Japanese Udon noodles: how to use these thick noodles

by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  January 3, 2021

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Udon is a type of thick wheat-flour noodle of Japanese cuisine.

Udon is usually served hot as noodle soup in its simplest form as kake udon, in a mildly flavored broth called kakejiru which is made of dashi, soy sauce (shōyu), and mirin.

It is usually topped with thinly chopped scallions.

Japanese Udon noodles

Other common toppings include tempura, often prawn or kakiage (a type of mixed tempura fritter), or aburaage, a type of deep-fried tofu pockets seasoned with sugar, mirin, and soy sauce.

In Japanese cuisine, there certainly are a lot of noodle dishes.

So how do you know when you’re eating Udon noodles as opposed to any other type of noodles?

Udon noodles are thick chewy noodles, typically 2 to 4 millimeters in thickness. They can be flat or round.

They are made from a combination of wheat flour, water and salt and they are often served in a dashi-based broth.

At this point, you are probably starting to realize that you have eaten Udon noodles before, but if you’re still a bit confused as to exactly what they are, read on.

By the end of this article, we promise you that you will be able to discern an Udon noodle from any other kind of noodle in front of you.

How Did Udon Noodles Originate?

Udon noodles are popular in Japanese cuisine, but they originated in China. They were introduced to Japan during the Tang dynasty era of 618-907 CE.

It is believed that when Udon noodles were first introduced, they were more like dumplings than noodles.

In fact, in some parts of Japan, they are still cut into squares as opposed to the long strands that became popular in the early fourteenth century.

Their original square shape may be part of why they are still relatively thick.

The popularity of the noodles really kicked off when they began to be sold in specialty stalls in the 17th century.

Wondering how Udon Noodles compare to the equally popular Ramen? Read: Ramen vs. Udon Noodles | Comparing Flavor, Use, Taste, Cooking Time, Brands.

In What Regions are Udon Noodles Most Popular?

Udon noodles are popular all over Japan, but they are eaten most often in the southern part of the country in regions spanning from Osaka to Kyushu.

What are Some Popular Udon Noodle Dishes?

As a popular noodle, Udon can be added to almost any Japanese dish. It is often served hot, in broth, but it can also be served cold with a dipping sauce.

Here are some of the most common ways Udon noodles are served in Japanese dishes.

Kake Udon

This is the simplest way to serve Udon noodles.

It involves serving them in a noodle broth called kakejiru which is made of dashi, mirin, and soy sauce. To make the dish more interesting, tofu, veggies, and meat can be added.

Miro Nikomi Udon

This is a hearty stew that contains ingredients like chicken, fish cake, veggies, and Udon noodles all of which is simmered in a dashi flavored broth.

Curry Udon

Curry Udon is inspired by modern and traditional Japanese cooking methods.

The noodles are mixed with curry sauce and tsuyu to make a dish that warms the heart and soul.

Udon Suki

Udon suki is a hot noodle dish that has an Udon noodle base placed on a platter and topped with shiitake mushrooms, eel, shrimp, mochi, radish, bean curd, bamboo shoot and spinach.

Individual bowls of broth are set aside for dipping.

Yaki Udon

For this dish, stir fried Udon is combined with soy sauce, veggies, scallions, napa cabbage, bok choy and sesame oil.

Sesame seeds can be added as a garnish. The meal can be served vegan or meat can be added.

What Is The Best Way of Cooking Udon Noodles At Home?

While these above are all traditional Udon dishes, here are some ways you can get creative making Udon meals at home.

Peanut Butter Noodles

For this dish, noodles are served in a peanut butter sauce that consists of peanut butter, soy sauce, fresh ginger, honey, and chicken broth.

Ingredients like chicken, green beans, bean sprouts and carrots can be added.

Asian Steak and Noodles

Take your noodles to the next level with this dish that brings flank steak and vegetables to the table.

Kimchi Noodle Stir Fry

This stir-fry combines Udon noodles, bacon, garlic, and an Asian-inspired sauce.

Eggs and nori can be added as toppings.

Chicken Yaki Udon

This dish combines Udon noodles with chicken, onion, red bell pepper, and carrots.

