Like wheat noodles, rice noodles are a great choice for people who like gluten-free, tender, chewy, and satisfyingly saucy noodles!
What are rice noodles? Rice noodles are made by grinding rice into a wet slurry which is then dried, processed, and shaped into noodles. These noodles are noticeably chewier and may include additional ingredients that enhance their flavor, texture, and mouthfeel too.
Read below to learn more about rice noodles, how they are made, how they are used, and a great way to make rice noodles at home!
Rice Vs. Wheat Noodles
In the world of pasta, wheat products reign supreme—especially when it comes to noodles!
Wheat noodles have been the de facto choice for many noodle lovers all around the world but thanks to the growing popularity of alternatives, rice noodles have garnered a lot of attention as well.
In fact, in some parts of the world, especially in Thailand, rice noodles are equally, if not more, popular!
Made exclusively with rice and a few optional additives, rice noodles are generally considered to be texturally better than wheat noodles because they provide a better mouthfeel and are considerably better at soaking up and covering sauces.
Rice noodles can also be lighter and offer a way better alternative to gluten-laden pasta products—you know, like every wheat pasta ever made!
When comparing the texture of both types of noodles, the wheat noodle has more structure; however, it can also be a bit “heavier” to digest.
Meanwhile, rice noodles are a bit delicate but are generally considered to be “lighter” on the stomach.
Another noteworthy point is that rice noodles are inferior to wheat noodles when it comes to nutrition.
On average, a cup of wheat noodles will be healthier in terms of macro and micronutrients than rice noodles. But that doesn’t mean that rice noodles are unhealthy! They are just less nutritionally dense.
This is why some manufacturers may add additional ingredients to make rice noodles a bit more nutritionally friendly.
But how are rice noodles made in the first place?
What Are Rice Noodles Made Of?
As the name suggests, rice noodles are made using rice but they require a bit more work and processing to achieve their noodle form.
Unlike wheat noodles, where the dough is first kneaded and then pressed and cut into noodle shapes, rice noodles need to transform from a solid to a liquid, to a semi-solid, and then back to a solid! That’s quite the rollercoaster ride!
But it isn’t that complicated and you can even make rice noodles at home (more on this below).
Let’s take a look at how rice noodles are commercially made.
The first step in making rice noodles is to prepare the rice. Typically, any type of rice can be used to make rice noodles but the most popular variety is fragrant jasmine rice.
Thailand is famous for producing many types of rice noodles and since they cultivate jasmine rice in spades, you will find several varieties of extremely high-quality rice noodles all across the country!
At the factory, the rice sacks are divided by type. Noodles can be made from either brown or white rice and each type is soaked and processed individually.
Once the rice is washed and soaked, the grains enter into a large machine that presses and grinds the rice until they become sort of like a rice smoothie!
The slurry is then filtered using a very fine mesh filter that separates the impurities and leaves behind only pure, starchy rice paste.
The paste is then further mixed with the required ingredients or additives to enhance the overall texture and flavor of the noodles.
For example, tapioca starch or cornstarch may be added to improve the texture and transparency of the noodles.
When the final mixture has been mixed and homogenized, the contents are then transported into a presser using conveyor belts.
The paste is pressed and then steamed which binds the thin layer of rice, turning it into a single sheet of processed rice!
From there, the rice sheet is cut up into strands or noodles which are then weighed, packaged, and shipped to restaurants or shops!
Types Of Rice Noodles
Rice noodles come in many varieties, here are some popular types:
- Pad Thai Noodles
- Sen Mee
- Sen Lek
- Sen Yai
These four make up the majority of the rice noodle market in Thailand, and elsewhere in the world too! We’ll go over each to understand how they are used and how they compare.
Pad Thai Noodles
This is the OG of rice noodles and is also an excellent way for you to get acquainted with Thai cuisine as well!
Pad Thai noodles are flat rice noodles that have just the right width when compared to other types of flat noodles, especially Sen Yai.
These noodles are mixed with bean sprouts, spices, herbs, and lots of protein and are served all around the world!
If you do want to try rice noodles, then we highly recommend that you start here!
These are probably the thinnest and smallest rice noodles on the market. These noodles are very tender, and delicate and can be made fresh or bought from the store as well.
Sen Mee noodles can be used in a range of popular noodle dishes and can easily replace wheat noodles in some recipes too.
Of course, their texture and mouthfeel are completely different, even compared to other rice noodle varieties because of their thickness, but Sen Mee stands as the best choice for people who are looking for a new comfort-food dish!
Sen Lek is known as the best rice noodle type as it offers a chewier texture than Sen Mee and is best compared to wheat noodles.
Sen Lek comes in many sub-varieties but almost all of them have a medium-thickness and a chewy texture with varying degrees of tenderness.
These noodles are commonly found and used by street vendors and restaurants. Due to their exceptional mouthfeel and texture, these noodles are seen as a direct replacement for gluten-laden wheat noodles.
Sen Lek goes great in stir-fries and salads and can also be eaten with simple broth-based sauces. They are also commonly found in any delicious bowl of Pho!
These are wider rice noodles that have a flatter shape and more surface area than any other type of rice noodle. Sen Yai is commonly used in soups and is similarly great in stir-frys too.
