Noodles and pasta are common food products that people often think are the same thing, but beneath the surface there is a lot that differentiates them, says a technical staff member at Cigi (Canadian International Grains Institute).
“Visitors to Cigi’s processing facilities frequently ask what is the difference between them,” says Kasia Kaminska, technician in Asian products and extrusion technology. “Even in industry, some people may not know. For example, if you’re milling flour and not aware of what end product it is used for, you may just assume that pasta and noodles are one and the same.”
Noodles and pasta differ primarily because of their ingredients and the type of processing involved, Kaminska says. Noodles are usually made with flour milled from common wheat. Pasta is processed from durum semolina, which is coarser than typical flour. However, that difference is not always so cut and dried.
“In some markets, processors will use common wheat for pasta because durum is so expensive,” says Kaminska. “But in a higher-end market such as Italy, there are regulations that require pasta to be made of 100 per cent durum.”
Also, certain markets such as Japan are starting to use durum in fresh alkaline noodles because they like the yellow colour that the flour provides, she says.
There are many formulas for making a variety of Asian noodles, but salt is always a requirement in the production phase. Noodles undergo a “sheeting” process where dough is passed through a series of rollers to produce a flat sheet that is sent through a cutter to produce individual noodle strands.
Pasta, on the other hand, involves mixing durum semolina with water to form a stiff dough which is then extruded through a mould or die to create various shapes such as spaghetti, lasagna or macaroni.
“Pasta is also often sold as a dry product on the shelf and is usually eaten warm either by boiling or baking it,” Kaminska says. “Noodles can be sold fresh, dried, parboiled, steamed, deep fried — there are so many different ways that they are produced and sold. Also they can be eaten either hot, cold, or in a stir-fry.”
Where the difference between the two may be detected is through taste and texture, she says. 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 Kaminska. “For noodles, you don’t normally want that, depending on what market you’re in and even what region of Asia. For example, noodle types vastly differ between northern and southern China. They look for degrees of elasticity, firmness, or softness.”
As for the taste difference, Asian noodles vary depending on the type of salt used in the formulation and how they are processed, she says. Most dry pasta products have a uniform flavour.
“The real identifying factor with pasta is to what extent the al dente texture holds up in cooking and how well sauce adheres to it.”
Pasta is also geared towards North American and European markets, while Asian products are more for Asian markets, says Kaminska. “But instant noodles are global. You can go to any country in the world and find them. Even in Italy, known as the pasta capital, in prior years you would never see an instant noodle product on the shelf, but now you’ll find whole sections in the grocery store.”
Despite the differences, noodles and pasta undoubtedly share a long history. Their broad appeal to many generations of appetites shows no sign of slowing down well into the future.