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Food Research International 41 (2008) 888–902

Asian noodles: History, classification, raw materials, and processing

Bin Xiao Fu
Canadian International Grains Institute, 1000 – 303 Main Street, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada R3C 3G7

Received 4 September 2007; accepted 25 November 2007


Noodles in various contents, formulations, and shapes have been the staple foods for many Asian countries since ancient time. They can
be made from wheat, rice, buckwheat, and starches derived from potato, sweet potato, and pulses. Noodles based on wheat are prepared
mainly from three basic ingredients; flour, water, and salt. There exist two distinct types of wheat flour noodles based on the presence and
absence of alkaline salts, regular salted noodles, and alkaline noodles. The basic process of dough mixing, sheet forming, compounding,
sheeting/reduction, and cutting are essentially constant for all machine-made noodles. Noodle strands coming out of cutting rolls can be
further processed to produce different types of noodles. This article analyzed all the major processes involved from raw material to finished
products in relation to noodle processing properties and cooked noodle texture. Different ingredients and their functionality in noodle pro-
cessing were discussed as well. Guidelines were provided to select the right ingredients to produce high quality noodle products. Processing
properties, appearance, and colour of noodles are the three key criteria used to judge a process and raw material quality. High quality noo-
dles should be bright in colour with very slow discoloration, have an adequate shelf life without visible microbiological deterioration or oxi-
dative rancidity, and have appropriate flavour and textural characteristics which will vary according to the noodle type and region. Flour
plays a key role in all aspects of noodle quality. Protein content is positively correlated with noodle firmness and sometimes negatively cor-
related with elasticity. Therefore, a correct range of protein content is important for textural characteristics. Adequate gluten strength and
extensibility is required in all noodle flours. Noodle dough must be strong enough to withstand sheeting, but not so strong as to cause tearing
or difficulty in sheet reduction. A good level of dough extensibility ensures that dough sheets do not shrink back during successive roll passes.
The importance of the pasting properties of starch to the texture of cooked noodles has been well-documented. The required soft, smooth,
and elastic textural properties of certain types of white salted noodles can be best obtained from wheats with high starch paste viscosity and
high swelling starch properties. Alkaline noodles do not have the same requirement for high starch swelling properties. Noodles made from
flour with high swelling starches have softer texture than those with low swelling starch. Noodles should be bright and slow in discoloration
with time after manufacturing. For white salted noodles, a white or creamy white colour is desirable. The level of natural yellow pigment
levels (xanthophylls) in flour is highly correlated with noodle colour, and this is wheat variety dependent. For yellow alkaline noodles, a
bright yellow colour is required, although the preference for the degree of colour development is regionally based. Noodle darkening
increases with the increases of flour extraction rate. This is due to the action of polyphenol oxidase (PPO) enzymes which are largely located
in the bran layer. Low flour extraction and ash levels are preferred for the manufacture of noodles with a clean and bright appearance. A
relatively fine flour particle size enables even hydration during mixing and optimum, uniform gluten development during sheeting. Increased
starch damage, however, is associated with poor noodle colour and undesirable high cooking loss and excessive surface swelling.
Ó 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Keywords: Noodles; Processing; Wheat flour

1. Introduction staple food, using chopsticks as a major serving tool. Asian

noodles are not made exclusively of wheat, many are made
One of the most distinguished oriental cultures is the from rice, buckwheat, and starches derived from the mung
consumption of rice, noodles, and steamed breads as daily bean and potato for example. This paper will focus primar-
ily on noodles produced from wheat flour.
Noodles based on wheat are prepared mainly from three
E-mail address: basic ingredients; flour, water, and salt. Asian noodles and

0963-9969/$ - see front matter Ó 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
B.X. Fu / Food Research International 41 (2008) 888–902 889

Italian pasta differ in raw materials and processing meth- and multi-layer sheeting, were based on the principles of
ods. Noodle products are usually made from common gluten development in hand-made noodles.
wheat fine flour by a process of sheeting and cutting as
opposed to pasta products, which are processed from 2. Classification of noodles
coarse semolina milled from durum wheat by extrusion.
Who invented the noodle is a hotly contested topic – The invention of many noodle formulations and pro-
with the Chinese, Italians, and Arabs all staking a claim. cessing techniques by the Chinese, coupled with the
But the discovery by Lu et al. (2005) of a pot of thin noo- advanced technology developed by the Japanese, have
dles preserved for 4000 years in Yellow river slit may have made Asian noodles an international food product.
tipped the bowl in China’s favour. It suggests that people Despite their ancient origins, noodles have undergone con-
were eating noodles at least 1000 years earlier than previ- siderable evolution and migration, as the products become
ously thought, and many centuries before such dishes were increasingly globalized (Hatcher, 2001; Hou, 2001). The
documented in Europe. The thin, yellow noodles were modification of formulation and processing is necessary
about 50 cm long and resembled La-Mian, a type of tradi- due to regional eating habits, taste preference, and
tional Chinese noodle made by grinding wheat to make advances in technology. The local uniqueness of formula-
dough and then repeatedly pulling and stretching the tion and processing has created many country-specific sys-
dough by hand. tems for noodle classification. There exist wide differences
Early Chinese literature suggests that Shui Bing (dough in the nomenclature for noodles among countries. These
sheet pieces in soup) was consumed more than 2000 years differences often cause confusion. For example, Ramen
ago in that country. Tang Bing (hot noodle soup) in winter refers primarily to fresh yellow alkaline noodles in Japan,
and Lian Mian (cold noodle soup) in summer were popular but mainly instant noodles in Korea.
at the beginning of the Tang dynasty (618–906 AD). Chi- There is a need to standardize noodle nomenclature based
nese people started using chopsticks to serve long noodle on raw material used, salt composition, processing method,
strands in the Song dynasty (960–1279 AD). Hand-made and sometimes size of noodle strands. Noodles made from
noodle technology was already well developed in the Yuan non-wheat grains are easily distinguished by including the
dynasty (1279–1368 AD). Noodle shops were able to pro- raw material as part of their names, such as rice noodles,
duce many types of noodles of different shape, size, and bean thread, and buckwheat noodles. Because of the wide
special local taste, including some very thin hand-stretched variation in formulation and method of manufacture, the
noodles. Many noodles in today’s market have evolved classification of wheat flour noodles requires at least the salt
from the products developed at that time (Miskelly, 1993). composition in the formulation and basic processing
The Chinese hand-made noodle and its processing tech- method to fully describe the nature of each noodle type.
nology were introduced to Japan about 1200 years ago
(Nagao, 1996). The four major types of regular salted noo- 2.1. Classification by salt composition
dles in Japan (So-men, Hiya-mugi, Udon, and Hira-men)
were developed based on the modified Chinese hand-made Wheat flour noodles exist in two distinct categories
noodle processing techniques to meet the tastes of local based on the presence or absence of alkaline salt or salts
people. The manufacture of noodles was revolutionized (mainly Na2CO3 and/or K2CO3). The alkaline salt has a
by the Japanese with the development of power-driven great impact on the colour, flavour, and texture of noodles
machinery in 1884. At the beginning of the 20th century, (Miskelly, 1996). Noodles based on flour, water, and regu-
the alkaline salt noodle was spread gradually throughout lar salt (NaCl) were developed in the north of China, and
Japan by the Chinese immigrants in Yokahama city. The the addition of alkaline salt appears to have originated in
first instant noodle, called chicken ramen, was produced the very south of China (Canton and Hokkien provinces).
by Nissin Foods of Japan in 1958. Instant noodles became Alkaline noodles represent less than 10% of total noodle
a mainstream food instantly and their consumers are not production in China, the rest being mainly regular salted
only in Asia but worldwide. noodles. Although alkaline noodles were introduced to
Most noodles today are produced by machine. While the Japan from China much later than regular salted noodles,
actual process for manufacturing a particular type of noo- alkaline noodles today have slightly higher market share
dle may differ from country to country to meet local needs, than regular salted noodles in Japan (Nagao, 1991). It
the basic principles involved are practically the same. Many often creates confusion to name regular salted noodles
of these principles stem from the ones used in the making ‘Japanese-type’ and the ones with alkaline salt, ‘Chinese
of ancient hand-made noodles. Despite low productivity type’.
based on today’s standards, hand-made noodles continue
to survive and are still very popular in China and Japan. 2.1.1. Regular salted noodles
Hand-made noodles are highly valued for their superior Regular salted noodles are made from a simple flour and
eating quality, presumably due to the mode of gluten for- water dough with 2–8% salt based on flour weight. The
mation. Developments in noodle processing technology actual amount of salt depends on the noodle type and its
during the 1990s, such as vacuum mixing, waved rollers, processing. Regular salted noodles are widely consumed
890 B.X. Fu / Food Research International 41 (2008) 888–902