They have a velvety texture and offer more or less the same chewiness, similar to Sen Lek. These noodles can be prepared in several ways and go well with almost any type of protein.
If you are looking for a noodle with a bite, then this is surely the type to go with!
Homemade Rice Noodles
Rice noodles are incredibly easy to make at home. All they require is a bit of effort!
We highly recommend that you get your family in on this project since making large batches of noodles is usually better with some company. We guarantee that you and your family will love this DIY project!
- 1 cup rice flour
- ½ cup tapioca starch
- 1 ½ cup water
- 1/3 cup oil
- Start by sifting and mixing 1 cup rice flour and ½ cup tapioca starch.
- Slowly pour in just a bit of water, then mix the flour. Continue slowly adding more water while mixing until you start to get a thick pancake-like flour batter. Finish up by adding the remaining water the same way and then set the mixture aside.
- Preheat a large steamer or create a makeshift double boiler.
- Grease a rounded or rectangular pan or pizza pan using the vegetable oil and pour in the mixture to form a thin layer of rice slurry.
- Put the pan with the thin layer of slurry over the steamer and cover with a lid. Cook for about 4-5 minutes. Make sure that there is ample steam coming off from the pot. The rice sheet will only cook when it is heated from all sides!
- When cooked, the rice sheet will become transparent and slightly gelatinous. This indicates that the rice slurry has been cooked and is ready to be taken out. Place the rice sheet off the heat and allow it to cool down for about 3-5 minutes.
- Apply a bit of oil over the rice sheet using a brush and then gently lift one side of the sheet using a spatula. Slowly pull the side until the entire sheet is off the pan. Repeat the same steps for the remaining batter or until you have enough rice sheets to make your desired serving of noodles.
- Stack the sheets over each other. Align the sheets and using a knife, cut equal-width strips to form noodles.
- Separate the noodles by hand and then let them sit for about 3-4 minutes. Once done, you can use the noodles any way you like!
Cooking Methods For Rice Noodles
Store-bought rice noodles are cooked a bit differently than other types of noodles, especially wheat noodles.
Where wheat noodles take around 7-10 minutes, rice noodles only require a fraction of that time to cook!
Some rice noodle varieties only need to be hydrated in warm water while others may require some boiling. Even with thicker rice noodles, the cooking time varies from 2-3 minutes. Some noodles can even be cooked within 5-10 seconds too!
Rice noodles can either be boiled, steamed, or even heated in the microwave. A great indication of when rice noodles have been cooked is when they become tender, fully hydrated, and perfectly chewy.
Oversoaking or cooking rice noodles will result in them becoming overly mushy! Be careful not to spend more than the intended cooking time while using any cooking method.
As mentioned above, homemade noodles are precooked so you can directly use them in stir-frys or other types of recipes.
While every manufacturer produces rice noodles differently, you can follow the cooking instructions mentioned on the package to cook the best rice noodles possible!
Storing Rice Noodles
Storing rice noodles is very easy. If you are working with cooked and leftover rice noodles, then the best way to store them would be to shift the noodles and all additional ingredients into an airtight container.
Store the noodles at 40°F for about 2-3 days. Consume them within 24 hours for the best flavor and texture.
Dried rice noodles can survive even at room temperatures! Remember, always check the back of the packaging for more storage information.
Store dry noodles in a cool, dry place. We recommend storing them in an airtight container to prevent the growth of bacteria and to keep pests away. Rice noodles can also be frozen but we highly recommend that you store the noodles dry.
Wet noodles may develop freezer burn which will greatly affect their quality and texture.
The best way to freeze rice noodles is to first dry them using a paper towel and then shift the noodles into an airtight container. Store the noodles at 0F for no more than 2-3 months.
You may also freeze leftover noodles the same way but for the best flavor and experience, please try the fridge storage method first.
Rice noodles are extremely versatile and make for an excellent substitute for wheat or any other type of noodle!
Now that you know all about rice noodles and how they are made, here are some great related questions:
Can cooked rice noodles be stored for the long term?
Any type of dry rice noodle can be stored in a cool and dry place for up to several months.
A great way to extend the shelf life of homemade noodles is to dehydrate them using a typical dehydrator. Once fully dry, the noodles may be stored in an airtight container for up to a week.
If you don’t have a dehydrator but are looking for one, we’d definitely recommend this one!
What do plain rice noodles taste like?
The inherent flavor of rice noodles is often not discussed because they are generally used with several other ingredients where they soak up multiple different flavors.
However, if you were to taste just the rice noodles without the sauces, then you would only get a slight rice-like flavor from them.
Please keep in mind that these noodles are made from highly processed rice flour that is devoid of its original flavor so, at most, you will get either a bland or a slightly earthy and starchy flavor from the noodles.
Can rice noodles replace pasta in any dish?
This depends on why you would want to replace the pasta in the first place. For example, if you want to use rice noodles because of their gluten-free quality, then you can easily use them for any type of pasta dish.
However, in some cases, using pasta instead of rice noodles would make more sense, like in the case of lasagna.
If you’d like a visual demonstration on how to make rice noodles, here’s a great video on the subject!
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