Top it with a simple sauce that’s a mix of garlic, soy sauce, and gochujang (Korean chili paste).

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Japanese Pan Noodles

This vegetarian stir fry features broccoli, zucchini, and bell peppers topped with a garlic chili sauce.

Add bean sprouts and cilantro if desired.

Sesame Udon Noodles

Give your noodles a kick with a sauce made of sesame oil, peanut oil, rice vinegar, hot pepper sauce, and soy sauce.

Add in veggies like bell peppers, onions, snap peas, and some sesame seeds and you are ready for the perfect vegan dish.

What is the Best Brand of Udon Noodles?

For the freshest noodles possible, you may want to make your noodles from scratch at home but there are several brands that offer high quality products.

Here are a few you can choose from.

  • Hime Dried Udon Noodles: This best-selling brand provides noodles made from wheat and buckwheat sourced from Japan. Various bag sizes are available including family packs. The noodles can be served hot or cold.
  • Myojo Jumbo Udon Noodles: These noodles come in single servings packets that can be prepared in the microwave or on the stovetop.
  • Ka-Me Stir Fry Udon Noodles: These noodles are made of high-quality ingredients like water, wheat flour, tapioca starch, salt, and lactic acid. The package contains six 14.2-ounce servings. The noodles are thick and white and can be served hot or cold. They cook in just two minutes.
  • Matsuda Japanese Style Instant Udon Noodles: These noodles are made of wheat flour, salt, and water. They come with a seasoning packet that brings that authentic Udon taste. They can be prepared on the stovetop in just three minutes.
  • Hakubaku Organic Udon Wheat Noodles: Hakubaku noodles are made from organic wheat flour and water. No salt is added. They are kosher and organic and made in Australia.
  • Nongshim Udon Premier Noodle Soup: These Udon noodles come in a preprepared bowl. Just add water and serve. They mix up to provide a hearty umami flavor.
  • Annie Chun’s Udon Noodle Bowl: This is another ready-made meal that can be enjoyed with the addition of water. Just microwave for two minutes and you are good to go. The pack contains six bowls. In addition to the noodles, the bowls also contain bok choy, tofu and shiitake mushrooms. The meal is non-GMO, vegan, and fat and cholesterol-free.
  • ONETANG Organic Udon Noodles: These noodles are made from organic wheat flour, salt, and water. An artificial simulation of air drying is used to maintain the noodles’ nutritional profile and to keep them tasty and safe. They are organic, non-GMO and vegan. They are a good source of fiber, protein, and potassium and they are low in fat.
  • Wellpac Japanese Udon Noodles: This package contains a 12 pack of 10 oz. of noodles each. After cooking for a few minutes in boiling water, they can be served hot or cold.
  • Koyo Organic Round Udon Pasta: These noodles are great for soups or casseroles. They are organic and made of high-quality ingredients.
  • Shirakiku Udon Cup Nama Sanukiya: This is another ready-made Udon noodle meal bowl. The noodles are authentic, large, and microwavable. The package includes six bowls.

Are Udon Noodles Good for You?

Udon noodles are relatively high in calories but they contain complex carbohydrates that can be beneficial in controlling weight and reducing the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

They are also a good source of potassium, iron, thiamine, copper, riboflavin, copper, folate, and magnesium.

Here are some of the health benefits they provide.

Weight Loss and Chronic Disease Prevention

Udon noodles are complex carbohydrates and are therefore high in fiber and slow to digest.

Therefore, they help maintain a healthy weight which, in turn, is beneficial in preventing heart disease, diabetes and other conditions linked to obesity.

Easy to Digest

Udon noodles are easy to digest.

This may be due to the fact that they are kneaded in advance which helps the protein to combine with the starch molecules making them more readily available for digestion.

May Prevent Colon Cancer

Certain varieties of Udon noodles may contain a high fiber content that can minimize constipation.

They improve intestinal health and may minimize the risk of colon cancer.

Reduces Stress

Complex carbohydrates are said to eliminate stress.

And, because Udon noodles are such a comforting food to eat, you can bet they are ideal for minimizing anxiety.

Rich in B Vitamins

Udon noodles contain B vitamins including thiamine, niacin, riboflavin, and folate. These help the body convert carbs into energy.