in China, Japan, and Korea, but represent only a very used in the noodle industry as a dough conditioner or qual-
small proportion of the total noodles produced in South- ity improver at a much lower level, for example, 0.1–0.3%
east Asia. There are three major forms of regular salted carbonates for instant noodles. At such low levels, the alka-
noodles – fresh, dried, and boiled. Newer types, including line flavour is very light but the noodle texture can be sig-
frozen boiled and long-life noodles, are getting popular in nificantly modified.
Japan. The regular salted noodles are further classified into Alkaline noodles were introduced to Southeast Asia by
four types based on the size of noodle strands. They are, the immigrants from Canton and Hokkien provinces,
very thin (So-men), thin (Hiya-mugi), standard (Udon), which were the original homes of almost all Chinese
and flat (Hira-men), with noodle strand widths of 1.0–1.2, migrants to Southeast Asia. Alkaline noodles were widely
1.3–1.7, 2.0–3.9, and 5.0–7.5 mm, respectively. adopted into the local cuisine of Malaysia, Singapore,
The very thin and thin noodles are usually marketed in Indonesia, Thailand, Taiwan (closely related culturally to
dry form produced by controlled drying of fresh noodle Hokkien province), and Hong Kong (was part of Canton
strands. Standard Udon noodles are mostly produced in province).
boiled form. Although most noodles are made by machine, There are many different types of alkaline noodles in
hand-made regular salted noodles are still very popular in Southeast Asia. The most popular types are fresh (Canton-
Japan. Regular salted noodles are dominant in China other ese style), partially boiled (Hokkien style), and fresh or
than Hong Kong, Canton, and Hokkien provinces (Huang, steamed with egg as an ingredient (Wonton noodles).
1996). The most popular forms are machine-made Gua Instant noodles, which can be steamed and deep-fried or
Mian (dried noodles), hand-cut or hand-swung fresh noo- steamed and hot-air dried, are also very popular in South-
dles, and hand-stretched very thin dried noodles. Regular east Asia. Alkaline salts are usually included in the formula
salted noodles are second in popularity after instant noo- of instant noodles. They are added at either low level (0.1–
dles in Korea. They are marketed in dried, semi-dried, 0.3% carbonates) as a quality improver or at a high level
and fresh forms. Both China and Korea have only very (0.5–1.0% carbonates) to introduce the characteristic alka-
small production of boiled regular salted noodles. line flavour to the final product. Instant noodles with a low
The appearance of regular salted noodles should be level of alkaline salts should not be classified as alkaline
bright, with clean colour ranging from white to creamy noodles which usually refer to those noodles with strong
white, and with a smooth, glossy surface after boiling alkaline aroma, flavour and high pH-induced colour
(Nagao, 1991). For most Japanese and Koreans, the pre- change. There are also some dried alkaline noodles in
ferred textural properties of boiled regular salted noodles Southeast Asia.
are soft and elastic with a smooth surface (Crosbie & Ross, Although alkaline noodles originated from the very
2004). Most Chinese, however, prefer noodles with firm, southern part of China, there is little production and con-
elastic, and chewy texture (Huang, 1996). sumption in the rest of China. Alkaline noodles are virtu-
ally unknown in Korea, however, alkaline salts are
2.1.2. Alkaline noodles widely used as quality improvers in instant noodle produc-
The application of alkaline salt in noodle making origi- tion. Alkaline noodles originated in Yokohama where most
nated in the Canton and Hokkien provinces of very south- Chinese immigrants lived at the beginning of 20th century.
ern China. The weather in that region is hot and humid They were spread throughout Japan by noodle manufac-
most of the year. It is believed that the original purpose turers. Today, alkaline noodles are widely available and
of the inclusion of alkaline salts in noodle formula was to consumed in Japan. The most popular types of alkaline
extend noodle shelf life by inhibiting mould growth. In noodles in Japan are fresh and high moisture steamed noo-
ancient times, Kan Sui (lye water) was extracted by boiling dles. The latter is often called Yakisoba (for stir-frying), or
lye stone or plant ash in water. The most common alkaline Kata-Yakisoba (for deep-frying) in Japanese.
salts used today are sodium carbonate or potassium car-
bonate, or a mixture of the two. Other alkaline salts, such 2.2. Classification by processing method
as polyphosphates, are often used in the manufacturing of
instant noodles. It is not uncommon to find the application Wheat flour based Asian noodles are produced by a rel-
of sodium hydroxide in the partially boiled noodles in atively simple process (Wu, Kuo, & Cheng, 1998). Flour,
Southeast Asian. water (about half the amount for bread making), salt, or
The incorporation of alkaline salts gives noodles pH val- alkaline salts are mixed together to evenly distribute the
ues ranging from about 9 to 11 depending on the salts used ingredients and hydrate the flour particles. Other ingredi-
and their ionic strengths (Miskelly, 1996). Alkaline noodles ents can include starch, gums, liquid egg, food colours,
have a characteristic aroma and flavour, a yellow colour and preservatives. The dough crumble is sheeted between
and a firm, elastic texture. The addition rate of carbonates rollers a few millimeters apart to form a dough sheet. After
is normally at the level of 1.0–1.5% for fresh alkaline noo- the first pass, the dough sheet is not uniform and the sur-
dles and 0.3–0.5% for steamed alkaline noodles. The level face is rough. Therefore, two dough sheets are usually com-
of sodium hydroxide is usually 0.3–1.0% for partially bined before the second pass. The combined dough sheet is
boiled alkaline noodles. Today, alkaline salts are widely often rested to relax the gluten structure before continuing
B.X. Fu / Food Research International 41 (2008) 888–902 891

with a further sequence of three to five passes through the of sizes and shapes of dried noodles, from flat, thick noo-
sheeting rollers. These sheeting stages serve to develop the dles to round, hair-thin noodles. Unfortunately, dried noo-
gluten–starch network and reduce the dough sheet to the dles require longer cooking time and great care during
desired thickness. Sheets are cut into strands using slotted cooking than other types of noodles. The drying process
cutting rolls to produce noodles of required width which reduces the size of the air cells in the noodles, slowing water
are then cut to desired lengths. The basic process of dough penetration and absorption. Prolonged cooking in vigor-
mixing, sheet forming, compounding, sheeting/reduction, ously boiling water results in a mushy and sticky noodle
and cutting are essentially constant for all machine-made surface. The production of flat, thick dried noodles has sig-
noodles. Noodle strands coming out of cutting rolls can nificantly decreased in modern times, however, the med-
be further processed to produce different types of noodles. ium-thin and thin dried noodles are still very popular in
Classification based on this further treatment is very effec- China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. Most dried noodles
tive to describe the nature of each noodle type. are the regular salted type. There are few dried alkaline
2.2.1. Fresh noodles
Fresh noodles are raw, wet noodles. No further process- 2.2.3. Steamed noodles
ing is applied in the factory after sheeted dough is cut into Steamed noodles are partially cooked by treating fresh
noodle strands of desired length and width. Noodle strands noodles with either saturated or unsaturated steam before
are usually dusted with starch or fine flour right after the they are marketed. In small cottage industries, steamed
cutting process to prevent them from sticking to each other noodles are prepared using a bamboo steamer. In modern
during handling and transportation. A measured quantity industries, the steaming process has been fully automated
of noodles is cut and segregated for automatic packaging by stacking fresh noodles on a net conveyor passing
or placed into trays in bulk for retail outlets. The moisture through a tunnel steamer. The moisture content of the final
content of fresh noodles ranges from 32% to 40%. The product usually varies from 28% to 65%. Steamed noodles
main disadvantage of fresh noodles is their relatively short with moisture content less than 32% are partially dried
shelf life, ranging from one day to several days, depending after steaming. These low moisture steamed noodles are
on the packaging and storage conditions. easier to handle because of their low surface stickiness
Fresh alkaline noodles, known as Cantonese noodles, are and they have a longer shelf life. High moisture steamed
very popular in many parts of Southeast Asia including the noodles contain approximately 60% moisture. Noodles
very southern part of China. They are known as Ramen and are sprayed with hot water at intervals, and steamed simul-
Chukamen in Japan, and are widely sold in retail shops and taneously while passing through a tunnel steamer, to accel-
restaurants. Fresh alkaline noodles should be firm, elastic erate gelatinization of the starch. High moisture steamed
and smooth in texture, and able to be cut cleanly by the noodles have a sticky surface and must be oil-coated before
teeth. Consumers prefer noodles which are bright and clean packaging for distribution.
in appearance, but the degree of yellowness preferred varies Low moisture steamed noodles require short cooking in
according to the region. Fresh regular salted noodles are boiling water before the final preparation for serving. After
very popular in most parts of China, with the preferred tex- draining, the noodles are either placed in hot broth or stir-
ture of firm, elastic, and chewy. After instant noodles and fried with vegetables or meats. High moisture steamed noo-
dried regular salted noodles, fresh regular salted noodles dles are directly stir-fried without cooking in boiling water.
are also popular in Korea. Regular salted noodles marketed Steamed noodles are mostly alkaline noodles, although
in fresh raw form have limited popularity in Japan. the level of alkaline salt is usually 0.3–0.5%, much lower
than for fresh alkaline noodles. The most popular form
2.2.2. Dried noodles of steamed noodles is steamed Wonton noodles, which
Dried noodles are raw noodles produced by controlled are widely consumed in most parts of Southeast Asia and
drying of uncooked wet noodle strands. The final moisture the very southern part of China. High moisture steamed
content of dried noodles is usually less than 14%. Semi- noodles, known as Yakisoba, are very popular in Japan.
dried noodles, with moisture content of about 18–25% They can be conveniently stir-fried, combining noodles,
are also produced in small quantities. After noodle strands vegetables, and meats into one dish which is consumed as
are formed, they are cut to 2–4 m in length and hung on a regular meal. Regular salted noodles can also be steamed
rods to dry. In large automated plants, noodles are dried to produce steamed noodles, but their production is lim-
in a large room where the drying process is controlled ited. Steamed hand-stretched noodles are a premium prod-
through a three-stage process. Noodles can also be dried uct in China, known as steamed Xian Mian. They are often
in a chamber where temperature, relative humidity, and consumed at birthday parties to convey a message of good
ventilation can be regulated. Where the climate permits, will for long-life.
some noodles, especially hand-stretched noodles, are still
dried in the sun. 2.2.4. Boiled noodles
Because of their low moisture content, dried noodles Boiled noodles are precooked in boiling water. These
have a long shelf life of 1–2 years. There is a wide variation noodles are generally divided into two groups; partially
892 B.X. Fu / Food Research International 41 (2008) 888–902

