What Are Udon Noodles?

Cooking and Recipes

Sanuki Udon
Sanuki Udon. MIXA / Getty Images

Udon is a type of thick noodle from Japan that is typically made from wheat flour. It is frequently served in soups with a variety of broths and toppings or served in a simple, clear broth with a sprinkle of spring onions. Udon can also be served cold in the summertime with a dipping sauce, chilled broth, or as a salad.

Fast Facts

  • Category: Soup pasta
  • Cook Time: 5 to 10 minutes (fresh), 8 to 12 minutes (dried)
  • Main Ingredient: Wheat flour
  • Substitutes: Soba noodles

What Are Udon Noodles?

Udon is a thick Japanese strand noodle that can range in size, shape, and ingredients, but is most often served in soup. The majority of udon noodles are made from wheat flour, with a few regional variations using potato starch or incorporating carrot for an orange color. Udon is often thick and round or square, but can also be flat and ribbon-like. It is available fresh and dried and is boiled before eating, producing pleasantly slippery and chewy noodles.

Most udon is imported from Japan and available dried in packages or frozen, but some markets carry pre-cooked udon, which can be warmed in soup or stir-fried and served. Udon tends to be slightly more expensive than typical pasta and is available in grocery stores, Asian markets, and online. A greater selection is stocked at Asian markets, and fresh udon noodles are occasionally sold. Packaged instant soups using udon noodles are popular in Japan and are also sold in Asian markets.

Udon noodles are boiled in water before serving and can be used directly from the package. They are frequently used in soups like kake udon, a simple dish of noodles and broth, or in more flavorful soups with curry or red miso broth. Tempura or fried tofu and shrimp are popular toppings, as well as egg and a variety of meat and vegetables. Udon can about be stir-fried with sauce or served cold with a dipping sauce (zaru udon).

Udon vs. Soba Noodles

Udon and soba are the most famous noodles from Japan, and are equally beloved. Udon is typically white in color and made from wheat flour, while soba noodles are made using buckwheat flour, giving them a slightly darker color. Because of the buckwheat flour, soba tends to have a nuttier, earthier flavor. Soba also tends to be thinner than udon, more like spaghetti.

The two noodles are used in similar applications, appearing in soups and cold dishes. They can be used interchangeably if needed but will provide a slightly different experience.

How to Cook Udon Noodles

Homemade udon noodles can be made with a combination of flour, salt, and water. The dough should be kneaded for several minutes until smooth before resting, covered, for at least an hour. This will make the dough easier to roll out. Use a rolling pin to roll out the dough on a floured countertop, rotating ninety degrees every few rolls, until the desired thickness (typically just under 1/4-inch). Slice into noodles, dust with flour or cornstarch, and cook immediately in simmering water for 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the thickness. The noodles will float.

Dried udon can be added directly to boiling water and cooks anywhere from 8 to 12 minutes depending on the variety. Taste a noodle to see if it's done—it should be chewy, with no hard center, and without being mushy. Frozen, fresh, uncooked udon can typically be cooked without defrosting. For all udon varieties, follow the instructions on the packaging.

All boiled udon should be cooked in plenty of boiling water to prevent sticking and for proper cooking. Packaged, cooked udon noodles can often be added to hot broth or stir-fried directly from the package. They will heat up and finish cooking in the pot or pan.

Varieties

Udon noodles come in a range of shapes and sizes, from round strands to square to ribbons. The thickness varies, offering more or less chewiness. Slightly translucent udon made using potato starch (Gōsetsu udon) can sometimes be found, as can gluten-free. Asian markets often sell frozen fresh udon, pre-cooked, dried, and packaged soups and meals featuring noodles.

Japanese raw dried udon noodle on bamboo tray in restaurant
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Cold udon noodles
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Yudame Udon Sanuki / Kagawa / Local cuisine
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Beef Teriyaki with Udon Noodles
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Substitutes

Udon noodles are uniquely springy and slippery, but Japanese soba noodles can often be used in their place. The texture will not be quite the same, but soba holds up similarly well in hot and cold soups. Thick Chinese egg noodles are a good swap when making an udon stir-fry.

Udon Recipes

Popular udon dishes include tempura udon, a soup filled with noodles and topped with tempura (often shrimp), hiyashi yamakake udon, a chilled noodle dish with grated Japanese mountain yam, and kitsune udon, topped with crispy, fried tofu.