Scholars believe it was Egyptians who first ground wheat berries into flour, used it to create a dough, and baked bread. That was at least 10,000 years ago. Ever since, people around the world have relied upon wheat flour for sustenance and in many cases, survival.
But during the past decade people have increasingly steered clear of wheat, for medical, health and lifestyle reasons.
Their problem with what since Biblical times has been called the “staff of life” revolves around one compound found in wheat berries: gluten.
The protein sparks allergic reactions in people who suffer from a condition called celiac disease. About 1 in 100 people have the autoimmune disease, which includes symptoms like bloating, gas, diarrhea, fatigue, abdominal pain and more. Celiac disease also damages intestines.
Gluten can lead to myriad health problems
Physicians have known about celiac disease since the early 1900s. It wasn’t until 1953, however, that researchers determined that gluten was responsible for the allergic reactions. Now, recent studies reported by the National Institutes of Health also reveal that an additional 6 percent of adults wrestle with gluten-intolerance. Symptoms mirror those who have celiac disease, but people with gluten-intolerance do not experience intestinal damage.
It gets even worse. A New England Journal of Medicine paper identifies 55 diseases that gluten can cause. Among them: lupus, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, anemia and irritable bowel syndrome. Even cancer.
Gluten’s etymological roots — it means “glue in Latin — spotlights its effects on some human bodies. It seems to sometimes encourage a certain stickiness that interferes with the human body’s performance.
Unfortunately, gluten is not limited to wheat. Rye, barley, and wheat derivatives like spelt, kamut, farina and semolina also contain gluten. In addition, while oats are gluten-free, they usually are processed in the same mills that turn wheat berries into flour. As a result, gluten contaminates much oatmeal.
Gluten-Free Marketplace Expands Dramatically
As people increasingly turn to eliminating gluten from their diets, the global market for gluten-free foods expands. According to Statista, the gluten-free food market should grow from $5.6 billion in 2020 to $8.3 billion in 2025.
Many of these gluten-shunners do not suffer from celiac disease or gluten-intolerance. A 2017 survey found that 31 percent of people who eat gluten-free bread do so as a lifestyle, rather than a medical, choice.
Getting rid of gluten compels people to find products they desire, like bread, that are made without wheat. Count noodles among the products for which gluten-rejecters are seeking wheat alternatives.
Companies have started to manufacture gluten-free noodles out of things like chickpeas, millet and quinoa. While these gluten-free noodles are new to the market, one style of gluten-free noodle has been around for more than 2,000 years: rice noodles.
Gluten-Free Noodles From Rice Offer Artisan Options
Rice noodles were borne out of war. During China’s Qin dynasty (221 to 206 BC), people from northern China invaded the southern parts of the country. The northerners enjoyed noodles made from wheat, which they cultivated in the north’s cooler climate. But upon moving to the warmer south, where wheat didn’t grow, they turned to a grain that was widely grown — rice — to make noodles.
Now, millennia later, skilled artisans around the world rely upon centuries of craftsmanship to create increasingly superb gluten-free noodles out of rice. Unlike new brands of noodles made from things like quinoa and chickpeas, which enjoy scant history of artisanship, gluten-free noodles made from rice stand on a foundation thousands of years old.
But just as some brands of Italian wheat pasta offer ho-hum bags of spaghetti and others create exquisite boxes of farfalle, so it goes with rice noodles. Brands like Simply Food devote immense resources towards creating world-class rice noodles — supple, elastic products that never turn gummy ore remain brittle. Many other brands, on the other hand, offer the world inferior rice noodles.
Home Cooks Use Rice Noodles for Gluten-Free Recipes
Home cooks can easily switch wheat pasta for high-quality rice noodles with most recipes. Spaghetti with Bolognese sauce, an Italian classic, shines with rice vermicelli or pho noodles. Beef Stroganoff, a fabulous Russian dish with noodles, beef, mushrooms and a cream sauce, tastes just as wonderful when the noodles are made of rice.
People can easily switch rice noodles for wheat versions when they make the South American standard Tallarines Verdes, which means green noodles. The garlicky dish involves a pesto made from spinach and basil along with lots of queso fresco.
We are awfully fond of Laksa, a wildly popular dish across Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Southern Thailand. The dish is a high-profile example of Peranakan cuisine, which emerged in Singapore and Indonesia after early Chinese immigrants began marrying local Malays. The cuisine is a melange of Chinese, Javanese and Malay influences.
Gluten-Free Noodle Recipe: Laksa
Laksa, eaten across parts of Southeast Asia, is a crave-able bowl of noodles in a coconut curry broth. In this recipe we turn to one of the two popular variants — curry laksa. The other style, called asam laksa, relies heavily upon fish and a sour paste made with tamarind.
- 1 tablespoons neutral vegetable oil or peanut oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons ginger, grated
- 1 (7-ounce) jar laksa paste or laksa powder in a pouch
- 3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 3 teaspoons brown sugar
- 1 pound chicken (thigh, breast or both)
- 12 ounces large shrimp
- 1 (13.5-ounce)_ can coconut cream
- 1 cup tofu puffs (optional)
- 2 tablespoons lime juice, or to taste
- Fish sauce (to taste)
- 8 ounces Simply Food Premium Fresh Rice Vermicelli noodles
- 1 1/2 cup bean sprouts
- Optional garnishes: crispy fried shallots, sambal chili paste, chopped scallions, lime wedges, cilantro leaves, sliced hard-boiled egg.
- Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.
- Add the laksa paste or powder to hot oil and stir for 2-3 minutes. Add the stock and sugar and bring to a boil.
- While the liquid is heating, dice or slice the chicken, and peel and devein the shrimp.
- Once the liquid is boiling add the chicken to the broth and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 7 minutes.
- While broth is simmering, follow directions for preparing Simply Food Premium Fresh Rice Vermicelli noodles. Drain the noodles and divide them among six bowls.
- After broth has simmered for about 7 minutes, add the shrimp, and cook for 2 minutes. Add coconut cream and, if using, tofu puffs.
- Add lime juice and fish sauce to curry, to taste.
- Ladle curry over noodles and top with fresh bean sprouts.
- Garnish with optional garnishes.