Thiamine is great for stress reduction and it can also boost the immune system.

Niacin is good for circulation and reducing inflammation.

It also plays an important role in the production of hormones in the adrenal glands and throughout the body.

Ingredients Matter

To make sure the noodles you are eating are as healthy as possible, look at the ingredients carefully.

Noodles made with whole wheat will have more fiber and greater health benefits.

Also, if the noodles are made with salt, opt for those made with sea salt. This will be preferable for those on a low sodium diet.

Dietary Restrictions: Are Udon Noodles Gluten-Free?

Udon is a vegetarian-friendly meal but its wheat flour content means it is not for gluten-free dieters.

However, there are Udon noodles made of rice flour, that make a good gluten-free option.

The noodles also contain a high amount of carbohydrates so they are not the best choice for those looking to control their blood sugar level and diabetics.

If this is the case, it’s best to enjoy Udon noodles in small portions.

What is the Difference Between Soba and Udon Noodles?

Soba noodles are another type of Japanese noodle.

They are similar to Udon noodles but there are a few notable differences.

Here’s how they compare.

  • Udon noodles are made from wheat flour while soba noodles are made from buckwheat flour.
  • Both come in gluten-free varieties.
  • Soba noodles have a nutty flavor while Udon noodles have a neutral taste.
  • Both can be served hot or cold.
  • Udon noodles are thicker and chewier than Soba noodles.
  • Both are rich in protein, fiber, and other nutrients but soba noodles have more protein and fiber than Udon noodles.

Keep reading about Soba Noodles, Soba Recipes and Delicious Yakisoba here.

What is the Difference Between Ramen Noodles and Udon Noodles?

Ramen noodles and Udon noodles both make popular Japanese side dishes and main courses, but they are not the same.

Here are a few differences to look out for.

  • Ramen noodles are smaller than Udon noodles
  • Ramen noodles are made from water, flour, and an alkalized water called Kansui as opposed to Udon noodles which are made of wheat flour
  • Ramen noodles are almost always served hot
  • Ramen noodles have a yellow color that differs from Udon’s white color
  • Ramen noodles may have a different taste depending on the region they are made in. This varies from Udon’s neutral taste.
  • Udon noodles and Ramen noodles have similar benefits nutrition-wise but one can be healthier than the other depending on the ingredients used
  • Udon noodles tend to be lower in calories than Ramen noodles

Keen to make your own Ramen at home? Read our review of the best ramen machines before you make a purchase!

What’s the Difference Between Udon Noodles and Lo Mein?

Lo mein is commonly used in Chinese cuisine. Here is how these two Asian noodles compare.

  • Lo mein is made with wheat, water and egg. Egg is the ingredient that sets lo mein apart.
  • Because egg is added, lo mein tends to have a richer, sweeter taste.
  • Lo mein is typically served hot.
  • Egg noodles may have a yellow color due to the egg ingredient.
  • Like udon noodles, egg noodles have high amounts of protein. They are also rich in amino acids and have a low glycemic index that makes them less likely to affect blood sugar than other pasta products. Therefore, they provide you with more sustained energy.

Check out this yummy Filipino Lo Mein Beef Broccoli Recipe.

What is the Difference Between Udon Noodles and Wheat Noodles?

This one gets tricky.

The thing is, Udon noodles are wheat noodles but not all wheat noodles are Udon noodles.

Wheat noodles refer to any type of noodle made with wheat.

This includes Udon noodles, whole wheat noodles, and egg noodles that are made with wheat and egg.

Italian pasta is also made with wheat.

The key difference between Italian and Asian pasta is that Asian pasta is made by pulling and stretching the noodles whereas, Italian pasta is made by rolling and slicing the dough.

As a result, Asian noodles are lighter and springier than their Italian counterparts.

What’s the Difference Between Glass Noodles and Udon Noodles?

Glass noodles are also commonly used in Asian dishes.

Here are some of the ways they differ from Udon noodles.