boiled noodles and fully boiled noodles. In traditional enhance the preservative effect. The sterilized noodle
manual transfer operations, fresh noodles are cut to desired strands are then cut, packed, and pasteurized by steaming
length before feeding into a large kettle for batch boiling. for more than 40 min at a temperature of 90–98 °C.
In automated plants, uncut noodles pass through a boiling
water bath. Noodles which are cut and segregated into pre- 2.2.6. Steamed and deep-fried instant noodles
determined weights can also be fed into basket on a travel- Steamed and deep-fried noodles are partially cooked by
ing belt passing through a boiling bath. After boiling, the steaming and further cooked and dehydrated by a deep-
noodles must be steeped immediately in cold water. Excess frying process (Kim, 1996). The cut noodle strands are con-
water is drained from the noodle surface. The noodles are tinually fed into a traveling net conveyor moving slower
then coated with oil to keep them from sticking together. than the cutting rolls above it. The speed differential
Noodles are sent in bulk to retail outlets or packed prior between noodle feeding and net traveling creates a unique
to sale. wave in the noodle strands. The cut and wavy noodle
Partially boiled alkaline noodles, known as Hokkien strands are then cooked with steam while passing through
noodles, are very popular in Southeast Asia. They are pro- a tunnel steamer. After steaming, noodles are extended to
cessed by cooking fresh noodles (1.6–2.0 mm in thickness) separate the strands and cooled with a cooling fan. Noo-
for a short period of time (0.5–1.5 min) in boiling water, dles are then cut into a predetermined length to make
resulting in a fine ungelatinized core in the centre, sur- one serving size. The noodle strands may be folded to form
rounded by cooked dough. Hokkien noodles are quickly a double layer of noodle blocks. The blocks are then dis-
re-cooked by boiling or stir-frying prior to consumption. tributed into baskets, which are mounted on the traveling
Fully boiled Udon noodles are very popular in Japan. chain of a tunnel fryer. The noodle blocks and baskets
The time of immersion in boiling water for fully cooked are immersed in hot oil for deep-frying. As noodles come
Udon varies from 10 to 20 min, depending on the noodle out of the fryer, their temperature may be as high as
thickness. Fully boiled noodles, packed with soup or sauce 160 °C. They require immediate cooling to avoid rapid
sachet, are considered the most convenient noodle products oil oxidation. At the same time, excess oil is drained away.
in the marketplace. Their preparation for serving is very Fried noodles are cooled to room temperature in a travel-
simple, either dropping them directly in hot soup or reboil- ing cooling tunnel with fans on the top. The cooled noodles
ing them for 1 or 2 min before eating. and soup-base sachets are automatically packed.
There are two types of steamed and deep-fried instant
2.2.5. Frozen boiled noodles and sterilized boiled noodles noodles available in the market based on packaging – poly-
The texture of boiled noodles deteriorates very fast after ethylene bag-packed or Styrofoam bowl-packed. Bag-
cooking. By applying chilling and quick-freeze technology, packed noodles are usually cooked in constantly boiling
the fresh quality of boiled noodles can be extended for a water for about 3–4 min before serving, and the bowl-
reasonable period of time. Most frozen noodles are sold packed or ‘cup’ of noodles are ready to serve after pouring
to restaurants equipped with a specially designed boiling hot water into the bowl and resting for 2–3 min. The noo-
pot. It takes less than 1 min to thaw a piece of frozen noo- dle strands of bowl-type noodles are usually thinner than
dle, which can be easily mixed with sauce or soup and be the bag-type to facilitate the rehydration rate. The basic
ready to serve. Frozen boiled noodles allow restaurants processing procedures for bag- and bowl- type noodles
to serve tasty noodles conveniently and efficiently without are similar. There do exist, however, some differences in
the need to provide employees with special training in noo- the processing of these two types of noodles. For example,
dle preparation. Although frozen noodles are getting pop- up to 25% (based on flour weight) of potato starch is usu-
ular, they only account for 4–5% of total noodle ally included in the formulation for bowl-type noodles and
production, even in Japan. High water absorption and they are fried longer in hot oil than bag-type noodles.
addition of modified starch can improve the texture of fro-
zen boiled noodles. 2.2.7. Steamed and hot-air dried noodles
Boiled noodles can also be acidified and pasteurized Steamed and deep-fried noodles have an average oil
with thermal treatment before packaging. This sterilized content of 15–22%. There is a big health concern about
and well-packed boiled noodle usually has a shelf life of the consumption of this type of noodles. This concern
three months, and is often referred to as a long-life (LL) has led to the production of steamed and air dried noodles
noodle. The general process for LL noodles includes boil- since the late 1960s. They are produced in a fully auto-
ing, cooling, acidifying, packaging, low temperature ther- matic production line similar to the type used for steamed
mal processing, and cooling. After washing with cold and deep-fried noodles, except that a continuous drying
water boiled noodles are immersed in a diluted solution chamber replaces the deep fryer, using hot air as the drying
of organic acid, such as lactic acid, acetic acid, malic acid medium. The drying temperature is above 80 °C, much
or citric acid. The type and concentration of acid used, higher than the temperature used for regular dried noodles.
the temperature of the acid solution, and steeping time The drying time, from 30 min to 1 h, is much shorter than
have a very significant effect on the acid taste of the noodle for regular dried noodles of the same size. The moisture
products. The use of glycine together with organic acid will content of the finished product is less than 12%. This
B.X. Fu / Food Research International 41 (2008) 888–902 893

