What are Cellophane Noodles?
Cellophane noodles are extremely thin translucent noodles used extensively in Asian cuisine. China, Japan, Korea, and Thailand all have traditional dishes which utilize these noodles, and all of these countries also make the noodles for domestic use and export.
An Asian grocery store or a large market will usually carry cellophane noodles, which may be labeled as bean threads, glass noodles, or mung bean noodles. Store the noodles in a cool dry place for up to one year before use, and in an airtight container after the package has been opened.
The name for the noodles is a reference to their resemblance to cellophane, a crinkly transparent plastic. When other ingredients are used, the noodles may turn white or cloudy, which is not necessarily an indicator of poor quality. When cooked, the noodles generally turn entirely transparent, and they will acquire the color of any sauce added to them.
The base of cellophane noodles is mung bean starch and water, rather than rice or wheat, two common ingredients in noodle making. The noodles are made extremely thin, and usually dried in coils for easy packaging. When a cook wants to use the noodles, he or she typically removes a coil of noodles and either presoaks them or throws them directly into a dish. The noodles have a resilient texture, and they pick up flavorings very well. Their absorbent quality can also cause them to soak up oil, so the noodles should be used with care in oily pans.
Pre-soaked cellophane noodles may be used as fillers in things like spring rolls, or they made be added to stir fries, in which case they often turn crispy. In some cases, a stir fry is simply served over soaked cellophane noodles, allowing them to absorb the sauces from the stir fry without being fried. Soups are also made with this ingredient, which adds texture and a feeling of fullness to the soup. If the noodles are cooked on the stovetop, they take only a moment to cook, which is why most cooks prefer to soak them in boiling water, so that they do not become too soft.
Dried cellophane noodles are very brittle, and they tend to crack and shatter if roughly handled. For this reason, most cooks try to avoid breaking up coils noodles. If this becomes necessary, cracking the coil open over the compost or garbage is advised, so that the small shards of noodle will not be scattered all over the kitchen.
After my family and I have chicken for dinner, I boil the bones with some onion skin for a day or so and save the broth. My kids love to make noodles with the broth as their after school snack. It only takes a minute or two. One bundle of noodles fits in a glass of broth and they microwave to heat. It's simple, and better than chips or cookies.
@hawthorne - They're just made out of mung bean starch and water, huh? I'll bet it wouldn't be hard to make your own cellophane noodles at home, then. I wonder if there are alphabet soup noodle molds out there for sale somewhere?
Ooh, or even better, buy some small gummi molds. You could make cellophane noodles shaped like gummi bears -- kids would eat those up for sure!
Now I have to pursue this. I already have the gummi bear molds from a cooking project my daughter did to try to make gummi bears with liquid centers, so all I really need now is some mung bean starch. Anybody know a good place I can buy that in bulk? I imagine it's in powder form, and probably easily found online, but it would definitely be quicker to buy it in person.
I wonder if you can dye cellophane noodles different colors while making them? Then they could look exactly like gummi bears.
@SkittisH - Alphabet-shaped cellophane noodles would be awesome! I think we don't have those yet because cellophane noodles are mostly made in Asia.
Since cellophane noodles are just made with mung bean starch and water, you can really make them in any shape. Did you know that you can get thick or thin cellophane noodles? You can even buy cellophane noodle sheets, which look a lot more like their namesake than the noodles do!
Cellophane sheets are super thin sheets of the same exact material as cellophane noodles -- mung bean starch and water -- and you use them to wrap around spring roll fillings and such and then drop into soups to make dumpling soup. It's really delicious, and after trying soup that way I tend to use the sheets instead of using the plain noodles.
For an unusual but yummy treat, try wrapping cellophane sheets around small pieces of cheese and dropping them into the water. The insides will melt, but the cellophane sheet will hold the cheese inside, so you will get melty cheese dumplings when you get the soup -- so yummy!
As somebody who is utterly and dangerously allergic to wheat, these noodles are quite literally a lifesaver! I tried rice noodles, but didn't like how soggy and slimy they got after even a minute too long sitting in the broth. Cellophane noodles don't have that problem -- they stay nice and firm and pleasantly chewy no matter how long they sit in hot broth.
Noodles are such a versatile thing to have on the menu that I have always felt left out not being able to eat the wheat noodle soups my friends like. Now I borrow their recipes and make the same soups with cellophane noodles -- and they're delicious.
Some of my friends have tried my cellophane noodle soups and they agree they're a worthy alternative to wheat noodles -- not to mention the shiny, translucent appearance is more appealing than a blob of white wheaty stuff. At least one of these friends has made cellophane noodle soup for her family since I showed it to her.
Wouldn't it be awesome if somebody made cellophane noodle sin different shapes, like alphabet soup letters? I would buy those for sure, and it might make cellophane noodles more appealing to kids.
I always giggle when I hear bean thread noodles referred to by this name. Cellophane always sounds so funny to say, and between the name and the clear glassy look of the noodles I always expect them to taste like plastic even though I know that they won't. Or to sound all crinkly and...well, like cellophane.
Cellophane noodles do have a distinct sound when you eat them, though -- they kind of squeak a bit. It's like the chewing noodles version of that squeak you hear when you walk on a tile floor with wet rubber-soled shoes on, if that makes any sense. Hard to describe -- try some and you'll see (and hear) what I mean!
@ysmina-- You should give the stir-fry a try when the weather cools down then. I think you will like it!
I just checked the back of my cellophane noodle package and it seems to be mainly a carbohydrate. There is a tiny amount of protein in it, but not really enough to consider it as a protein source. Remember cellophane noodles are made from starch from beans, but starch is a carbohydrate.
I think this is still a very healthy food though. Even if it is a carbohydrate, it has little or no fat in it and has fiber which is good. It also has some vitamins and minerals like thiamine, iron and selenium.
You should also check the back of the package at the store when buying it because different brands are different. For example, I have two different brands at home right now. One says that it has some protein and no fat. The other says that it has no protein and some fat! So I guess it depends.
@fify-- That sounds good! I haven't tried making stir fry with it yet. I think it would be hard to get cellophane noodles (or bean threads as I hear them called a lot) to be mushy soft because they are pretty hard.
I love making a salad with it for hot summer days. I have to soak the cellophane noodles for at least thirty minutes or it's too stiff to eat. Then I throw in whatever I feel like (or whatever I have in my fridge) at the moment. Sometimes it's a vegetarian salad with tofu or some fresh cheese and sometimes I put in salmon, tuna or shrimp for a seafood salad.
Either way, it is very light and fresh. During hot summer days, I lose my appetite and I don't want anything that's very hot. So I make these cellophane noodle salads a lot.
I think you have been cooking with them for a while, do you know what the protein content of cellophane noodles are? Since they are bean based, it should have protein right?
I like to both soak cellophone noodles in boiling water first and then stir fry it with the rest of the ingredients. It doesn't come out too soft and soaks up all of the flavors of the dish. It's delicious, I recommend making it this way. Makes for a nice stir fry along with carrots, cabbage, mushrooms and chicken.
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