodles, as they have a strong traditional partnership with good broth.

At the same time, there’s the previously noted challenge that it is rarely possible to simply substitute whole grains for refined grains in food products without completely reformulating them.

“Anyone who tries to shortcut the process will end up with an unpalatable product that will turn people off to whole grains,” adds Harriman. “In the right hands, however, whole grains can be used to create a pasta product with a fuller, nuttier flavor, while still maintaining an excellent texture.”

Harriman urges food formulators interested in capitalizing on the trend for ethnic noodles to “first study traditional food ways” and “get technical advice from ingredient experts who can make sure the noodles will perform well in today’s formulations.”

Using Your Noodle

Most traditional noodles are made from refined wheat flour; however, for the production of whole-grain noodles or gluten-free noodles, special consideration of raw material selection and functional ingredients are warranted,” states Gary Hou, PhD, technical director for the Wheat Marketing Center Inc.

“For example, we have researched on the effect of whole-wheat flour particle sizes on noodle quality and noted that the smaller-particle whole-wheat flour tends to improve the overall quality attributes of noodle products, although the method of grinding whole-wheat flour is very important,” says Hou.

Controlling of damaged starch during the preparation of whole-wheat flour is important to maintain the integrity of noodle dough sheet and cooked noodle texture. Lack of desired texture characteristics in whole-grain noodles has been a main hurdle to introduce this healthy version to the mainstream marketplace by food manufacturers.

Many attempts have been made to resolve this issue. Results have indicated that some functional ingredients, such as enzymes, hydrocolloids, emulsifiers, special phosphate blends, egg products and modified starches, have some effectiveness in improving whole-grain noodle texture (surface smoothness, bite and springiness). Many of these ingredients are natural and label-friendly.

For gluten-free noodles, the main challenges are in the processing and the cooking of the final products before eating. Wheat-based noodles are typically sheeted in production, but sheeting process often does not work well for gluten-free noodles, as there is no gluten formation to support its structure.

As a result, many gluten-free noodles, such as rice noodle and starch-based noodles, are manufactured by extrusion cooking, and starch plays an important role in forming noodle structure. Therefore, selection of rice variety and starch type is crucial to the success of formulating good-quality, gluten-free noodles.

Fusilli with a Twist

One of the biggest noodle “hits” of the past decade could be the pre-cooked, packaged-in-water konjac flour noodles called shirataki. Konjac, also called Japanese yam, is prized for a high content of functional polysaccharide glucomannan. Glucomannan is a non-digestible carbohydrate that is fermentable in the lower GI tract, making it not only ultra-low in calories, but high in benefits to digestive health and the health benefits that are associated with same.

House Foods America Corp. has upped the health ante of shirataki by creating Smart Noodles, a line of konjac noodles that also includes heart-healthy oat- and rice-bran fibers and omega-rich, milled flax seed. The new noodles also are gluten free, vegan and non-GMO. Weighing in at 20kcals/serving, the ready-to-use noodles bring 6g fiber and 400mg ALA omega-3 fatty acids to the table. Although typically used in Asian-style preparations, the noodles do hold up well with heavier sauces, such as tomato and cream sauces.