While we may throw down the word with ease when it comes to whipping up dinner, noodles and pasta are actually two very different things. Sure, they may share the same shape at times and have a similar taste and coloring, but these two carbohydrate staples are actually quite different.
The National Pasta Association defines pasta as being a dough made from durum wheat and water and stamped into different shapes. As our understanding of food intolerances and preferences grow, the modern world of pasta may look a little different with all kinds of different grains being called upon to help create gluten-free varieties, etc.
Noodles on the other hand aren’t linked to one singular grain. From buckwheat noodles to rice noodles, yam noodles, and wheat flour noodles, there’s no shortage of choice. Noodles can be crafted from everything from root vegetables to tapioca flour, mung bean starch, seaweed, and rice flour. They can be stretched, pulled, rolled, cut, and twisted. They show up in soups, salads, steaming broths, stir-fries, side dishes and as the star event. They can be silky soft, thick, and chewy, and fresh or dried. The world of noodles is rich and vast and we’re here to break down a few of the differences that show up between pasta and noodles.
Differences in Ingredients
Whether stirring up delicious noodle soup or ramping up your weeknight ragu, here are some of the mainstay key differences between noodles and pasta.
- Flour – smooth, soft, and a lighter shade, noodles may be crafted using a finer kind of flour or a variety of different flours. Pasta on the other hand uses a heavier denser kind of flour to give it that weight.
- Salt – salt is essential when it comes to noodles. More than just for flavor, salt helps to make the noodle dough more malleable as it shakes loose the gluten protein. Pasta doesn’t need salt although it is common to add a pinch while cooking.
- Sauce/broth – From creamy alfredo to tomato, pasta is often served up hot with different sauces (often Italian inspired). Noodles on the other hand come packed with plenty of versatility. They can be served steaming in a fragrant broth, chilled in a summer salad, they can be a stand alone main event or worked into a side. A noodle dish can be dramatically different depending on which spices are thrown in, which sauces are bubbling away, and which style of cooking you are ultimately looking for. While pasta tends to be linked to Italian recipes, noodles can cross cultural borders in cooking.
- Preparation – Pasta can usually be found bubbling away on the stove in boiling water. Noodles can be cooked in either water or a beautiful broth.
Types of Pasta
We often associate pasta with Italy and all its fables of rolling Tuscan hills and full-bodied red wine. Pasta has a storied past. There are etchings on 4th-century Etruscan tombs showing what seems to be a group of native people making pasta. There seems to be some discourse over whether pasta holds its roots in Italy or if Marco Polo carried the concept with him to Italy after his far-flung travels to China. Historians seem resolute in their stance that pasta was already flourishing in the Med prior to Polo’s arrival. They also back up the fact that pasta and noodles are two very different things.
Wherever pasta takes its roots, it has grown from a humble strand to a sprawling empire. There are over 50 different types of pasta out there. While they are all similar in ingredients, you can opt for the shape and style of your choice. Here’s a brief overview of some of the most beloved pasta types…
Silky sheets of pasta, lasagna is flat and wide and often used to make the oven-baked layer dish of the same name.
The dry tube-shaped pasta that tends to be cut short and small, this type of pasta is often found in the famed mac and cheese dish that has become a childhood staple for many.
A cylinder-shaped pasta that takes its name from being shaped like a quill (with tapered ends that resemble a pen point). It’s a popular choice thanks to its versatility.
Long and flat ribbons of fettuccine have been in vogue in Italian cooking for years. Made famous by the popular dishes of Rome and Tuscany, these pasta ribbons are often served with a heavier, richer sauce.
Soft and doughy, gnocchi is pasta and potato blended into dumplings that are the very vision of comfort food.
The envelope pasta, Ravioli can be flat, round, or square little parcels that're usually crimped at the edges and packed with different fillings.
Types of Noodles
Long and winding (like the noodle itself), the history of this all-important food has been traced back to beginning 4000 years ago. An old earthen dish was found in China and this dish contained remnants of ancient noodles from the Han dynasty. Noodles branched out from China across to Japan in the 9th century and then onto Korea in the 14th century before making it across the ocean.
