Soba vs. Udon: What is the Difference in Japanese Noodles

Are you curious about the distinction between two beloved Japanese noodles – Soba and Udon? This article has got you covered. Read on to explore their differences, unique flavors and textures, and everything!

Zaru soba and zaru udon.

Japanese cuisine offers a delightful variety of noodles; among the most popular are soba and udon noodles. These traditional Japanese dishes have been enjoyed for centuries and have found their way onto menus across the world.

This article explores the differences between soba and udon, from their ingredients, culinary uses, and all you want to know! Let’s dive into the world of these classic Japanese noodles!

Soba vs. Udon

soba noodles and udon noodles.

Soba and udon noodles are two classic staples of Japanese cuisine, each with its unique characteristics.

  • Soba noodles, made from buckwheat and wheat flour, have a thin and long pasta-like shape with a dark gray color.
  • Udon noodles are thick and white, made primarily from wheat flour.

Let’s dive deeper into these delightful noodles in the following section!

What are Soba Noodles?

freshly made soba noodles

Soba noodles are popular Japanese noodles made by kneading buckwheat flour with water, stretching it out thinly, and cutting it into thin strips. The light gray color is from buckwheat flour.

Soba noodles were invented in the early Edo period in the 18th century and quickly gained popularity as a fast food option due to their affordability and quick preparation time. With their chewy texture and subtle taste, these noodles enhance any soup they’re paired with.

Soba Noodle Ingredients

buckwheat flour and wheat flour.

Soba noodles are made of

  • Buckwheat flour
  • Wheat flour
  • Water

Historically, soba noodles were crafted from only buckwheat flour and water. But since the grain is gluten-free and it is difficult to form the noodles, wheat flour, usually all-purpose flour, is added as a binding agent.

Click here for how to make homemade soba noodles.

Soba Noodle Variations

Juwari soba.

Soba noodles get their name from the percentage of wheat flour in their composition, and they come in different varieties:

  1. Juwari Soba (十割そば) – Made with 100% buckwheat flour, making it gluten-free.
  2. Nihachi Soba (二八そば) – Contains 20% wheat flour and 80% buckwheat flour.
  3. Gowari Soba (五割そば) – Contains 50% wheat flour and 50% buckwheat flour.

To be considered authentic soba, the ratio of buckwheat flour should be more than 30%. If the package says “soba,” it likely contains mostly wheat flour, resembling darker-colored udon noodles.

For an authentic soba experience, I highly recommend trying Juwari or Nihachi soba. These varieties truly capture the rich flavor and unique texture of buckwheat flour. My personal favorite is Nihachi soba.

Additionally, when you visit soba restaurants in Japan, you will likely find them using Nihachi soba as well.

Types of Soba Noodles

types of soba noodles

You might be able to find dried, pre-cooked, frozen, and fresh soba noodles at Japanese or Asian grocery stores. Dried noodles are handy; I usually buy them and keep the stock in my pantry.

Popular Soba Dishes

simple soba noodle soup

Soba noodles can be served in various ways, such as:

  • Zaru Soba: Cold soba noodles served on a bamboo tray with a dipping sauce.
  • Kake Soba: Hot soba served in a savory broth with toppings like green onions.
  • Kitsune Soba: Soba served with sweet fried tofu.
  • Tempura Soba: Soba served with a side of crispy tempura.
  • Toshikoshi Soba: Soba eaten on New Year’s Eve. The long and thin soba noodles symbolize a wish for a long life in Japanese culture.

What are Udon Noodles?

frozen udon noodles.

Udon noodles, the classic Japanese noodle made with wheat flour, are a staple of Japanese cuisine. These white and thick noodles have a chewy texture and can be enjoyed in both hot and cold dishes.

There are plenty of delicious udon dishes, from classic kake udon to tasty yaki udon. Udon noodles have a mild flavor and pair well with any soup and sauce.

They are a popular quick lunch menu for the on-the-go. You can easily find the noodle stands that serve udon noodle soups (as well as soba noodles) at train stations across the country.

Udon Noodle Ingredients

Ingredients for udon noodles.

