When people think of pasta, what comes to mind is Italian pasta, made from wheat. However, as with flours, pastas can be made from a variety of grains, roots, legumes, and tubers. Many of these non-wheat pastas are staples in Asian and Indian cooking. Others have been developed for people who have gluten allergies or wheat sensitivity. Since many of these pastas do not include semolina, farina, durum flour, or eggs, they don’t conform to government standards for macaroni or noodles. They may be labeled alimentary paste, imitation noodles, or sometimes Asian noodles.
Pastas made from plants other than wheat are excellent alternatives for people who are allergic to wheat or to gluten. These pastas also have their own nutritional pluses aside from their lack of gluten. Depending upon the source, for example, some types of non-wheat pasta will be rich in protein, such as brown rice pasta. Still others will be lower in calories, such as buckwheat noodles. Each type offers its own nutritional and culinary merits.
For a full listing of nutrients, see the National Nutrient Database:
Types of non-wheat pasta
Many non-wheat pastashave been created for the health food market for people who are avoiding gluten. However, not all non-wheat pastas are entirely wheat free, so make sure to read the label. While these non-wheat pastas can be substituted for regular (wheat) pastas, be aware that they each cook up differently and have different textures.
For the Asian-style pastas, many different countries, and regions within those countries, have the exact same type of noodle but call them different things. Listed below are a number of the more common names you might encounter in an Asian market, since most of these markets sell products from multiple Asian cultures.
Bean and legume pastas
- Cellophane noodles: Chinese: fen si, fun sie; Japanese: sarifun, harusame; Korean: dang myun; Vietnamese: bun tau. Made from mung bean flour, these semi-translucent noodles turn clear when cooked and often are called glass noodles or bean thread noodles. They can be quickly stir-fried or braised with other ingredients. The noodles are nearly pure starch, containing almost no protein, vitamins, or minerals.
- Lentil pasta: Made from ground lentils, this pasta has a meaty, rich, slightly peppery lentil flavor.
- Amaranth pasta: Light brown in color and resembling whole-wheat pasta, amaranth pasta has the bite and consistency of regular pasta.
- Corn pasta: Corn pasta has about half the protein of regular pasta, but otherwise is nutritionally comparable. It is a good alternative for people allergic to wheat.
- Milo pasta: Milo, alsoknown as grain sorghum, produces a pasta with a slightly sweet, interesting flavor.
- Millet pasta: Millet is ground into a flour and used to make pasta, most often small macaroni.
- Oat pasta: Oat flour makes a satisfying pasta, most often in small macaroni shapes.
- Quinoa pasta: Quinoa is ground into a flour to make pasta the color of whole-wheat pasta but with the consistency of regular pasta.
- Rice noodles: Chinese: sha he fen, sa ho fun, gan he fen, gon ho fun; Vietnamese: bun, banh pho, banh hoi. Dried Asian rice noodles, which are usually sold coiled in bags, are either thread-thin or spaghetti-like. The thinner form is usually sold as rice vermicelli; the thicker form is called rice sticks. Typically, they are boiled or stir-fried for use in salads or soups. Fresh rice noodles, a standard feature of the Chinese brunch called dim sum, are sold in wide sheets for making dishes similar to dumplings, or cut into 3/4-inch-wide ribbons. They are precooked and are ready to eat once boiling water is poured over them. Like cellophane noodles, rice noodles are almost pure starch and are thus low in protein.
- Rice papers (rice wrappers): These round translucent sheets of dried rice noodle are used in Vietnamese cooking as a wrapper for food. They do not need to be cooked; they are softened in warm water until flexible and then wrapped around various fillings.
- Rice pasta: Both white and brown rice are used to make rice pasta. These pastas tend to be fairly tender and may not hold up well when served with heavy sauces.
- Teff pasta: Generally made from a combination of teff flour and another grain, it can be used like regular pasta.
- Barley pasta: This slightly nutty-tasting pasta is made from barley flour.
- Buckwheat noodles: Chinese: qiao mian; Japanese: soba; Korean: naeng myun. These flat, gray Asian noodles are made from buckwheat and wheat flour, or just buckwheat flour. They are rich in protein. They may be served hot (usually in a broth) or chilled, accompanied by a dipping sauce. In Japan, soba noodles are eaten for lunch or as a snack, and are essential to a traditional dish prepared at New Year’s.
- Buckwheat pasta: While buckwheat flour is used in Asian noodles, it is also used to make a popular Italian pasta called pizzocheri. It has a rich, nutty flavor and a chewy texture.
Root and tuber pastas
- Cassava pasta: Made from the starchy tropical tuber known as cassava, this very white pasta tastes similar to wheat pasta. It does not expand a great deal when cooked.
- Jerusalem artichoke pasta: This pasta is made from a combination of Jerusalem artichoke flour and wheat flour.
- Malanga pasta: A starchy tropical tuber, malanga is used to make a pasta that closely resembles wheat pasta.
- Potato pasta: Made from potato flour, sometimes with the addition of rice flour, this pasta is fairly sturdy and holds up well with rich sauces.
- White sweet potato pasta: Made from white sweet potato starch, this pasta has a slightly sweet flavor.
- Yam pasta: Like white sweet potato pasta, this has a slightly sweet flavor.
How to Choose and Serve Non-Wheat Pasta
Most non-wheat pastas require no more preparation than regular wheat pastas. There are some Asian noodles, however, that are a little different. Here are seven delicious recipe ideas.