There is a new type of noodle taking the world by storm! These bean thread noodles are a gluten-free alternative that is supposedly healthier, more filling, and much more versatile compared to your traditional pasta-based noodles.
But, exactly what are these things? While very few people may have heard about these noodles, they aren’t entirely new to the food world. These are noodles made from mung beans, a type of legume. They are pretty delicate transparent noodles that are most often used in Asian cuisines but are now fusing with more Westernized recipes.
Today we will be looking at all things bean thread noodles, form exactly what they are, how they are made, their unique characteristics, nutritional value, and even some of the most popular preparation methods!
What Are Bean Thread Noodles?
These bean thread noodles have as many names as they have uses!
They are also commonly known as glass noodles, cellophane noodles, mung bean noodles, saifun, harusame, Chinese vermicelli, crystal noodles, or vermicelli noodles—that’s a ton of names!
To make things easier on you though, simply look for noodles that have a very fine texture (fine threads) and have a transparent-looking appearance. They are sold in bundles or coiled-up balls and are most often found in the Asian-food isle.
These noodles are made from plant-based starch, traditionally mung bean starch, hence the name.
There are noodles in other Asian regions that are very similar to these, but instead, they are made using potato starch or tapioca flour.
These noodles are used in primarily Asian (more specifically Southeast Asian) cuisines and are almost a staple in Thai cuisine, Indonesian, Vietnamese cuisine, and in the Philippines.
Most often they are used in savory dishes like stir-fries, hot pots, and a wide variety of soups and broths. They are however also a popular ingredient in sweet dishes. In India, it is used as an ice cream topping.
Just like lasagna sheets are lasagna sheets and spaghetti is spaghetti, bean thread noodles themselves don’t really come in varieties. There are, however, different regional variations that are good to know about.
Bean thread noodles are considered to be a Chinese product. Other Chinese variations of these noodles are called Fentiao or Hongshufen and are made from sweet potato starch instead.
In Korea, they also have a sweet potato starch variety which is called dangmyeon.
These are a sweeter form of bean thread noodles and are most commonly used as part of a stir fry with beef, vegetables, and a sesame oil dressing.
As we have mentioned, very popular variations of these noodles include ones made from potato starch or tapioca flour. These are most common in Japan and Korea and have a noticeably sweeter flavor.
In terms of form, regardless of what plant-based starch was used to produce the noodles, these noodles can be found in flatter strands and even sheets.
These can be prepared in the same ways to thin noodles, but they usually are used for different reasons and in different products.
How They Are Made
Bean thread noodles can be made in two main ways: by using a flour or powder, or by using mung beans.
Mung beans, also known as moong or green gram, form a part of the legume family and are made from sprouting bean heads.
Bean thread noodles are made in a very similar way to regular pasta. A flour or paste (in this case, usually mung bean flour) is combined with water, mixed to form a dough, then shaped into fine noodles.
We prefer noodles that have been made from ground mung beans as they are much higher quality, healthier, and generally have a better taste and texture.
The flours used usually have been processed a ton and won’t produce the desired texture and flavor.
Characteristics Of Bean Thread Noodles
These noodles have a very fine thin noodle-like texture that resembles angel-hair pasta. They are sold in either coiled-up balls or long bunches.
When these noodles are uncooked, they are either semi-translucent or white in color. The color is affected by the type of starch used, the form it was used in (flour or paste), and the quality of that product.
As with most pasta and noodles, in their uncooked form, they are dry and have extremely low moisture, which is why they are cooked in a liquid to rehydrate them.
Once these noodles have been cooked, they soften up and either takes on a very chewy and soft texture, though the texture all depends on how long they have been soaked and cooked.
They also become very translucent which is why they have certain names like glass noodles.
In our opinion, these noodles don’t have much of a flavor—you can definitely taste that they aren’t pasta or rice noodles but it is how you use them that makes them useful and unique.
While these noodles are most known for their long thin appearance, they can also be found in sheets or square cuts.
Mung beans themselves are an extremely good source of vitamins and minerals like folate, manganese, magnesium, vitamin BB1, phosphorus, and iron to name a few. They are also a great source of plant-based protein.
But what about the nutritional value of the noodles? Unfortunately, as with most processed foods and products, the nutritional value drops significantly!
They are still a good source of iron, calcium, phosphorus, and selenium; however, most of the other vitamins and minerals have all but disappeared.
The one very positive quality of bean thread noodles is that they are an excellent source of gluten-free complex carbs!
Bottom line, they aren’t bad but they are also not nutritional. When using them, you can incorporate them with healthier recipes and in that way get the nutrients you desire.
How To Prepare Bean Thread Noodles
We would highly recommend soaking these noodles before cooking them. You can simply cover them in warm water for roughly 10-15 minutes to help them soften up and to reduce the cooking time significantly.
Once they have been soaking for the correct amount of time, you can simply remove them from the water, drain the excess liquid, and use them as per recipe instructions.
Most often these soaked noodles are boiled in a liquid for roughly 3-5 minutes.
Soaking has a ton of benefits including, as we have mentioned, shortening the cooking time, but also allowing the noodles to cook more evenly.
Another very popular way these noodles are prepared is by deep-frying in oil. With this method, you do not have to and should not soak the noodles.
