Guest post by Matthew Partridge @errantscience
Our very detailed blog-based statistics (and creepy Google tracking) shows that the majority of people read these articles whilst eating their lunch. For once that is extremely timely as this article is about one of the best lunch foods ever, noodles!
Noodles have been around a while (about 2000 years) but so has semolina and brussels sprouts. But unlike those non-lunch foods, noodles have spawned hundreds, if not thousands of varieties all over the world and are a key part of national dishes in multiple countries.
Part of that reason is that noodles are very simple. To make a noodle you will just need some starch and some water. You mix starch into the water to make a paste; make the paste flat, then dry it, cut it, and cook. They’ll taste pretty bland and I doubt you’ll be asked to bring anything to the potluck lunch again, especially if you keep describing them as ‘cut dry paste’.
From this basic recipe, humanity has thankfully got pretty creative with noodles. Ramen noodles have complex blends of alkaline salts to give them their flavour and texture. Others have eggs, fats and even gelatine to make them look and taste different.
This article was commissioned by Mr Lee’s Noodles and they are famous for using rice noodles. Rice noodles are made using rice flour (starchy bit) and are particularly good as noodles as they contain no gluten, no egg and no extra fats.
On paper Mr Lee’s recipe is simple: mix rice flour, sugar, salt, add water and then follow the earlier described paste based steps. But with the very first ingredient – rice flour – the recipe has already become wildly more interesting because rice flour isn’t just starch derived from rice, it’s a complex mix of 100 different amazing components that were produced by the rice plant specially to make the rice.
For starters there is a small amount of fat (1%). It’s not all one fat; it’s actually a bunch of different fats and fatty acids. When you say fat, people tend to think of the white solid stuff on the edge of bacon. These are very much not those fats. For a start, most of them are yellow and in a liquid format at room temperature.
Proteins are next (12%). These are an even more complicated mix of different things as proteins have a huge range of functions as far apart as breaking down sugar to stitching together cell walls. Proteins are held together by very delicate bonds which do not like heat (typically) so once cooked these proteins all become building blocks for making new proteins in your own body. But before cooking they have important roles in making the rice flour taste different by breaking down the complex carbohydrates.
Speaking of which – the biggest part of rice flour is the carbohydrates (80%). Carbohydrates is a collective term for sugars, starches and fibre. The ratio of those three and their impact on the flavour and taste of rice noodles has led to many scientific articles and can be best summarised by “it’s complicated”.
Understanding how all of these component parts of rice flour make the best noodle is certainly a scientific challenge. Science can provide a lot of insight (and publications apparently) into the way that these parts all work together to make tougher noodles, longer noodles, stickier noodles and sweeter noodles. But science can't really help explain what makes a ‘good’ noodle because that’s all about what works best for the dish. For that you need a chef that is part scientist and part person that loves cooking.
Luckily for you (and this article) Mr Lee’s Noodles employ just such people, who understand both the food science and know what delicious recipes they want to make. Of course, what the noodles are made from is only part of what makes a noodle a good noodle. Good noodles can be ruined by overcooking, undercooking or side cooking (I don’t know what that is either but I’d started a list and needed a third thing).
Luckily, all of the noodles in Mr Lee’s Noodles are prepared using the kind of magic that would need its own article to explain properly and can be cooked perfectly with a kettle and 3 minutes’ worth of patience. Or a kettle and 3 minutes’ worth of phone games to avoid small talk with co-workers – we can confirm that both methods produce an excellent noodle lunch.
In Australia go to Woolworths, Metro or your local Harris Farm Markets supermarket or order online on Amazon on our website.