Until I came to Cigi, I never even considered it. I always used the two words interchangeably, assuming they were mere synonyms for each other. How could I be so foolish to think pasta and noodles were the same thing? How could I be making this mistake my whole life?
“Even in industry, some people may not know,” says Kasia Kaminska, Technician in Cigi’s Asian Products and Extrusion Technology, referring to the difference between pasta and noodles. “I mean if you’re in milling and not aware of where your flour is going or what the end product is, you may just assume that pasta and noodles are one and the same.”
Perhaps I was loosely aware of a difference between Asian instant noodles and spaghetti somewhere deep in my subconscious, but they really are fundamentally different. Primarily, the two are made from different material. Pasta is made from durum semolina, which is a lot coarser than typical flour. Alternatively, noodles are made with flour milled from common wheat. However, there is a grey area. It’s not so cut and dry (pun intended).
“In some markets, they will use common wheat for pasta because durum is so expensive,” says Kasia. Whereas in a higher-end market such as Italy, there are regulations in place that require pasta to be made of 100% durum.
“There are certain markets, Japan for example, where they’re starting to use durum in noodles because they like the yellow colour which the durum provides,” says Kasia. “They’re called fresh alkaline noodles, a very typical noodle in Asia.”
Alkaline noodles have a slightly different texture, and actually smell a little different too due to the prominence of alkaline salts used in the processing.
There are many formulas for making a variety of Asian noodles, but salt is always a requirement in the production phase. Noodles typically undergo a “sheeting” process where dough is rolled out into a flat sheet and sent through a cutter that slices the dough into the individual noodle strands.
Conversely, pasta is processed through extrusion. Durum semolina mixes with water and is pushed through a mould or dye, much like squeezing toothpaste out of a tube. Depending on the dye, you can create all kinds of pasta shapes, whether it’s spaghetti, lasagna, or macaroni.
Pasta is often sold as a dry product that is usually eaten warm either by boiling or baking it. Whereas noodles “can be fresh, dried, parboiled, steamed, deep-fried—there are so many different ways to cook noodles, and they’re eaten either hot or cold or in stir fry,” says Kasia.
For example, she says that Udon noodles are typically cooled down and served in a cold broth.
However, perhaps where we have subconsciously detected a difference between the two is in taste and texture. Quality pasta has an “al dente” texture, where it is soft on the outside, but firm at its core.
“The whole goal for al dente is that for your first bite you want the pasta to break,” says Kasia. “For noodles, you don’t normally want that, depending on what market you’re in. They look for degrees of elasticity and degrees of firmness or softness.”
I am a college student after all, so I should know my noodles, and now that I recall, noodles definitely have more of a chewy bounce to them.
“Pasta is geared towards North American and European markets, while Asian products are obviously more geared towards Asian markets,” says Kasia. “However, instant noodles are global. You can go to any country in the world and find them. Even in Italy you’ll find instant noodles on the shelf.”
And perhaps, that’s from where our confusion stems. We can buy both pasta and noodles virtually anywhere in the world. As our global society has become more and more inclusive, we are exposed to more culturally diverse foods, so it’s understandable to confuse something as simple as pasta and noodles. I’ll let this one slide, though, because at the end of the day, they’re both delicious.
Mike Kontzamanis worked at Cigi during the summer of 2015 while he was a student in the Creative Communications program at Red River College in Winnipeg.