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High Protein, Low Carb Legume-Based Noodles’ Popularity Sprouts

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Various non-wheat-based noodles

In the past, trying to eat healthy was not very appealing, and refraining from consuming various foods due to their carbohydrate content was sometimes difficult. Recently, however, noodles made from soybeans, peas and other legumes have become more common.

As standard noodles tend to be high in carbohydrates, legume noodles are gaining attention as an easy way to reduce carbohydrates and increase protein intake. The texture and taste of the noodles are also adding to their popularity.

A 43-year-old company employee in Chiba Prefecture eats noodles made of yellow peas every day to maintain his weight. He puts water and noodles in a heat-resistant container and uses a microwave to boil the noodles. He uses the noodles to make pasta, yakisoba, ramen and various other dishes.

“The noodles are lower in carbohydrates compared to standard noodles, making them great for a low-carb diet,” he said. “The texture is the same, so it goes well with any pasta sauce.”

Mizkan Holdings Co.’s Zenb Noodle hit shelves in September 2020. The noodles are made using the entire pea pod, including the outer skin, and do not include any additives to achieve the noodles’ texture. The chewiness was attained through trial and error by testing different temperatures and amounts of water. The noodles are more expensive at ¥792 per pack, which contains four servings, but about 10 million have already been sold.

The Burn, a restaurant in the Kita-Aoyama district of Minato Ward, Tokyo, uses Zenb Noodle in some of its pasta dishes.

“The noodles themselves taste like peas,” said Chef Saki Kinoshita, 40. “If you boil the noodles for a shorter amount of time than what is written on the packaging, and then add the pasta water and olive oil into the frying pan with the noodles, the sauce will emulsify and become delicious.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A spaghetti dish is seen at The Burn, which uses Zenb Noodle in some of its dishes, in Minato Ward, Tokyo.

Aeon Retail Co. has been selling spaghetti made from chickpeas and brown rice under its brand Topvalu since October 2020. A 100-gram serving of noodles contains 6.2 grams of fiber and 3.2 milligrams of iron. One 240-gram pack costs ¥321.

One of the reasons behind the development of the new legume-based noodles was due to consumers becoming more health conscious. The high fiber content of various beans and peas is thought to lower the risk of developing certain diseases. Legumes are also high in protein and low in carbohydrates, making them ideal for those trying to lose weight.

Until recently, the taste and texture of alternative noodle products have been below par.

Demand for different types of noodles also increased during the pandemic as more people cooked at home and made various noodles dishes, which do not require a lot of time.

In August 2022, Kikkoman Corp. launched soybean-based noodles, which are 50% wheat flour and 50% soybean flour. One serving contains the same amount of protein as 100 grams of chicken breast, and one pack includes sauce to make different types of pasta, such as Bolognese.

Tokyo-based Yu Shoku Inc. launched a new line of noodles made using dried tofu in April 2020. The noodles are made using only soybeans and bittern — a salty substance, called nigari in Japanese, that is also used in making tofu. The noodles are a a favorite among athletes, and the company has sold more than 100,000 servings a year.

“Japan has lagged behind other countries when it comes to making non-wheat-based noodles, but now, Japan has also developed delicious noodle products,” said Nodoka Itsuki, a bean cuisine specialist. “As legumes are good for the body, demand for them is high. If new products and recipes are developed, these alternatives will become established as a new type of noodle.”