partially cooked product has a shelf life of about one year Potato starch is preferable over cereal starches for manu-
at this moisture level, if appropriate packaging material has facturing starch noodles because of its neutral taste, much
been used. higher transparency and the elasticity of the noodles pro-
Steamed and hot-air dried noodles need a longer cook- duced. Potato starch noodles are usually larger in size than
ing time than steamed and fried noodles. Furthermore, mung bean starch noodles because of their inferior cooking
their overall eating quality is quite different from the properties and texture.
steamed and fried noodles. They lack the distinctive flavour
introduced by deep-frying. 2.3.2. Buckwheat noodles
Buckwheat belongs to the family of Polygonaceae, a dif-
2.3. Noodles from non-wheat grains ferent breed of plant than the normal cereal grains such as
wheat, rice and barley. Buckwheat is a sharp, three-sided
Noodles prepared from starches or grains such as rice seed with dark brown colour. The seed has four basic com-
and buckwheat, unlike wheat, do not contain gluten. They ponents: the outer hull, the seed coat, the endosperm tissue,
require gelatinization of the starch during processing to and the embryo. Under the hull of the whole buckwheat
bind them together, or blending with wheat flour to take grain lies a delicate light-green kernel. In order to have
advantage of the gluten present in the latter. Thus the superior taste and fragrance, it is especially important to
major manufacturing methods depend on the presence or have cool temperatures during the period when the buck-
absence of gluten. wheat flowers are being formed. Nature has wrapped buck-
wheat within a hard and tightly clinging hull for good
2.3.1. Starch noodles reason. Once removed, buckwheat’s treasured fragrance
Starch noodles, produced from purified starch from var- and flavour dissipate within a matter of days. The taste,
ious plant sources, are a major category of Asian noodles. texture, colour, and fragrance exhibited by buckwheat
They can be used as a major ingredient for making popular flour are largely determined according to how the seed is
Chinese hot pot, fondue, noodle and vegetable salad, and ground and sifted after the outer hull is removed. Since
many stir-fried dishes. heat easily affects the quality of buckwheat, it is important
Starches derived from the mung bean, yellow peas and not to allow the rollers to become too hot during milling.
potato are widely used in the production of these noodles The stone-ground method is considered the ideal way of
(Prabhavat, 1988). The mung bean starch is isolated by a milling buckwheat. In Japan, flour from the centre of the
wet-milling process. Mung bean seeds are first soaked in buckwheat kernel (No. 1 flour) makes up about 25% of
warm water (30–40 °C) for 6–9 h, followed by soaking in the buckwheat flour produced. Flour from the rest of the
cold water (5–10 °C) for 8–16 h. After draining, they are endosperm (No. 2), from the seed coat (No. 3), and from
wet-milled to free starch granules from the cells. Starches the part very close to the hull represent 35%, 30% and
are isolated from proteins and fibres by mechanical separa- 10% of the buckwheat flour, respectively (Shiratori & Nag-
tion and often further purified with enzyme treatment. ata, 1986).
Starches are then dried to a moisture content of about Noodles made from buckwheat flour are found mainly
20–25%. A small amount of starch (3–4% of the total) is in Japan, Korea, and northeast China. Generally the buck-
fully gelatinized by boiling water. The pregelatinized starch wheat flour is mixed with some wheat flour to take advan-
is then mixed with the raw starch and water to form slurry, tage of its gluten to help the flour bind together.
which is extruded through a die with holes of 0.7–0.8 mm Buckwheat noodles are made by hand or machine in a
in diameter. The formed noodles are directly fed into boil- fashion similar to flour noodles. In Korea, buckwheat flour
ing water to cook for a few seconds. They are immediately is often mixed with wheat flour or potato starch to make
cooled, and drained. The noodles are refrigerated (0–4 °C) Lian Mian by an extrusion process. Buckwheat noodles
or frozen ( 10 °C) for 12–24 h to allow the starch to retro- are commonly called Soba in Japan. These brown or
grade. They are defrosted and air- or sun-dried before grey-coloured noodles are usually served cold in summer
packaging. and warm in winter. There are three major forms of soba
In addition to a short cooking requirement, mung bean available in the market: dried soba, boiled soba, and fresh
noodles have a low loss of solids on prolonged cooking and soba. They accounted for 8.5% of total noodle production
a distinctive chewy and elastic texture. These textural char- in Japan in 2000. Hand-made noodles, made from a blend
acteristics are due to the unique properties of the starch, of 2–3 parts wheat flour to 7–8 parts of buckwheat flour are
which has great hot-paste stability. Mung bean starch has often sold in small specialty soba restaurants. Machine-
very high amylose content and behaves like chemically made soba require a higher percentage of wheat flour
cross-linked starch that exhibits restricted swelling and sol- (40–80%) to increase the binding power of the mixture.
ubilization. These properties contribute to a starch gel To maximize the special flavour and taste of buckwheat,
which is both resilient and transparent. fresh milled flour from newly harvested grains should be
Starch from potatoes has been used to make desirable used for making soba.
starch noodles although the physicochemical properties Buckwheat noodles have a firm and elastic eating tex-
of potato starch differ from those of mung bean starch. ture, attributed to the high paste viscosity of the buckwheat
894 B.X. Fu / Food Research International 41 (2008) 888–902

endosperm (Udesky, 1988). The maximum viscosity of 1 cm wide to make fresh rice ribbon noodles. Flat rice noo-
buckwheat flour can be as high as 1800 BU, while it ranges dles can also be dried before sale. The Japanese sheeted rice
from 450 to 950 BU for wheat flour depending on its waxy noodle process consists of washing milled rice, pulverizing,
status. In addition to their unique taste, buckwheat noodles steaming, and kneading. The kneaded dough is then
have a superior protein makeup (very high lysine), contain sheeted with conventional noodle machinery. The final
an abundance of vitamins B1, B2, minerals, and dietary thickness of the sheet is about 1–2 mm before cutting.
fibre. In China and Japan, it has been known for hundreds The degree of pre-gelatinization of rice flour plays a very
of years that buckwheat is an effective preventive measure important role in imparting desirable noodle texture.
against high blood pressure and is beneficial for blood cir- Although some level of gelatinization is required to pro-
culation in the human body. These benefits are due to the duce the binding power during extrusion, excessive gelatini-
valuable flavonoid rutin present in buckwheat but absent zation may cause problems. Traditionally, rice noodles are
in cereals. made from long-grain rice with medium to high amylose
content (>22% amylose). Swelling capacity of starch and
2.3.3. Rice noodles amylose–amylopectine ratio are the two major factors
After cooked rice grains, rice noodles (mi-fun) are the affecting rice noodle quality. Rice varieties with high amy-
second principal form of rice product widely consumed in lose and hard gel consistency are best suited for making
Asia (Juliano & Sakurai, 1985). They may either be stir- rice noodles (Juliano & Sakurai, 1985). High amylose rice
fried by mixing with meats and vegetables, or boiled in a gives bright coloured noodles with low bulk density due
broth and served as a soup noodle. Rice proteins lack the to low swelling capacity.
functionality of wheat gluten in forming continuous visco-
elastic dough. It is common to subject part of the rice flour 3. Raw materials for noodle processing
to pregelatinization to create a binder for the remaining
flour. There are two main methods used for the production Noodle products that are nutritious, safe and conform
of rice noodles: extrusion, which is used to produce vermi- with the relevant food standards in the country of sale are
celli types; and sheeting of a batter, which is used to pro- considered to have met the basic requirements for these
duce sheets and flat noodles. products. With the development of the Asia-Pacific econ-
Rice vermicelli noodles are made from high amylose rice omy, consumer expectation of noodle product quality is
which is wet-milled after steeping in water for several getting higher. High quality noodles should be bright in col-
hours. The milled rice is filtered, pulverized, and moulded our with very slow discoloration, have an adequate shelf life
into balls. The balls are pre-cooked in boiling water for without visible microbiological deterioration or oxidative
about 20 min or steamed to enable surface gelatinization. rancidity, and have appropriate flavour and textural char-
The partially cooked balls are then kneaded to uniformly acteristics which will vary according to the noodle type
distribute the gelatinized rice throughout the dough to and region. While the major raw material for wheat-based
act as a binder. The kneaded dough is extruded through noodles is flour, there are in fact many other ingredients
a die. The extruded noodles drop into boiling water and which contribute to the quality of the finished product.
are removed when sufficiently cooked and float on the sur- Raw materials with appropriate characteristics are judged
face of the boiling water. The cooked noodles are immedi- from an understanding of their functionalities, the finished
ately transferred into a tank of cold water for cooling. The product, and process involved (Miskelly, 1998). Noodle
noodles are then positioned in racks for drying. Alterna- manufacturers translate these functional and processing
tively, the extruded noodles are placed directly in racks properties into quantitative quality terms, such as flour pro-
and subjected to steaming for 10–15 min, followed by tein and ash content. It is very important that raw materials
washing in running water, and finally, dried in trays. In possess appropriate and adequate functional and process-
Japan, dry-milled rice flours have been used in place of ing properties in order to produce a quality product.
wet-milled rice flours. The dry flour is mixed with water,
heated about 1 min at 100 °C to allow partial starch gelati- 3.1. Flour
nization, and then kneaded in a screw kneader before
extrusion. Uniform and straight strands, white and translu- There are many different types of noodle products in the
cent colouring, and absence of broken strands are charac- Asia-Pacific region. Each of these products has its own
teristics of high quality rice noodles. After soaking in hot characteristics. Therefore, it is difficult to discuss flour
water, high quality noodles hydrate with minimum turbid- quality or specifications in general, without specifying the
ity and surface stickiness. kind of product, regional preference, method of processing,
Sheeted or flat fresh rice noodles are popular in most existing facility and production environment. Many
parts of Southeast Asia, southern China, and Japan. A requirements, however, are considered basic quality factors
wet-milled rice batter is coated onto a rotating heated drum common to all noodle products.
and the formed sheet is stripped off and conveyed to a The key to finished product quality is to select wheat
steaming tunnel where gelatinization occurs. The noodles with the right qualities. It should be purchased from a
can be sold as sheets (about 1 mm thick) or cut into strips reliable wheat supplier with good production practices,
B.X. Fu / Food Research International 41 (2008) 888–902 895

