Glass noodles (also known as cellophane noodles) are long, gelatinous noodles found in dishes from soups to stir-fries to hot pot across China and Southeast Asia. While most people refer to this ingredient as a glass noodle, most versions of this food aren't transparent. It's commonly an opaque white or brown thread, skinny and long, that gets most of its flavor from the foods surrounding it. Easy to use and cook, glass noodles are the type of starch anyone can get behind, especially since the ingredient is gluten-free.
- Cook Time: 3 to 5 minutes
- Other Names: Cellophane noodles, Chinese vermicelli, fensi, bean thread noodles
- Main Ingredient: Water and starch (mung beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, tapioca)
- Substitutes: Rice vermicelli, soba noodles, angel hair pasta
What Are Glass Noodles
Though some glass noodles look fairly clear, most of the noodles under this moniker have a cloudy, opaque look and can be either snowy white, light gray, or subtle shades of brown. This all depends on what the starch is used, be it mung beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, or tapioca.
The most common glass noodles use mung beans or sweet potatoes. For example, in China most glass noodles are created with mung bean flour, whereas in Korea it's common to find noodles made with sweet potato starch and under the name dangmyeon. Another popular name for this noodle is cellophane noodle, which is just as common on packaging as glass noodles.
Glass noodles are made by making a slurry with processed mung bean or other flour and water, which gets mixed, pulled, washed, and eventually stretched. To make the long slender noodle, the mixture gets pressed through what looks like a giant sieve. Then the strands are draped over dowels and dried.
Glass Noodles vs. Rice Vermicelli
While both of these foods are gluten-free, glass noodles are commonly made with mung bean flour while vermicelli is made with rice. Rice vermicelli is also always a solid white and doesn't have the transparency of glass noodles. It's easy to get the two foods confused. Aside from looking similar, both ingredients get used in soups, stir-fries, and served cold in salads.
Glass Noodle Uses
One of the best things about glass noodles is they can be served hot, tepid, or cold. Hot glass noodles are found in soups and hot pot to give the dishes some heft and starchy notes. Many stir-fries and noodle dishes get served at room temperature, which works just fine for this ingredient.
Unlike wheat noodles, the glass noodle doesn't get so sticky when it cools, which means when you chill it and stuff into a rice paper roll with shrimp, lettuce, and minced pork and there's still that pleasant, refreshing chew. It's also a great noodle for a cold salad dressed with peanuts, lime, cilantro, and other bold ingredients. Unlike other noodles, these can be deep-fried for a puffy, crunchy texture.
How to Cook With Glass Noodles
Dried glass noodles can be boiled for about three to five minutes depending on the thickness. They can also sit in warm water and soften that way. Once cooked, toss into a hot pan with sauteed vegetables and sauce for a savory noodle dish. Or add the glass noodles into a soup or hot pot set up. If making a salad, chill the noodles for about an hour before and serve cold.
What Does It Taste Like
On their own, glass noodles don't have much flavor. They are bland with the slightest chew and a tinge of starchy sweetness. The noodles soak in the nuances of the dish, so if put in spicy broth the glass noodles will be savory with some heat. Or if mixed with a soy sauce-based sauce, the glass noodles will impart a salty, umami note.
Many Asian dishes call for glass noodles, which can be great in noodle dishes with vegetables, stuffed into rice paper to make spring rolls, and put into a variety of soups. Serve them cold and in a hearty noodle salad.
Where to Buy Glass Noodles
When sourcing glass noodles, also look for them under the names cellophane noodles, bean thread noodles, or Chinese vermicelli. Most of the time, glass noodles are found in the Asian section of a grocery store or in abundance in Korean and Chinese markets. There are plenty of types, mostly imported, but not a lot of variety when it comes to taste or style. Also check the gluten-free area of the supermarket.
Like regular pasta, glass noodles should be kept in a cool, dry place away from any moisture. It's best to hold them in a sealed jar or bag. The noodles will last several months or even a year when stored properly.
Nutrition and Benefits
This low-calorie, fat-free and gluten-free food carries about the same nutrition as a bowl of white rice, which isn't too much. The main nutritional component is carbohydrates, though there's some iron, vitamin B6, zinc, calcium, and magnesium as well.