Here’s a quick guide to soba noodles (also known as buckwheat noodles) and how to best use them in recipes.
One of the most relished of the traditional foods of Japan, soba noodles (also known as buckwheat noodles, are so immensely popular that their very name is steeped in folklore and ritual. Soba shops are a common sight in Japanese cities— small eateries serving specialties made with these beloved noodles. See more in this article on why soba is the quintessential Japanese noodle.
Though they’re dark and robust, soba noodles have a smooth texture, unlike many whole-grain pastas. Thin and spaghetti-shaped, the buckwheat flour content in the noodles varies, from as much as 80 percent to as little as 20 percent. The packages state the proportion.
The remaining proportion in the noodle consists of wheat flour. Predictably, the more buckwheat flour in the noodle, the darker the color and the more distinct the flavor will be. These noodles less bland than ordinary pasta, yet not at all difficult to acquire a taste for. This is notable, as their whole-grain parent, buckwheat, have a flavor that takes some getting used to.
Buying and cooking soba
In the Western world, soba noodles are more commonly available in natural food stores, as several domestic companies are involved in their importation and distribution. You might also find them in Asian groceries. They most often come in 8-ounce cellophane packages.
Soba noodles are cooked just like ordinary pasta — in a roomy pot in plenty of steadily simmering water. They take approximately 5 to 7 minutes to cook. Best to follow package directions, just as you would any other type of pasta or noodle variety.
Are soba good for you, and are they gluten-free?
Soba noodles do have a lot to offer nutritionally. See how soba stacks up against whole wheat spaghetti. They might not be quite as nutrient-dense, but they’re more palatable!
As far as whether they’re gluten-free, that depends. If they’re 100% buckwheat, then most likely. But it’s not easy to find 100% buckwheat soba in this country. Read the label carefully, but the answer is more likely to be that they’re mixed with wheat flour and are therefore NOT gluten-free.
Some ideas for using soba
Since their flavor is not at all delicate, these deep-brown noodles stand up particularly well to robust-flavored sauces and accompaniments.
In miso soup or other Asian-style soup: Add cooked soba, full length (in which case you’ll slurp them with chopsticks!) or cut into 2-inch lengths, to simple miso soups. They’re also particularly good in brothy Asian-style soups that highlight winter root vegetables. In any case, use a generous hand with fresh ginger.
A simply seasoned side dish: Serve cooked soba as a side dish simply seasoned with sesame oil, minced scallions, and natural soy sauce. For interest, add a small amount of sea vegetables, such as shredded nori or reconstituted arame. To make this a main dish, simply add diced and sautéed tofu or tempeh.
Add to green soups: Stir some last-minute cooked soba into pureed green vegetable soups composed of flavorful vegetables like broccoli, asparagus, or green beans.
Make them saucy: Toss with any kind of tomato-based sauce, using just as you would ordinary spaghetti. Soba is quite compatible with vegetable dishes featuring sweet and sour sauce and peanut sauce.
Use soba to make marinated cold salads: For instance, try combining cooked soba noodles (that have been rinsed under cold running water until cool) with cucumber, sprouts, snow peas, grated or sliced turnips or radishes, and other crispy vegetables. Toss with sesame-ginger dressing for an easy cold dish.
A stir-fry staple: Add to stir-fries as a change of pace from serving over rice.
Soba noodle recipes on this site
Make sure to see this roundup of delectable vegan soba noodle recipes featuring stir-fries, soups, and cold dishes.
See more of our Good Food Guides.