efficient identity preservation, and good storage and trans- in instant noodle quality and some manufacturers prefer
portation systems to ensure that contamination, hygiene, flours with low gelatinization temperatures for rapid hydra-
and heavy metal and pesticide residue meet the require- tion during cooking. Alkaline noodles do not have the same
ments. Since noodles are very sensitive to the inclusion of requirement for high starch swelling properties. Noodles
sprout or disease damaged kernels, wheats for noodles made flour with high swelling starches have softer texture
should be sound, dry, and clean. The major quality criteria than those with low swelling starch. Protein content appears
for noodle wheat are bran colour, kernel hardness, protein to be a more useful indicator of alkaline noodle texture.
content, dough strength, and starch pasting properties Noodles should be bright and slow in discoloration with
(Crosbie & Ross, 2004). Execution of correct milling proce- time after manufacturing. For white salted noodles, a white
dures is very critical to ensure the resulting noodle flour has or creamy white colour is desirable. The level of natural yel-
bright colour, low ash content, low level of damaged low pigment levels (xanthophylls) in flour is highly corre-
starch, and fine particles. Some manufacturers of fresh lated with noodle colour, and this is wheat variety
noodles, where hygiene is of critical importance, will have dependent. For yellow alkaline noodles, a bright yellow col-
requirements for microbiological limits for the flour. The our is required, although the preference for the degree of col-
mode and degree of gluten development in noodle dough our development is regionally based. The primary
are very different from those in bread dough. In the assess- component of yellow colour development in alkaline noo-
ment of flour quality for noodle manufacturing, many of dles is due to a pH dependent, chemically induced colour
the traditional dough tests are of limited value once general shift in water-soluble flour flavonoids, with a secondary
quality considerations have been met. effect due to flour xanthophylls (Asentorfer, Wang, &
Each type of noodle has its own optimum protein range Mares, 2006). Bleaching of flour largely destroys the natural
and wheat grist will be blended prior to milling to achieve yellow pigments, and is not recommended for noodle flours.
flours which meet the appropriate specification criteria. Noodle darkening increases with the increases of flour
Protein content is positively correlated with noodle firmness extraction rate. Higher levels of bran result in darker noodles
and sometimes negatively correlated with elasticity. There- and the darkening is intensified around a nucleus of non-
fore, a correct range of protein content is important for tex- endosperm material. This is due to the action of polyphenol
tural characteristics (Park & Baik, 2004; Ross, Quail, & oxidase (PPO) enzymes which are largely located in the bran
Crosbie, 1997; Zhao & Seib, 2005). White salted noodles layer (Fuerst, Anderson, & Morris, 2006; Hatcher & Kruger,
are generally made from flours in the range 8–11% protein, 1993). Low flour extraction and ash levels are preferred for
yellow alkaline noodles from flours in the range 9–13% pro- the manufacture of noodles with a clean and bright appear-
tein and instant noodles from flours in the range of 8.5– ance. The milling strategies should be developed to ensure
12.5% protein. Dried noodles generally require higher pro- clean separation of bran and endosperm, including two-
tein content than that for fresh or boiled noodles, because stage tempering and adjustment of break releases in the mill.
the noodles must be able to withstand the drying process This might also include a divide flour milling system, with the
without breakage. Protein content is particularly important patent flour yielding as low as 30–40%. Increased flour pro-
for manufacturers of instant noodles, because fat uptake tein content also decreases noodle brightness.
during frying decreases as flour protein content increases. A relatively fine flour particle size enables even hydra-
Gluten development during the mixing of noodle dough tion during mixing and optimum, uniform gluten develop-
is incomplete and a uniform gluten matrix is only formed ment during sheeting. A typical noodle flour will have less
during the sheeting process. Adequate gluten strength than 15% retained on 100 l sieve. The particle size distribu-
and extensibility is required in all noodle flours. Noodle tion should be uniform. The small flour particles hydrate
dough must be strong enough to withstand sheeting, but much faster than big ones, rendering non-uniform size dis-
not so strong as to cause tearing or breakage of the sheet tribution of dough crumbles. This will create stripes (wet or
or the noodles. A good level of dough extensibility ensures dry) in dough sheet. Very fine particle size flour may be
that dough sheets do not shrink back during successive roll indicative of high starch damage, which should be avoided,
passes. Flour with high protein and strong gluten requires due to its competition for water with gluten during mixing.
more roll compression (work input) to achieve the required Increased starch damage is also associated with poor noo-
final sheet thickness. dle colour and undesirable high cooking loss and excessive
The importance of the pasting properties of starch to the surface swelling (Hatcher, Anderson, Desjardins, Edwards,
texture of cooked noodles has been well-documented (Cros- & Dexter, 2002).
bie, 2005). The required soft, smooth, and elastic textural
properties of Japanese Udon and Korea dried salted noo- 3.2. Water
dles can be best obtained from wheats with high starch
paste viscosity and high swelling starch properties. Varia- Water is an essential ingredient for noodle processing.
tion in starch swelling properties is cultivar dependent. In Without water, the gluten proteins in the flour cannot exhi-
Japan and Korean, manufacturers of Udon and other white bit viscoelastic properties. Water provides the necessary
salted noodles specify minimum flour peak viscosities of at medium for all the physicochemical and biochemical reac-
least of 700 BU. Starch properties also appear to have a role tions that underlie the transformation of raw materials into
896 B.X. Fu / Food Research International 41 (2008) 888–902

finished products. Water-soluble ingredients are usually has been shown to have further flavour enhancing effects
dissolved in water before mixing. The amount of water in various foods such as imparting greater fullness to their
required for noodle processing is optimized to have enough ‘‘mouth-feel”, masking possible off-taste and, most impor-
water to hydrate the flour and develop a uniform dough tant, improving the flavour balance. Noodles with salt
sheet, yet not be so great that the formed dough causes added have a shorter cooking time and a softer but more
problems in handling and sheeting due to stickiness. The elastic texture than those without salt. A third function
water absorption level for noodle processing is about 30– of salt is its inhibition of enzyme activities and the growth
38% based on flour weight. Water is the second most of micro-organisms. Salt slows down the oxidative discol-
important raw material after flour for noodle manufactur- oration process and spoilage under high temperature and
ing. It has a significant effect on the finished product qual- humidity environments, therefore, extending the shelf life
ity. Besides the basic fundamental sanitary requirements, of fresh noodles. When making dried noodles, the amount
water used for noodle processing has to meet certain spec- of salt in the noodle can affect the rate of drying. Moisture
ifications in order to produce high quality products. evaporates slower in noodles with higher amounts of salt.
The origin of water has a major impact on its character.
Surface waters are usually prone to containing higher levels 3.4. Alkaline reagents
of organic, chemical and microbial contaminants than
ground waters, whereas the latter tend to be relatively The unique colour, texture and flavour of alkaline noo-
richer in dissolved mineral substances. Depending upon dles are due to the inclusion of alkaline salt, a quantita-
the amount and type of mineral salts present in natural tively minor but qualitatively very important ingredient
waters, they are referred to as either hard, soft, saline or in noodle processing. Alkaline salt can be used alone or
alkaline waters. Natural waters normally have a pH value in combination with different salts, depending on local
between 5.8 and 8.6. preference. The most commonly used alkaline salts are
Water varies in hardness, alkalinity, and pH value, sodium and potassium carbonates. Other alkaline reagents,
which in turn affects flour hydration, dough sheet proper- such as sodium hydroxide and bicarbonates are also used
ties, starch gelatinization, and texture of the finished prod- in some countries. Addition rates of alkaline salts are
ucts. Excessively hard waters are undesirable because they 0.5–1.5% for noodles with strong alkaline flavour and,
retard the hydration of flour particles by tightening the glu- 0.1–0.3% as a quality improver for certain type of noodles.
ten proteins too much. The ions in water also have a very The yellowish colour associated with alkaline noodles is
significant impact on the gelatinization of starch during attributed to the presence of natural flavonoid pigments in
steaming or boiling. Very soft waters are objectionable flour, which are colourless at acidic pH levels but turn to
since they lack the gluten–strengthening minerals and tend yellow at alkaline pH levels. For given flour, the degree
to yield soft, sticky dough sheets. A water of medium to of yellowness in alkaline noodles is related to the amount
low hardness is considered suitable for noodle processing. of alkaline reagent added, as well as the type of alkali used.
High amounts of calcium and magnesium, in the form Noodles made with potassium carbonate have a greenish-
of their bicarbonates, are responsible for the high alkalinity yellow hue and have less reflectance than those made with
found in some water. The pH value of alkaline water could sodium carbonate. The addition of sodium hydroxide
be as high as 9 after boiling because the bicarbonates yields noodles which are much more yellow, brighter, and
decompose upon heating to form the corresponding car- discolour less with time.
bonates. Alkaline waters are not suitable for noodle pro- Noodle dough become tougher, tighter, and less extensi-
cessing, especially for boiled noodles. ble with the addition of alkaline reagents. The changes in
dough properties associated with alkaline pH levels are
3.3. Salt indicative of some types of reactions which fundamentally
influence the behavior of the gluten proteins. The toughen-
Salt is a very important ingredient in noodle processing. ing of dough with alkali addition has a very significant
The amount added is usually 1–3% of flour weight. For impact on the processing properties and the texture of the
boiled Udon and some hand-made noodles, up to 8% salt final products. Addition of alkaline reagents increases water
could be added in the formulation. Salt performs three absorption potential of noodle dough. During sheeting,
principal functions in noodle processing. Foremost among dough with alkali are less extensible and more difficult to
these is its strengthening and tightening effect on the gluten compress. The addition of alkali to noodle dough gives noo-
of dough, which may be partly due to its inhibitory effect dles a firmer texture than those made with salt alone. There
on proteolytic enzymes, although other evidence indicates is little known about the biochemical aspects of the charac-
a more direct interaction of the salt with flour proteins. teristic aroma and flavour of alkaline noodles.
This can significantly improve sheeting properties of
dough, especially at high water absorption levels. A second 3.5. Starch
function of salt is its flavour enhancing and texture improv-
ing effects. In addition to contributing a pure salty taste Starches from sources such as potato and tapioca are
when present in sufficient concentration in a food, salt widely used as a texture enhancing ingredient for instant
B.X. Fu / Food Research International 41 (2008) 888–902 897

