Liven up your pasta with these tasty alternatives
Matthew Kadey, MSc, RD
Wheat-free pasta is more than just a bowl of noodles. We use soba, mung bean, kamut, and Shirataki noodles in our Asian noodle recipes.
If there is one kind of food I am always in the mood for, it’s spaghetti. I adore all kinds—spaghetti with tomato sauce, spaghetti with pesto; you name it, I’ll eat it in mounds. But I’m no slave to ubiquitous wheat pasta.
Whether it’s nutty Japanese soba or newfangled kamut spaghetti, the increasing variety of noodles available at my local health food store has my palate continually experiencing new flavours and my body benefiting from the nutritional windfall. Hold onto your veggie-meatballs, here are four varieties even picky kids will love slurping up.
These quick-cooking, tawny Japanese noodles with a hearty nuttiness are made with gluten-free buckwheat flour, a relative of rhubarb. Soba often contains a blend of buckwheat and wheat, so look for “100% buckwheat” on the label if you’re avoiding gluten. Soba noodles work just as well with Western flavours like tomato sauce and Parmesan as they do with soy sauce, sesame oil, and other Asian seasonings. They need a quick rinse once cooked.
Healthy bites: a phtyochemical in buckwheat called rutin may have a number of beneficial properties including preventing oxidative damage in the body.
These translucent, gelatinous noodles, which are made from the powdered root of the Asian konjac plant, have a rather nondescript taste but soak up flavours of accompanying sauces and spices beautifully. Find them in liquid-filled bags at Asian markets and some specialty stores. To use, drain and rinse well, then give the noodles a quick blanch.
Healthy bites: virtually calorie-free shirataki noodles consist mostly of an indigestible soluble fibre called glucomannan, which may improve cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
Mung bean noodles
Made from mung bean flour, these noodles—also known as glass, vermicelli, or cellophane noodles—are semi-transparent and resemble coiled fishing line. When dry, they are very hard, but become tender with a slightly elastic consistency when added to hot water.
Healthy bites: mung bean noodles are an excellent dietary source of thiamine, iron, and selenium, an antioxidant that could protect against skin cancer.
Made from slightly sweet and especially nutritious whole grain kamut flour, these fibre-rich noodles can be used in almost any recipe calling for normal spaghetti—and with delicious results. Use the upper range of the recommended cooking time, as kamut pasta tends toward firmness.
Healthy bites: a 2009 European Journal of Clinical Nutrition study involving 4,200 subjects suggests a possible inverse relationship between whole grain consumption and the risk of being overweight.
It’s best to follow package directions when working with alternative noodles and stir them often to avoid sticking. To save time and energy, put half the water in a pot and boil the other half in an electric kettle as the first half heats up. Add the two together, and you’ve got bubbly water in much less time.