Now noodles are one of the world’s favorite dishes and whether it's your favorite ramen joint or a quick and clean stay at home instant supper, these noodles have traveled across the centuries to keep us full and happy. Take a look at the oodles of noodles out there that are still leading a dynasty…
A thick type of egg wheat noodle that is often used in the dish Lo Mein. Lo Mein takes its etymology from the Chinese Lao Mian, which means to stir or mix up noodles. As Lo Mein has grown to become such a popular dish in the US, the name is often used to refer to not just the dish, but the kind of noodle used in the dish too.
The Japanese version of noodles, ramen noodles are often found simmering away in fragrant soup. These noodles are wheat-based and thin and traditionally are always fresh with a fabulous chew. They get their chewy golden texture from the addition of alkaline salts – traditionally this would have been kansui (a solution of potassium carbonate and baking soda), although these days it can also be lye water.
In the US, we may associate ramen with instant noodles. Momofuku Ando invented this style of noodle in the 50’s creating a product that had the benefit of a longer shelf-life. These noodles are flash fried and dried and formed into a block which is then soaked in liquid (water or broth) to bring it back to life. Instant ramen are hugely popular thanks to their speed and ease and are slurped by billions of people around the globe every single year.
From the North of Japan, Soba noodles are made from buckwheat and this gives them their darker coloring. An earthy and slightly nutty taste mark Soba noodles out for feeling fresh and healthy. They are higher in protein and fiber than some other noodles and are equally delicious served sizzling hot or chilled.
Udon are chewy Japanese noodles usually made from wheat flour, water, and salt. They’re thicker than buckwheat soba noodles and can be either flat or rounded. The noodles likely originated in China and was introduced to Japan during the Tang dynasty (618–907 CE). Udon noodles are typically served as a noodle soup in a hot broth, but they can also be served cold during hot weather with a dipping sauce, chilled broth, or as a salad. Most udon in the United States are imported from Japan and available dried in packages or frozen, but some grocery stores carry pre-cooked udon, which can be easily warmed in soup or stir-fried and served.
A staple of Chinese restaurants everywhere, the humble egg noodle has so much going for it. A springy texture and a wide variety of thickness types mean that egg noodles can go with just about any dish you are whipping up. From wide wonton egg noodles to fresh and thin, egg noodles are made from eggs (surprise) and wheat. Slip them in your soup or throw them in a chilled summer salad – they are delicious every single way.
Also referred to as glass noodles, the mung bean noodle is made from a simple mung bean starch and water combo. This noodle is transparent and super thin and is celebrated as being an excellent source of calcium. The mung bean noodle has crossed cultures and can be found in Chinese stir-fries, spiced Thai salads, and even ice-cream topping in India.
Thick and yellow and totally robust, Hokkien noodles take their origin from China but also star in popular dishes from Malaysia and Singapore. These noodles are whipped up from wheat flour and egg yolks (which give them that golden color). They can be soft and chewy when added to soups or you can fry them up until completely crispy. Either way, they sweep you off your feet.
The Shirataki noodles are low carb and low calorie not to mention vegan friendly and gluten-free. For those with dietary requirements, Shirataki can tick all the boxes. Pale and slightly translucent, these noodles are 97% water and blended with glucomannan fiber which gives it its form and fabulous chewy texture.
Made primarily of rice flour and water, rice noodles refer to another large category of the noodle world. These noodles come in a variety of shapes and sizes and can be found fresh or dried in bundles. They are great for quick-fire stir-fries, salads, and delicious soups that need a little more substance thanks to their mild flavor and soft texture. You will often find a stash of rice stick noodles waiting to be slurped up in your Pad Thai or vermicelli noodles accompanying your Vietnamese Bun Cha. Rice noodles also have a varying thickness so you can choose ribbons or threads depending on what’s cooking.
How to Make Easy, Authentic Ramen & Noodles
If all this talk of noodles has you wanting to chow down on some clean and delicious ramen and noodles we can have that bowl in hand without the fuss. One of the best things about truly authentic noodles is getting the bite and texture just right. Nona’s ramen noodles celebrate the perfect chew thanks to the alkaline mineral water that serves up that slurp. Simply add your noodles to a rolling boil and 2 minutes later you have steaming bliss.