It's not obvious when looking at clear, thin kelp noodles that they are made from the green-brown plant that grows in saltwater. In fact, save for the actual name, kelp noodles, there's not much about the gluten-free Asian food that speaks of the sea—unless they are put into a seafood dish. Use this ingredient raw to spruce up a stir-fry, add crunch to a salad, or in lieu of rice with a rich Thai curry. Alone, kelp noodles are almost flavorless, but when paired with other foods it can change the entire feel of a dish.
- Shelf Life: Two months
- Main Components: Kelp, water, and sodium alginate
- Place of Origin: Korea
What Are Kelp Noodles?
Kelp noodles, or cheon sa chae, hail from Korea and were invented sometime in the 1980s. Based on the patent records, before the food became kelp noodles it was called molded sea tangle, a thread-like food composed mainly of marine algae and band-shaped seaweed noodle. No matter what it's called, this food comes from seaweed and is made by drying stripes of kelp and then peeling off the brown-green outer layer. The white inside gets ground up and mixed with water and sodium alginate, a salt also derived from kelp that helps bind it into a "dough" that can be processed into a noodle shape. Once finished, kelp noodles look a lot like cellophane noodles but don't contain any gluten, carbs, or grains.
Kelp noodles fit well into various diet plans, too, like the Paleo, Whole30, and keto diets. Since it's gluten-free, it's also enjoyed by individuals with celiac disease. Kelp noodles are also sometimes used in raw diets, though there is debate if this is truly a raw food since most methods of making the noodles involve minor cooking and heating.
Kelp Noodles vs. Shirataki Noodles
Though both of these gluten-free noodles are eaten mainly by people with dietary restraints, they are made from totally different ingredients. Kelp noodles are created from seaweed that's been stripped of the darker outer layer and preserved in sea salt. Shirataki noodles, also called konjac noodles, are made from glucomannan flour that's been mixed with regular water and a little pickling lime. This type of flour is derived from a yam-like tuber called devil’s tongue. These noodles also are packaged in a liquid, which keeps them soft, where kelp noodles are packaged dried and are praised for crunchiness.
Both types of gluten-free noodles are eaten cold, hot, in soup, on their own, and as a substitution for other pasta. Kelp noodles and shirataki noodles taste similar too, in that neither has much taste on its own and instead garners flavor from whatever it is cooked with it.
There are two types of kelp noodles: clear and green. The main differences between these two types are that the latter is a greenish color, thicker, more al dente pasta-like in texture, and has more of a seaweed flavor. Green kelp noodles are far less common than the clear variety. As far as nutrition goes, both kelp noodles are equal and neither contains gluten or grains.
Kelp Noodle Uses
Though traditionally kelp noodles are used in Asian cooking, you can give just about any dish a crunch boost with them. Rinse the noodle gently so it maintains crispness, then put on top a green salad, use in coleslaw, sprinkle over grilled fish, mix into a stir-fry, and more. When softened, kelp noodles can also be used as a substitute for pasta, either dishes with Asian flavors such as pad thai and peanut sauce noodles, classic Italian-inspired sauces including pesto and marinara, or simple everyday dressings such as a vinaigrette or creamy Caesar.
How To Cook With Kelp Noodles
Kelp noodles can be eaten softened or uncooked, the choice really depends on the texture desired for the dish. If you're looking to add a crunchy texture to a dish, it's best to just gently wash the noodles right out of the box or bag and let them dry. When replacing the noodle component in a salad or main dish, soften the noodles so the texture mimics its gluten-filled counterparts. To do this, first rinse the kelp noodles with warm water. Then sprinkle about a teaspoon of baking soda on top and fill the bowl with hot tap water (not boiling). Add lemon juice to the bowl and mix, letting the noodles soak for about eight minutes. Then drain and use in any dish where noodles or rice are called for.
What Does It Taste Like?
Think of kelp noodles as the tofu of pasta—almost tasteless, but with the ability to soak in whatever flavors surround it. Though one may think kelp noodles would have a fishy or salty tinge to them, the food proves simple and void of a distinct flavor. It's more about the texture, which is crunchy when raw and chewy when put into hot food or after soaking up sauces.
Kelp Noodle Recipes
Use kelp noodles instead of rice or pasta in these dishes to make them grain and gluten-free. Leave them raw to add crunch or soak them for a chewy texture.
Where To Buy Kelp Noodles
The easiest way to buy kelp noodles is online. Search for popular brands like Sea Tangle and Gold Mine. Specialty grocery stores that specialize in health food and food allergy-conscious options may also carry kelp noodles. Look for this food in bags or boxes in the pasta or gluten-free section of a store. Kelp noodles are not often found in major supermarkets, though Asian grocers may carry them.
Kelp noodles can remain in the original package and stored in the pantry until the sell-by date. Keep the dry noodles in the fridge to extend the shelf life by two months. Once hydrated, kelp noodles will last in a sealed container in the fridge for three to five days.
Nutrition and Benefits
Crunchy, clear, and gluten-free kelp noodles are cholesterol and fat-free and have a low calorie count. The sodium level in kelp noodles is high given the food comes from the sea and is preserved in sea salt. There's also a good dose of calcium, iron, and vitamin K. The biggest benefit that comes from eating kelp noodles is the amount of natural iodine, though not everyone can have iodine and sodium-rich foods.
It's also good to keep in mind just how much of this food is being eaten. While iodine is good in the diet, too much can be bad. In fact, the FDA recommends a dietary intake of 150-micrograms of iodine each day. A serving of kelp noodles usually won't top this, but keep in mind other foods contain iodine as well. If you are eating kelp noodles instead of whole grains, keep in mind that they lack fiber, which can cause bloating and gas.