noodles and regular salted noodles. The rate of addition of phosphates can modify the dough processing properties
starch is 5–25% of flour weight. Potato and tapioca starch and retard the discoloration process of fresh noodles. Poly-
characteristics include low gelatinization temperature, phosphates are dissolved in water before the mixing of the
rapid swelling and high viscosity. The addition of these dough. Their usage rate is typically 0.1% of flour weight.
exotic starches improves noodle texture by conferring a Hydrocolloids such as guar gum are widely used in instant
more elastic and chewy texture. Cooked noodle appearance noodle processing. They are very hydrophilic and have
is also more appealing because the added starch yields noo- high water binding capacity. The addition of a small
dles with a smooth, clean, and shiny surface. In instant amount of gums (0.2–0.5%) can improve rehydration char-
noodles, adding starch to the formulation assures a short acteristics of noodles during cooking, and modify the tex-
rehydration time and a uniform texture. Potato starch is ture and overall ‘‘mouth-feel” of the finished product.
more suitable for instant noodles, and tapioca starch is Gums are dispersed in the brine water just before dough
usually used for regular salted noodles. Chemically modi- mixing. Natural and synthetic colours can be used in alka-
fied starches are also widely used, especially for frozen line noodles, vegetable noodles, and tea noodles to enhance
boiled noodles and long-life noodles. The improved their natural colour.
water-holding capacity, gelling properties, and freeze–thaw
stabilities of modified starches are of importance in some 3.8. Preservatives
noodle processing stages such as freezing or heat-steriliza-
tion. Starch can be used as dusting powder to prevent noo- Alcohol can be included in the fresh noodle formulation
dle strands from sticking to each other. A mixture of equal to extend shelf life by inhibiting growth of micro-organ-
proportions of potato starch and corn starch is commonly isms. Long-life noodles are usually soaked in dilute organic
used for this purpose. acids before packaging. Steamed and deep-fried instant
noodles have a high fat content of 15–22%, and oxidative
3.6. Oils rancidity is the major factor limiting shelf life. The use of
antioxidants in the frying oil is common. Four synthetic
Most instant noodles are fried in oil after steaming and antioxidants are currently widely used: butylated hydroxy-
molding. Oil represents about 20% of the total weight of anisole (BHA), butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), propyl
the final product. The most common frying oil in Asia is gallate, and tertiary-butylhydroquinone (TBHQ). These
palm oil because of its good frying performance, heat sta- antioxidants function by inhibiting or interfering with the
bility, availability, and relatively low cost. Partially hydro- chain reaction mechanisms that produce compounds that
genated soybean and canola oil can also be used for frying. result in rancidity. Of these, TBHQ has been shown to have
The conditions and extent of hydrogenation must be opti- the best antioxidant activity.
mized to achieve the characteristics desired. Because the
composition of a frying oil has a significant effect on the
4. Noodle unit processing
flavour of the finished product, the frying oil should be
selected based on local preference.
Despite the large variation of formulation, size, and
During the cooking process in the fryer, the quality of
shape of noodles, the process to form noodle strands is
oil deteriorates as a result of a very complex series of chem-
remarkably constant for different types of noodles. It typi-
ical reactions. As a result of thermal oxidation, a great
cally comprises dough mixing, formation of dough sheets,
number of volatile and nonvolatile decomposition products
compounding of two dough sheets, and sheet thickness
are formed. These products accumulate with prolonged
reduction by rolling, and noodle strand formation by pass-
heating and lead to sensory failures and food safety con-
ing the dough sheet through a pair of cutting rolls. After
cerns. Therefore, heat stability is a major concern in select-
cutting, there is great flexibility in further processing and
ing frying oil. In addition, non-refined oils should be
packaging. The noodle strands could be packed directly
avoided for frying since they can easily introduce undesir-
and marketed as fresh noodles, or could be dried, steamed,
able flavour and dark colour to the noodles. The specifica-
fried, boiled, frozen or undergo a combination of these
tions for frying oils include colour, flavour, free fatty acids,
processes to make different kinds of noodles.
peroxide number, iodine number, melting point, and
smoke point.
4.1. Basic processing: from flour to raw noodle strands

3.7. Improvers 4.1.1. Mixing

Mixing is the first step in noodle processing. Most ingre-
Polyphosphates and hydrocolloids are commonly used dients are pre-dissolved in water and stored in a tank.
as additives to improve product quality in noodle process- Wheat flour is weighed and placed into a mixer and the
ing. Polyphosphates facilitate the starch gelatinization dur- correct amount of mixing water is added. In noodle manu-
ing cooking and allow more water retention in the noodle. facturing, the main aims of mixing are to distribute the
Functioning as chelating agents in the dough system, poly- ingredients uniformly and to hydrate the flour particles.
898 B.X. Fu / Food Research International 41 (2008) 888–902

