CHN 375W/ITAL 376W
Can Gluten Free/vegetable Noodles still be Considered Noodles?
As time goes on, different variations of products become available for our consumption. From the food we eat to the technology we use, there are always modifications that we get to experience. This can be due to demand or just human curiosity. Sometimes it is a combination of both which is the case for the topic of this paper. Gluten free and vegetable noodles have become widely popular in recent years. Many people are turning to these types of noodles to get their fill instead of traditional noodles. However, with the popularity of these noodles increasing with time, one begs to ask, can gluten free and vegetable noodles still be classified with traditional noodles and pasta. In order to answer this question, we must first examine what the traditional noodle is and what it means to people and then compare it to these non-traditional noodles like gluten free noodles. For this paper, I will be using my own experiences, along with those of some of my peers who enjoy gluten free/vegetable noodles and those who enjoy traditional noodles. I will also be using some online resources and texts such as food blogs, books, and the accounts of others to reach my conclusion and answer the question.
When you look up the definition of noodles, you will usually get a definition describing dough made from some type of flour, usually semolina, and eggs that is usually eaten with some type of a broth or a sauce. This definition just tells you what noodles are at face value. They don’t go in depth to define what it means to people and their culture. In order to answer the research question, we must first examine what traditional noodles are as well as what they represent. I define noodles as food that transcends beyond its intended purpose of providing nourishment by influencing and connecting every part of the word while still managing to allow us to maintain a sense of self and community. Noodles are a way for people to showcase their culture and cultural influences proudly to the world. An example of this can be seen in Italian societies specifically the island of Sicily. Sicilian pasta dishes help to display Italian cultural heritage through their use of Middle Eastern spices. These spices highlight a group that had a huge influence on the island, the Arabs. In fact, pasta itself didn’t become a staple in this region until the Arabs arrived. Another way that noodles represents a society’s cultural background is the belief by many that Marco Polo was the one who introduced noodles to Italian societies. This claim is false; however, it allows us to see the impact the Silk Road and China had on Italy during its beginnings. Also, noodles in Italy, in the form of mostly, pasta is served during the primo course of the dining experience as an appetizer and not the main dish. While most places in the world have their own version of noodles, different customs and traditions surrounding the noodles allow each of us to maintain a connection to our people and our societies. In China, it is a tradition for people to eat longevity noodles during birthday celebrations as a way of attaining long life. In Hawaii, saimin, a dish containing egg noodles, Japanese style broth, green onions and spam is enjoyed as a popular street food. This food originated in China, but it is said to have been developed and perfected by the Hawaiians. In my home country Ghana, we enjoy waakye, a dish consisting of rice and beans mixed with spaghetti noodles. It is known as one of the most popular lunch dishes in the southern region of the nation. One of my closest friends told me about a noodle dish her Mexican family like to enjoy called sopa seca which literally means dry soup. For this dish, they toss noodles with salsa, chicken broth and cook until all the liquid has been absorbed. Shredded chicken is also usually added. Different types of noodles can be used for this dish depending on the preference of those enjoying it. From these examples, we can see that noodles are enjoyed in all parts of the world however each dish is different and significant to the region that is it enjoyed in and helps foster a sense of identity to those who share it. Noodles have the ability to show us who we are- through its shapes, the sauces, and broths it is enjoyed in, and the time we consume it. Noodles allow all of us to have a sense of security and comfort whether you are a visitor trying a noodle dish in a foreign land or a native enjoying a dish that has been in your family for hundreds of years.
Another thing we must examine in order to determine if gluten free and vegetable noodles can be classified as traditional noodles is to examine items that are classified as traditional noodles. These traditional noodles vary in size, ingredients and can also be differentiated according to the region of production. Some examples in China are biang biang noodles which resemble a belt and are popular in the Shaanxi province, rice noodles which are made from rice flour and are usually thin, glass noodles which are a transparent and kao mian jin which are grilled noodles shaped into spirals and baked over barbecue. As we mentioned in class, dumplings, steamed buns, and bing are also classified as noodles. Some items classified as noodles or commonly pasta in Italy are spaghetti which are long thin cylindrical pasta, ziti which are long, narrow, hose-like tubes, ravioli which are two squares of pasta on top of each other stuffed with different fillings like cheese and meat and lasagne which are flat wide pasta used to make lasagna. There are also soba noodles in Japan which are thin noodles made from buckwheat flour. From these different noodles, we can see that traditional noodles encompass different kinds of noodles. With this information, I can begin formulating my answer to the posed research question.