When soaking the noodles they absorb the water and once placed in hot oil, well, we all know what happens when you mix oil and water!
You can simply add the noodles straight into the hot oil which should be roughly 340-360°F. Once fried, they puff up and create a beautiful crispy thread that works great for adding some texture.
A handy trick we wish somebody told us sooner is to cut up or break up your noodles before using them. This makes them much easier to handle as their long thin texture can make knots which will also lead to the noodles cooking unevenly.
Bean Thread Noodles Uses
These bean thread noodles are extremely popular in Asian soups, stews, and stir-fries. They can also be used in hot or cold salads, and in spring rolls and dumplings.
Despite being a plant-based product, these noodles can be used in either meaty dishes or vegetarian and vegan dishes as well.
Some of our favorite soup recipes that use these noodles include a bean thread noodle and prawn soup, a cabbage noodle soup, or Mien Ga (a Vietnamese glass noodle soup).
You can also go for something a bit lighter like a coconut bean thread noodle soup.
If you are looking for some traditional Asian salads, have a look at Yum Woon Sen recipes which is a colorful Thai salad using minced pork (or shrimp), fresh vegetables, and a fish sauce dressing with herbs.
A more summery salad could be something like a Japanese cucumber salad with these bean thread noodles.
And of course, there are hundreds of different stir-fry recipes you can use, even if they don’t call for glass noodles. Simply substitute them with these noodles.
You can simply soak them in hot water for 15 minutes and mix them into the other ingredients.
Bean Thread Noodles Substitutes
There aren’t really good or even close-to-decent substitutes for bean thread noodles. To be honest, they are kind of a one-of-a-kind ingredient!
However, there are some substitutes that will do if you are in a pinch. In recipes that require a thin texture, we would recommend thin rice vermicelli (sometimes labeled as noodles).
They are very similar in appearance and will blend in (texture-wise) almost seamlessly.
Thin rice noodles will work perfectly as a substitute for soups, salads, and even spring rolls or dumplings. You can still pair them with virtually any ingredient and they too don’t have much of a flavor profile on their own.
Then you can look at substitutes like soba noodles, angel hair pasta, and even thin egg noodles. These substitutes will have a much more noticeable texture and flavor difference but again when in a pinch they will do just fine.
These we would rather use in stir-fry or stews, where you can get away with thicker textures and where their flavors will be overwhelmed by the other accompanying ingredients.
One thing we would say you have to keep in mind is that bean thread noodles are gluten-free while some of these substitutes are not.
Bean Thread Noodles Vs Rice Noodles
Bean thread noodles and rice noodles are often confused with one another, especially the fine rice noodle varieties.
What makes it even more confusing is that they are usually sold in the same section in the supermarket and often even on the same shelf!
Bean thread noodles, as you now know, are made from mung bean flour or paste and water, whereas rice noodles are naturally made from rice flour and water.
This is arguably the most obvious difference between the two and directly affects their color, texture, shape, and flavor.
Both these noodles have long and thin shapes like angel hair pasta and are sold in a coiled bundle or large twisted cluster.
When bean thread noodles have been cooked, they become glass-looking because of their transparency. Rice noodles on the other hand definitely do not become as transparent and even almost look like traditional pasta.
In terms of texture and flavor, cooked rice noodles definitely have a fresh rice flavor and a tender texture – very similar to actual rice that isn’t mushy, but not hard.
As we have mentioned, bean thread noodles do not really have a noticeable flavor and their texture varies depending on how they have been prepared and cooked.
When it comes to cooking, both these have to be soaked before cooking and generally take about the same amount of time to soak and cook. This is another reason they make such a good substitute for each other.
When looking at the nutritional value of the two, both contain virtually the same amount of carbohydrates. They are also equally low in sodium and fat, as most noodles are.
Both of these are non-wheat products meaning both are gluten-free!
Now that we’ve gone over everything bean noodle-related, let’s look at a few additional questions on the subject!
Are bean thread noodles gluten-free?
Bean thread noodles are made from mung beans which are classified as legumes.
Gluten comes mostly from wheat-based products and considering the entire legume family doesn’t fall under the wheat category it makes mung beans and mung bean products completely gluten-free.
Are bean thread noodles vegan?
These noodles are definitely entirely vegan and so are their variations (like potato starch, tapioca starch, or sweet potato flour versions). Just make sure that the rest of your ingredients in the recipe are also vegan, not simply vegetarian.
One thing we would like to mention is that today veganism goes beyond just the actual ingredients list on the back of a package.
Many people, when buying vegan, often consider the origin of the products, whether they are grown and harvested and environmentally friendly ways, and even if they have been processed using vegan-friendly methods.
So, if you’re interested in making sure you support ethical brands and want your bean noodles to be 100% vegan, make sure to do a bit of extra research before purchasing!
Are glass noodles harder to digest?
While these noodles have been used as a supposedly zero-calorie substitute for other high-calorie noodles, many have claimed that it does still come with other side effects, one including being difficult for some people to digest.
While there isn’t necessarily scientific evidence to back this up, we always say use your own discretion when it comes to these things.
A ton of people cannot process gluten or lactose, so it is entirely possible for some to be unable to process these.