There is little gluten development during the mixing stage ents (especially salt and alkaline salt), and the temperature
in the low water absorption noodle dough. The degree of and humidity of the processing environment. Flour with
gluten development, however, could be very significant in high protein content hydrates relatively fast, easily forms
high water absorption dough (>35%) with long mixing time large-sized dough crumbs, and therefore requires less mix-
(>15 min). A properly mixed noodle dough should have its ing. Starch granules, once damaged during the milling pro-
gluten proteins hydrated as much as possible but not to the cess, increase their hydration capability significantly, and
degree that the dough sheet would be problematic during will compete for the limited amount of water in the noodle
sheeting due to stickiness. This would maximize the forma- dough with the gluten components in the flour. Flour with
tion of a continuous gluten matrix with embedded starch high starch damage requires higher water absorption and
granules during sheeting. longer mixing. For most noodles, the amount of water
There are two types of mixers commonly used in the added during mixing should be maximized as long as good
noodle industry: the horizontal mixer and the vertical dough processing properties are ensured. The development
mixer. They can both provide good mixing and some of surface stickiness of the dough sheet with increased
kneading actions during mixing. Both mixers are usually water addition necessitates limiting water absorption for
operated at medium speed (70–100 rpm) for 10–20 min of noodle dough. The dough strengthening and tightening
mixing. effect of salt and alkaline salt allows the addition of more
The vertical mixer is more limited to large-scale auto- water without causing processing problems. Salt can also
matic continuous noodle production. The mixing blades facilitate the hydration of flour particles during mixing.
of most vertical mixers have a big surface area. They are Mixing under low temperature (<20 °C) could slow flour
very efficient in distributing water evenly in flour during hydration and gluten development. It is also not desirable
the early stages of mixing. Vertical mixers can also provide to mix the dough at high temperature (>35 °C) due to
a certain degree of kneading action once the flour particles the increase in enzyme activity and the possibility of gluten
are sufficiently hydrated. damage. The optimum mixing temperature for most noodle
The horizontal type mixer can have a single shaft or dough is 25–30 °C.
double shafts. The latter has been proven to be more effi- Mixing is usually followed by dough resting. This step
cient in noodle dough mixing. The two shafts with special allows the crumbly mixture to rest for a period of time to
blades rotate in opposite directions during mixing. The accelerate further hydration of flour particles and to redis-
blades attached in the two shafts are inter-linked in such tribute water in the dough system. Resting can also
a way that the dough crumbs move both vertically and hor- improve processing properties and facilitate gluten forma-
izontally in opposite directions at the same time. These tion during sheeting. This is achieved by the relaxation of
mixing actions contribute to uniform mixing and to some the gluten structure already formed during mixing. The
gluten development through the beating action of the resting facility usually sits between the mixer and the first
blades. pair of sheeting rolls. Resting is carried out by mixing
There have been a few new mixers developed for the dough crumbs at very low speed (5–8 rpm) for 10–
noodle industry: the continuous high-speed mixer; the 20 min. The mixing can avoid the formation of large dough
low-speed super mixer; and the vacuum mixer. The contin- crumbs during resting and also serves feeding of the sheet-
uous high-speed mixer can mix the flour and water uni- ing rolls in the continuous process.
formly in seconds. The mixing water is sprayed into
flying fine flour particles in a mixer rotating at a speed of 4.1.2. Sheeting
1500 rpm. The high speed of the mixer creates a large sur- Although flour particles are sufficiently hydrated after
face area for both water and flour. This surface area mixing and resting, the development of the gluten matrix
enables flour particles to hydrate evenly and instantly. is far from complete and is localized without continuity.
The low-speed super mixer was developed for the mixing It is during the sheeting process that the continuous gluten
of high water absorption noodle dough. It is designed to matrix is developed. The development of a uniform protein
mimic hand mixing, and is operated at very low speed matrix with a good balance of elasticity and extensibility is
(<10 rpm) to avoid damage to the gluten structure. The very critical to ensure good processing properties and the
combination of high water absorption, long mixing, and best eating quality of the finished product. Under compres-
special kneading action can produce noodle dough with sion, adjacent endosperm particles become fused together
well-developed gluten structure. The vacuum mixer is so that the protein matrix within one endosperm particle
widely used in modern noodle factories. Mixing under a becomes continuous with that of adjacent particles. The
vacuum allows extra water to be added to the flour without sheeting process is intended to achieve a smooth dough
causing processing problems. This allows flour particles to sheet with desired thickness, and a continuous and uniform
hydrate sufficiently and the gluten matrix to develop effi- gluten matrix in the dough sheet.
ciently during mixing and subsequent sheeting. The dough crumbs are transferred to a hopper and
Other than the mechanics of the mixer, mixing is also passed through one or two pairs of sheet rolls to form con-
influenced by the quality of flour, the volume of water tinuous dough sheets. The newly compressed dough sheets
added, the presence/absence and amount of certain ingredi- are usually rough in surface with non-uniform texture. It is
B.X. Fu / Food Research International 41 (2008) 888–902 899

common to fold a dough sheet or laminate two sheets just ever, could over-stretch the dough sheet without enough
before the next pass. After the second pass, the combined compression. The speed of each pair of sheeting rolls is
sheet is usually rested for as short as a few minutes or controlled based on the linear velocity of the last pair of
for as long as several hours. Dough sheets can be rested rolls which is usually limited within 28 m/min. Since tem-
by slow passage on a zigzag conveyor in automated plants. perature has a significant effect on the physical properties
Resting can also be achieved by storing dough sheets of gluten, it is important to control the temperature of
wound on wooden or plastic spools. sheeting rolls to maintain a good sheet flow and proper glu-
Resting allows gluten structure relaxation to occur. The ten development during sheeting.
gluten mellows and becomes more extensible during rest-
ing. The maturing effect at this stage eases the subsequent 4.1.3. Cutting
sheet reduction, and a more uniform protein matrix with Once the dough sheet is reduced to the desired thickness,
fewer air spaces can be developed. the sheet is then cut into noodle strands along the direction
After resting, the compounded sheet is reduced in thick- of sheeting. The width and shape of the noodle strands are
ness in steps by passing the sheet through a series of sheet- determined by the cutting rolls. The cutting device consists
ing rolls which have a gradually reduced gap between the of a pair of slotted rolls with identical slot widths. The slots
rolls. The number of reduction passes through the sheeting on each roll are offset from one other to allow cutting to
rolls varies, but is normally between three and five. Final occur. The two cutting rolls are aligned horizontally, with
dough sheet thickness is determined by the type of noodle the rear one turning clockwise and the front one counter-
to be produced. The gluten matrix in machine-sheeted clockwise at the same speed. Cutting force is generated
dough is aligned along the direction of sheeting. This is between the neighboring two sharp edges of the slots of the
in contrast to noodle dough developed by hand, in which two cutting rolls. There is a comb underneath each cutting
the gluten structure is developed in all directions. The supe- roll to prevent the noodle strands from sticking to the rolls.
rior texture of hand-made noodles is largely attributed to The shape of the cross-section of the noodle strands depends
the degree and mode of gluten formation. The development on the groove of the slot, the width of the slot and the thick-
of multi-roll and waved roll sheeting technology was to ness of the dough sheet. The popular shapes are rectangular,
simulate the hand motions used to form the gluten struc- square, and round. There are two systems to specify noodle
ture unique to hand-made noodles. In modern noodle cutters, metric and imperial. The width of the noodle strands
plants, the application of this technology, coupled with equals 30 mm divided by the number assigned to the cutting
high water absorption, has significantly improved the eat- rolls in the metric system, and 25.4 mm divided by the cutter
ing quality of the finished products. number in the imperial system. Noodle strands are finally cut
To produce noodles with the best eating quality, a uni- into proper lengths by a length-cutter. In the case of instant
form and well-developed protein matrix must be achieved noodle production, the noodle strands are continually fed
during the sheeting stage. Other than flour quality and mix- into a traveling net conveyor which moves slower than the
ing, the process of sheeting has significant impact on the cutting rolls above it. The speed differential between noodle
formation of the gluten matrix in the dough sheet. The feeding and net traveling results in a unique wave to the noo-
major factors are reduction rate, number of passes, as well dle strands. After steam cooking, the strands are cut into
as the size, speed, temperature and position of the sheeting serving size before deep frying or hot-air drying.
rolls. The first pair of sheet-forming rolls is slow moving,
large in diameter and aligned horizontally to facilitate the 4.2. Secondary processing – from raw noodle strands to
feeding of dough crumbs. Due to the requirement of high finished products
pressure to compress two sheets together, the rolls for the
compounding pass are usually even larger in diameter 4.2.1. Drying
and aligned with an angle (mostly 45°). The following The shelf life of noodles can be significantly extended if
reduction pass is to develop a smooth dough sheet with a microbiological and biochemical stability is ensured. The
uniform gluten matrix. The thickness of the dough sheet most effective way of achieving this goal is to dry the noodle
should be reduced gradually to avoid damage to the surface to a moisture content at which microbiological growth is
and gluten structure. This is controlled through the gap set- impossible. Noodle moisture can be removed by air-drying,
tings in a series of smooth rolls. The thickness of the dough deep-frying, or vacuum-drying. Deep-frying is an important
sheet should not be reduced by more than 40% after com- process in the production of steamed and deep-fried instant
pounding, and the reduction rate decreases with each suc- noodles, and will be discussed below. Vacuum-drying is a
cessive reduction. The final reduction in thickness before newer technology with very limited application in the noo-
cutting should be no more than 10%. With each successive dle industry. Frozen noodles can be vacuum-dried to pro-
pass, the roll diameter should decrease gradually so that duce premium quality products. Air-drying can be further
compression distance and pressure are also reduced. The classified as hot-air drying (>70 °C) and non-hot air drying
linear velocity of the sheeting rolls has to increase with (<50 °C) based on the maximum drying temperature used in
the decrease of roll diameter and increase of dough sheet a noodle drying process. Non-hot air drying is applied for
length after each pass. Sheeting at very high speed, how- the production of regular dry noodles, and hot-air drying
900 B.X. Fu / Food Research International 41 (2008) 888–902