Since I have defined what traditional noodles are, I must also define what gluten free and vegetable noodles are. Gluten free noodles are noodles made without any form of wheat, rye, or barley. They are typically made with buckwheat, rice, quinoa, beans, or corn. They are made to resemble different types of traditional noodles while still providing the same taste. They come in different tastes, shapes and sizes which allows the consumer to have a wider variety of products to choose from. Brands like to make these noodles to have the same shape and feel as traditional noodles, so consumers don’t feel like they are missing out. Vegetable noodles which are the most popular form of gluten free noodles, nowadays, due to health trends like the keto diet, which removes carbohydrates from one’s diet, are made by usually spiralizing whole vegetables and using it in lieu of traditional carb dense noodles. These can also be made by cutting the vegetables into thin long strips using a knife. Some popular vegetables used to make these noodles are zucchini, squash, sweet potato, carrots, yams, and cucumbers. They are usually not prepared in the same way as traditional noodles due to their texture. They must be lightly steamed or eaten raw because cooking them too long causes them to be mushy and lose their texture.
Gluten free noodles have, surprisingly, been a part of our lives for thousands of years. In fact, the earliest evidence of noodles that were found in Laija, China happened to be gluten free and made from millet. It is extremely interesting that the earliest proof we have of the origins of noodles turned out be gluten free. According to a jovial article, “Eating gluten free pasta is not such a modern invention after all, it would seem.” This is true as many people believe that gluten free pasta is a new age item made popular by the growing need which is partly true because even though gluten free noodles have been a key part of our diets for thousands of years, their market didn’t explode until about five or so years ago. Vegetable noodles, on the other hand have no historic context that we know of as of date. They are twenty-first century concoctions with their popularity also increasing about five years ago due to many reasons including new diet plans and allergies. Their popularity can also be attributed to the texture it provides in meals which some say makes the transition from traditional noodles easier. Recipes utilizing these noodles can now be seen everywhere from food blogs to Instagram. Gluten free noodles and its subset, vegetable noodles, allow people to explore different options for creating meals.
In order to understand what gluten free and vegetable noodles mean to people, we need to understand why people choose it over traditional noodles. There are many reasons why people opt for gluten free noodles over traditional noodles. Some of these include diseases and health concerns like Celiac disease, Hashimotos disease and wheat allergies. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that damages your small intestines due to the consumption of gluten. This occurs because the bodies of those with this disease cannot break down the protein for the body to absorb. It is estimated that at least 3 million people in the US are living with this condition and one of the most effective ways to manage this disorder is to remove gluten from your diet which leads these people to seek alternative food options like gluten free noodles. The increased number of gluten allergies is also driving the need for gluten free foods. Scientist believe this is due to the high amount of gluten present in our everyday lives. There are some people, however, who do not have any allergies or diseases, associated with gluten that still decide to opt for gluten free food options. These people opt for this because of the many benefits associated with gluten free diet including high energy levels, decrease risks of developing heart diseases and certain cancers, weight loss and improved cholesterol. All these factors influence people to choose a gluten free diet.
For us to be able to decide if gluten free noodles can be classified as traditional noodles, we need to compare the two. The most basic difference between the two types of noodles are the ingredients. Traditional noodles are mostly made with wheat flour while gluten free noodles are mostly made with rice, buckwheat, vegetables and sometimes beans. Like traditional noodles, gluten free noodles also come in many different shapes and sizes usually with the same name as their counterparts just with gluten free in front of it. Brands like Jovial and Barilla make sure to make gluten free noodles shaped like penne, shells, and macaroni so the customer doesn’t feel like they are missing out. Another way to compare these types of noodles is by flavor. Most people who regularly eat gluten free noodles will tell you that there is no difference in taste when compared to noodles with gluten in it. This can be attributed to the fact that noodles are just one component of a dish and their substitution shouldn’t cause a dramatic change in the way a meal taste. This, however, is not the case for vegetable noodles since they lack the bite noodles made with flour or rice have. They have an initial crunch that can imitate the bite traditional noodles have, but they don’t have the longevity. Another point of comparison between these different types of noodles is how long it takes to make them. We know making traditional pasta is a time intensive task but making gluten free pasta is an even more time intensive and critical task. This is due to the fact that gluten free dough is extremely unforgiving and in order to mimic the taste and feel of traditional noodles, one must be extremely focused and aware of their surroundings. A seemingly unassuming change in the amount of eggs, water or buckwheat flour used can have consequential damage and render the dough useless. Ed Scarpone, the head chef at DBGB says, “It takes finesse. The eggs you use might not be the same size or temperature. You can just throw a gluten-free flour blend together with eggs and such . . . you won’t get a bad product, but I don’t think it mimics good fresh pasta.” This shows how intricate difficult it is to produce high quality gluten free noodles. This time-consuming process, however goes out the window when making vegetable noodles which only require a spiralizer and your vegetable of choice and can take as little as twenty seconds to make a serving of noodles. There might be twenty extra seconds added when using a knife, however, this is still a significantly less amount of when compared to making traditional noodles using flour. The only downfall with vegetable noodles is that you are limited to the amount of shapes the spiralizer can produce. These noodles usually come out to be extremely long tight coils, thick long coils, or flatter thin coils. You can also use a knife cut the vegetables to mimic lasagne. However, it is extremely difficult to mimic pasta shapes like farfalle or tortellini. Many brands now however are making traditional pasta infused with vegetables for those who do not want to lose the taste of their traditional pasta but still want to get their servings of vegetables.