  • Glass noodles have a see-through appearance that differs from Udon’s thick white look.
  • Glass noodles are unique in that they are not made from rice or wheat. Rather, they are made from other sorts of starches like mung beans, tapioca starch, or sweet potato starch.
  • Like Udon noodles, glass noodles have a neutral taste.
  • Glass noodles have a thin, threadlike texture.
  • Glass noodles tend to be healthier than other types of noodles because they made from healthier starches. Their nutritional value varies depending on the type of starch they are made from. Glass noodles made from mung bean starch, for example, are a good source of choline which helps protect cell membrane structure.
  • Glass noodles are thin and springy as opposed to Udon which have a thicker texture.

What is the Difference Between Rice Noodles and Udon Noodles?

Rice noodles are also often used in Japanese cuisine.

Here’s how they add up when compared to Udon.

  • Rice noodles are made from rice flour and water whereas Udon noodles are made from wheat flour and water.
  • Both have a neutral flavor.
  • While Udon noodles can be gluten-free, rice noodles are naturally gluten-free.
  • Rice noodles are flatter and softer than Udon.
  • When rice noodles are made from brown rice, they have a higher protein and nutrient content than Udon.
  • Rice noodles are usually eaten hot but they can be served cold as well.

What is the Difference Between Regular Noodles and Udon Noodles?

Regular noodles are typically used in Asian inspired dishes but can be used in just about any meal application.

Here’s how they compare to Udon noodles.

  • Regular noodles are usually made from durum wheat, eggs, and water as compared to Udon noodles which are made from wheat flour.
  • Regular noodles contain gluten.
  • Both regular noodles and Udon noodles have a neutral flavor.
  • Regular noodles are usually eaten hot but can be eaten cold.
  • Regular noodles are usually enriched with vitamin B and iron. They do not contain as much protein as Udon noodles.

How Do You Eat Udon Soup?

It can be difficult to eat soup politely when at a restaurant.

It is recommended to use the spoon provided for the broth rather than drinking it directly from the bowl.

But when it comes to the noodles, feel free to slurp away.

Of course, this depends on where you are. While slurping may be considered rude in American restaurants, it is perfectly acceptable in Japan.

Do You Have to Boil Udon Noodles?

If udon noodles are soft and vacuum packed, they will not require any pre-cooking. You can just add them to your dish and heat them.

If the noodles are dried or semi-dried, you will need to boil them in water.

Dried noodles will need to boil for 10 minutes whereas semi-dried varieties need to boil for 8 minutes.

Do Udon Noodles Go Bad?

Dried Udon noodles can be stored for 6 to 8 months.

Fresh Udon noodles should be refrigerated and eaten within days.

Is Udon the New Food Trend?

Recently, noodle places have been trending in American culinary culture.

Ramen joints were on the rise for a while, but now it seems as if Udon is taking over!

Udon chains are exploding all over the place and many have lines of people out the door waiting for their meals.

This begs the question, why are Udon noodles so popular?

There are a few answers to this question.

For one, the elastic dough is difficult to make and its preparation takes an enormous effort. In fact, traditionally, the dough had to be kneaded with the chef’s feet in order to get to the desired consistency.

Today, machines can be used to get the dough prepared for cooking, but these machines are quite expensive and work hard to do their job.

The attention to detail pays off in a hearty and delicious meal.

And while the dough requires a lot of kneading, most kitchens have an easy set up that allows the food to be prepared quickly.

This typically consists of the noodle maker, a pot for boiling, an ice bath for blanching, simmering pots and a station with various kinds of toppings.

The end result is a fresh, affordable meal that can be made in just minutes. This makes it a great option for diners everywhere.

It is also appealing because it can be vegan and vegetarian friendly and it fits right in with the ‘bowl generation’ that is rising in the ranks when it comes to culinary preferences.

Udon has become so popular, it is edging out Ramen restaurants. This may be because it is a healthier option that appeals more to veggie-friendly sensibilities.

At the beginning of the article, we promised you that we would give you the information you need to discern an Udon noodle from any other noodle in front of you.

Did we do our job? And how will you be enjoying Udon the next time you decide to eat Japanese?

Read next: Etiquette and table manners when eating Japanese food.

Ever had trouble finding Japanese recipes that were easy to make?

We now have "cooking Japanese with ease", our full recipe book and video course with step-by-step tutorials on your favorite recipes.

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.