is mainly used in the manufacture of steamed and hot-air Health concerns about the fat in fried noodles have led
dried instant noodles. to the production of steamed and hot-air dried instant noo-
Fresh raw noodle strands of 2–4 m in length are hung on dles. Steamed noodles are dried by hot air instead of frying
rods in a drying chamber where temperature, relative to a moisture content of less than 12%. They are dried
humidity, and ventilation are regulated, or in a drying tun- using hot blast air of 70–80 °C for 30–45 min. The major
nel where the rods travel through sections with different factors affecting the drying process are temperature,
controlled environments. Moisture is removed from the humidity, air pressure, and size, moisture content, and
surface of the noodle strands by air. The driving force packing density of wavy noodle strands.
for moisture removal is the difference in the partial pressure
of water vapour in the surface of the noodle strands and 4.2.2. Steaming
the partial pressure of the vapour in the air. Properties of Steaming is widely used in noodle processing. As long as
the noodle strands, temperature, relative humidity and the temperature of the steam is high enough, starch gelati-
the flow rate of air are all important factors influencing nization and protein denaturation occur in wet raw noodles
noodle drying. During drying, noodle surface moisture during steaming. The degree of cooking depends on the ori-
becomes vapour and is removed by the surrounding air. ginal moisture content of the noodle; the amount, pressure
This creates a moisture content gradient within the noodle and temperature of the steam; and steaming time. In the
strands and moisture will diffuse as liquid from the centre high moisture steamed noodles process, noodles are
moves to the surface of the noodle strands along the mois- sprayed with hot water to accelerate gelatinization of
ture gradient. With a receding evaporation front, drying starch, and steeped, or washed with cold water to stop
rate is limited primarily by moisture diffusion within the cooking after steaming. After washing away soluble star-
noodle strands. Because of its hygroscopic nature, salt chy material from the noodle surface, the noodles are
has a significant effect on the moisture diffusion rate during drained and coated with cooking oil.
drying. Noodles with high salt content are slower to dry In order to produce high quality steamed noodles, it is
than those with low salt content. very important to have raw noodles made from dough with
Noodle quality has to be preserved during the drying high water absorption, and to use saturated wet high tem-
process. Improper drying could damage the noodle struc- perature steam in the steaming process. The degree of
ture, causing over-elongation, cracking, warping and split- cooking during steaming is critical. Under-steamed noodles
ting of noodle strands. These conditions result in problems will have a hard core and will be difficult to cook properly
in handling and packaging. Moreover, cooking properties by stir-frying before serving. Over-steamed noodles are soft
and texture could be severely affected. If attempts are made and sticky. The desirable moisture content of steamed noo-
to dry too quickly, a large moisture difference will exist dles for stir-frying is 59–61%.
between the surface and core of the noodle. As the noodle Steaming is a key process in the manufacture of instant
shrinks while losing moisture, the dry surface will try to noodles. A high degree of starch gelatinization is required
contract onto the wet core. The surface of the noodle will for the production of hot-air dried instant noodles. Steam-
be under tension and the core under compression. Noodle ing time is longer for hot-air dried noodles than for deep-
strands will relax these stresses by deforming permanently. fried noodles. Excessive swelling of starch on the noodle sur-
A proper noodle drying process usually involves multi- face, which could cause many processing problems, should
stages to minimize undesirable noodle structural changes. be avoided during steaming in instant noodle production.
A three-stage drying process, involving pre-drying, drying,
and cooling, is a very common practice. 4.2.3. Frying
The first stage which takes up to 15% of total drying time Most instant noodles are deep-fried. After steaming,
is of primary importance. In this stage, low temperature noodle blocks are fed into frying baskets which are
(15–25 °C) and dry air are applied to reduce the noodle mounted on the traveling chain of a tunnel fryer. The bas-
moisture content from 32% to 38% to less than 28%. Its kets filled with noodle blocks are immersed in hot oil for
main function is to dry the noodle superficially soon after deep-frying. The frying temperature and time are usually
cutting to prevent noodle strands from sticking together 140–160 °C, and 60–100 s, respectively. The temperature
and to avoid the over-elongation of noodle strands. The of the fryer outlet is normally maintained slightly higher
pre-drying stage is followed by a first drying phase at fairly than that of the inlet. The frying process should be opti-
high humidity and temperature (75–85% RH, 30–40 °C). mized to deliver fried noodles with good sensory proper-
The inside moisture diffuses towards the surface, and an ties, low fat content, and low fat decomposition products.
equilibrium will be reached between inside moisture diffu- Deep-frying of noodle accomplishes the following: (1) loss
sion and surface moisture evaporation. In the second drying of moisture and uptake of oil, (2) gelatinization of starch
phase, higher temperatures and drier air (40–50 °C, 55–60% before the free water was evaporated, and (3) creation of
RH) is applied to remove the noodle moisture. In the final both external and internal porous structures in the noodle.
stage, the product is gradually cooled down and further A discussion of how and why noodles fry in hot oil
dried. The main concern here is to lower the temperature involves both mass transfer and heat transfer. Water in a
gradually to avoid internal stresses in the noodle. frying noodle migrates from the central portion radically
B.X. Fu / Food Research International 41 (2008) 888–902 901

outwards to replace that which is lost by dehydration on the boiling process is extremely important. Formation of
the exterior surfaces. A porous sponge structure in the noo- a sufficient and uniform gluten matrix in the sheeting pro-
dle is created during the frying process due to the steam cess is a prerequisite for low cooking loss. High water
vaporization. Oil transfers into the open pores of the noo- absorption and high salt content (up to 8%) in noodle pro-
dle surface from which steam has rushed out. The kinetics cessing can shorten the necessary boiling time, and there-
and dynamics of the mass transfer during frying depends fore, decrease the cooking loss. Noodles made from flour
on the properties of steamed noodles, the temperature of with low starch damage have lower cooking losses than
the frying oil, and frying time. The moisture and oil con- those made from flour with high starch damage. While
tents of the deep-fried noodles are 3–6% and 15–22%, hardness of water has no significant effect on cooking loss,
respectively. Water plays a number of roles in the transfer the alkalinity of the water does. Noodle boiled in water of
of heat into the noodle. It carries off thermal energy from pH 5–6 has the least cooking loss. The loss increases signif-
the hot frying oil surrounding the frying noodle. This icantly once the pH of the boiling water reaches 7–8. The
removal of energy from the noodle surface prevents char- pH of alkaline water could very likely be around 8.0.
ring or burning caused by excessive dehydration. The con- Therefore, it is very important to adjust the pH of water
version of liquid water to steam as the water leaves the used for boiling noodles. Organic acid, such as lactic acid,
food carries off the bulk of the contacting oil’s energy. As acetic acid, malic acid or citric acid, is often added to adjust
long as the water is leaving, the noodle will not char or the pH of water for the production of boiled noodles, such
burn. Another function of water is to cook the interior of as Udon. Noodles also have low cooking loss if the pH
the noodle. Sufficient heat must be transferred to bound remains at 9.5 during boiling. This is why when boiling
water to finish the starch gelatinization process which alkaline noodles it is not necessary to adjust the pH of
started during steaming. the water.
Deep-fried instant noodles can be prepared for serving
both by steeping and boiling, but the texture of the boiled 4.2.5. Freezing
noodles is distinctly superior to the steeped noodles. The texture of boiled noodles deteriorates very fast due
Degree of starch swelling and moisture gradient in the noo- to the disappearance of moisture gradient between the inte-
dle plays a very important role in determining noodle tex- rior and exterior of noodle strands during storage. Fast
ture. When cooking deep-fried instant noodles by boiling, freezing, however, can extend the ‘‘tastiest” state of boiled
the starch can swell enough before the moisture gradient noodles. High water absorption (>40%) during noodle
gets smaller. On the contrary, when cooking deep-fried dough mixing is necessary in order to obtain the desirable
instant noodles by steeping, the moisture gradient in the texture in the finished products, because high water absorp-
noodle disappears before enough swelling of the starch tion can shorten the boiling time required. This is often
can be achieved. achieved through vacuum mixing. Incorporation of starch
is also beneficial in maintaining the texture of boiled noo-
4.2.4. Boiling dles when frozen. After boiling, noodles are first washed
Boiling is a simple process but very critical in terms of with cool water, then immersed in cold water under 5 °C,
finished product quality. The application of boiling in noo- and finally fast frozen by blasting cold air of 30 °C. Noo-
dle processing has increased significantly in recent years dle strands are easier to separate during thawing if they are
due to the increased popularity of chilled, frozen, and cooled to 0–5 °C before fast freezing. Over-freezing
long-life noodles. The key factors for boiling are ratio of (< 40 °C) could damage the noodle structure because the
noodle to water, boiling time, and quality of boiling water. expansion of the noodle core during freezing can break
The desirable volume of boiling water is 10–20 times the the noodle surface, which freezes completely before the
weight of uncooked wet noodles. When the volume of boil- noodle core is frozen.
ing water is not sufficient, it takes longer to bring the noo-
dles back to a boil. Noodle strands stay close together Acknowledgements
without enough relative movement, resulting in rough noo-
dle surface and a lack of cooking uniformity. On the other I wish to express my sincere gratitude to many experts in
hand, too much boiling water or too strong heating can the field of wheat/flour quality and noodle processing for
damage the surface of noodle strands due to intensive fric- sharing their invaluable knowledge with me over the years.
tion between noodle strands and boiling water. Water Thanks are also due to H. Johnson for editing the paper.
should be in mild boiling status at all times in a continuous
noodle boiling process. The temperature of boiling water is References
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