Udon noodles are made of:

  • wheat flour
  • potato starch
  • salt
  • water

Rather than using bread or cake flour, all-purpose flour is selected to give udon its signature bouncy bite.

Mix the ingredients to make udon noodles from scratch and gradually add water to form a dough. Knead the udon dough until smooth, roll it out into a thin sheet using a rolling pin, and slice it into thick, long noodles.

Types of Udon Noodles

Types of Udon Noodles

Udon noodles come in various shapes and sizes, from round to flat or extra-thick. Also, you can find dried, frozen, or fresh udon noodles at Japanese or Asian grocery stores. Frozen is my go-to as they are thick, chewy, and quick to cook.

When searching for udon noodles in stores, you may come across Sanuki udon. It’s from Kagawa Prefecture, known as the udon capital of Japan. Sanuki udon is famous for its chewy texture, made using a special kneading technique that gives the noodles a satisfying thickness and bounce.

Popular Udon Dishes

kake udon

Udon noodles are enjoyed in a variety of delicious dishes, including:

  • Zaru Udon: Cold udon served on a bamboo tray with a dipping sauce.
  • Kake Udon: Hot udon served in a light broth with toppings.
  • Curry Udon: Hot udon served with mild but thick curry sauce.
  • Yaki Udon: Stir-fried noodles with various ingredients.
  • Natto Udon: Cold udon noodles served with soup and natto.

Other Types of Japanese Noodles

By the way, there are many different varieties of noodles in Japan.

  • Ramen noodles are also a famous noodle in Japan. They are made from wheat flour, thin, curly, and yellow. The soup is rich and fatty, made of chicken carcass or pork bone, and commonly adds flavor with ginger and garlic.
  • Somen noodles are a type of thin noodles served cold with a dipping sauce in Japan. These delicate and slender noodles are thinner than ramen noodles and appear pale white.

Differences Between Soba and Udon

1. Ingredients

dipping zaru udon noodles.

The primary difference between soba and udon noodles lies in their ingredients. Soba noodles are made from buckwheat flour. On the other hand, udon noodles are made from wheat flour.

2. Texture and Flavor

bukkake udon noodles.

Soba noodles have a nutty flavor with a slightly chewy texture. On the other hand, udon noodles have a milder taste and a soft, bouncy texture. The difference in thickness gives udon noodles a heartier bite compared to the delicate nature of soba noodles.

3. Soups

mentsuyu soup

Japanese noodle soup, called Mentusyu, transforms simple udon or soba noodles into a delicious meal, whether served in cold or hot broth. It’s crafted with just three main ingredients: dashi stock, soy sauce, and mirin. Dashi is usually made of bonito flakes and kombu.

At home, Mentsuyu sauce is commonly used for both udon and soba noodles. However, in restaurants, you will find that soba is served with stronger soup compared to the milder broth used for udon. Since soba noodles don’t contain salt like udon, stronger soups pair well with them.

4. Culinary Uses and Pairings

dipping zaru soba noodles and about to eat

Soba noodles’ nutty taste makes them an excellent match for dipping sauces and hot noodle soups, while udon noodles’ chewy texture makes them perfect for heartier soups and stir-fry dishes. Both noodles pair well with a variety of vegetables, meats, and seafood.

5. Which is Healthier?

rinsing soba noodles under running cold water.

Soba noodles are often considered healthier because buckwheat flour is highly nutritious when comparing soba and udon. Soba has a lower glycemic index and contains more dietary fiber, protein, and vitamin B1 compared to udon noodles.

However, on the other hand, udon is easier to digest due to its lower dietary fiber content. So, if you’re looking for a gentle option for your stomach, udon might be the preferred choice.

Making a Choice: Soba or Udon?

zaru soba and zaru udon.

Ultimately, the decision between nutty soba and chewy udon noodles comes down to personal taste! While I love both varieties, I tend to cook udon more at home and enjoy soba noodles when dining out at restaurants.

By the way, according to some statistics, there is a preference among women for udon and among men for soba. Additionally, it’s worth noting that small children, including our kids, absolutely love udon!

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yaki udon served in a bowl.

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