For me to attain more information about gluten free noodles, I was able to talk to two of my friends who both only eat gluten free and vegetable noodles. One of them, Jacquelyn, had only been exposed to gluten free noodles since birth due to a family history of celiac disease and the other, Sam, just transitioned to eating gluten free noodles about five years ago for improved health. I sked Sam to tell me about the difference in taste between the two noodles. She answered, “When I started eating gluten free noodles I could tell that the taste wasn’t the same and I wasn’t enjoying my meals, but as time went on I was able to enjoy my meals and got the same happy feelings I would get when I ate traditional noodles.” Sam also admitted that she began enjoying her meals more when she began investing in higher quality noodles. She now says the gluten free noodles she eats tastes no different than the regular noodles she used to eat. I also asked both Jacquelyn and Sam if they considered the gluten free noodles they ate to be noodles. Sam, who is a quarter Italian, replied by saying, “yes, I still classify it as noodles because it does the same thing for me as regular noodles do for others. I am still able to enjoy time with my family when we gather for a meal even though they enjoy traditional pasta while I eat gluten free pasta. I still get to the same flavors from my mom’s dishes as I used to when I ate regular noodles.” “Now that I think about it,” she continued, “Eating gluten free pasta has allowed me to feel my family’s love more because when they prepare pasta dishes they make sure to also prepare the same for me using my pasta which they don’t have to, but they do anyway because of their love for me.” Jacquelyn responded to the question by saying, “I think they can be classified as noodles because I am still able to eat dishes originally made for regular noodles. It doesn’t matter what restaurant I go to. if I see a delicious noodle dish and I tell them to use gluten free noodles, they are always happy to comply, and I always enjoy the dish.” From this, we can see that those who eat gluten free noodles get to experience the same things those of us who eat traditional noodles get to experience.
I was also able to talk to a couple of my friends who had never tried gluten free noodles and I also asked them what they thought about gluten free noodles and if they classified them as regular noodles. They all agreed on the importance of gluten free noodles since some people’s bodies can’t handle gluten and they also brought up a great point on vegetable noodles They detailed how vegetable noodles could elevate even an amateurs noodle dish with its pop of brightness and crunch.
This paper has allowed me to assess a question that had plagued my mind since the start of this class; can gluten free and vegetable noodles be classified with traditional noodles and pasta? I believe the answer is yes. If we define noodles as dough pulled and stretched to form different shapes and sizes, then gluten free noodles can be considered to be noodles because they are also made from dough that is stretched and pulled to produce a multitude of shapes and sizes. I define noodles as food that transcends beyond its intended purpose of providing nourishment by influencing and connecting every part of the word while still managing to allow us to maintain a sense of self and community and gluten free noodles also fit under this category. There are millions of people worldwide who utilize a gluten free diet and all these people are somehow connected because of their diet. They may not eat the same noodle dishes and have dishes specific to where there are but they all share a sense of community through their use of gluten free noodles. From my friend Sam, we can see that gluten free noodles didn’t put a strain on her family relationship but in fact strengthens it. I have come to realize that when classifying noodles, it is not the ingredients that define the food. This can be seen in rice noodles. Rice noodles are in many dishes considered traditional noodles dishes, so it is not the gluten that make noodles. The deeper meaning of the word is what classifies something as being noodles. At the end of the day, Food isn’t meant to remain static. Different interpretations and significances of food to different people is what makes it special. It is an expression of all of us and gluten free and veggie noodles are a showcase of this.
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Salustri, Cathy. “How to Do Noodles and Pasta – Celiac-Style.” Creative Loafing: Tampa Bay,