Exploring Soba: Japan's Beloved Buckwheat Noodles – Bokksu Market

Exploring Soba: Japan's Beloved Buckwheat Noodles

by Bokksu Staff

Soba noodles with dipping sauce

Soba is a noodle dish with two sides. For hot weather, there’s chilled soba served with dipping sauce and when the weather is cold, people can enjoy hot soba cooked in a noodle soup. The duality of soba extends to the components of the noodles, which are made of both buckwheat flour and wheat flour.

Although soba is most associated with Japan, the noodle dish originated in China and was brought to Japan near the end of the Jomon period of 10,000 BC–300 BC. During the Nara period (710–794), the buckwheat flour used to make soba was grown in abundance to fight famine in the region.

Modern soba did not appear until the Edo period (1603–1868), where it started as a low-class food but slowly made its way to the tables of samurai and the elite. Since then, soba has become a staple food in Japanese households and restaurants.

The noodle is also a symbol of long life, prosperity, and stability due to its length and unique characteristics.

In this post, we’ll reveal everything you need to know about serving and enjoying soba noodles. Let’s dive in!

Soba Noodles 101: What Sets Them Apart

Soba noodles, made from buckwheat flour and wheat flour.

Soba are a kind of Japanese noodles made from mostly buckwheat flour with a little wheat flour and served chilled in dipping sauce or hot in soup. Most soba noodles are made of 70% buckwheat flour or more and 30% wheat flour or less. There are versions with 100% buckwheat flour, but those tend to be quite brittle.

Soba has a unique light-to-dark brown color, grainy texture, and nutty or earthy flavor. To make soba, manufacturers slice the dough into thinner sticks of noodles. With a typical width of 1.5 mm, soba has an identical thickness to spaghetti. However, it’s not as thick as udon noodles.

There are different types of soba in Japan today based on either their region of origin or ingredients. Some are flavored with yam, seaweed, or mugwort.

A seasonal version of soba named shin-soba is made with freshly harvested buckwheat and is considered the sweetest and most flavorful kind of soba. Akagi soba is a commercial version made with ingredients grown in Gunma prefecture and is one of the most versatile types on the market. Another popular option is the sesame soba noodles made with toasted sesame oil. 

Akagi Joshu Akagi Soba

These soba noodles are crafted using wheat and buckwheat flour from the Gunma prefecture. Springy and slightly nutty, you can incorporate these buckwheat noodles into any soba recipe:  cold soba, zaru soba, soba noodle soup, yakisoba, sesame soba noodles, and even salads. The noodles are portioned into three bundles for easy meal prep. 

Learn more about soba on the Bokksu Market blog.

Common Allergens: Wheat.

9.52 oz

The packaged soba you see in supermarkets is a dried form of the noodles. However, many Japanese restaurants use the fresh and moist version right off the slicing table.

The Buckwheat Factor: Health Benefits of Soba Noodles

Soba noodles with groats of buckwheat.

Soba can be a healthier noodle choice for most people, thanks to the nutritional value of its most significant component, buckwheat. Let’s take a quick look at what buckwheat has to offer and its potential impact on your health.

Great source of important minerals:

Soba contains a healthy quantity of important minerals, including manganese, potassium, magnesium, zinc, iron, and phosphorus. Manganese, especially, helps with bone formation, healing, and glucose metabolism.

Gluten-free food:

100% buckwheat soba is free of gluten, making it a healthier choice than pasta and regular noodles. Gluten-free soba noodles are also a common alternative for people suffering from gluten sensitivity or celiac disease. 

High in fiber and low in fat:

Most versions of soba, especially organic ones like the Hakubaku Organic Soba Noodles, contain a high amount of natural soluble fiber, which is great for weight management. They also contain a low amount of fat, further aiding weight-loss efforts. Soba’s high fiber content is a great reason for its ability to help control blood sugar levels.

Hakubaku Organic Soba Noodles

Fast, inexpensive, versatile, and nutritious, these buckwheat noodles have it all! About the thickness of spaghetti, these organic soba can be used hot or cold, in salads, soups, stir-fries, and more! Because they’re made with organic buckwheat, expect a darker color in the brown-grey part of the spectrum.

Common Allergens: Wheat.

9.5 oz

Rich in flavonoids:

Soba contains lots of flavonoids, which are plant-based chemical compounds that promote metabolic and cardiovascular health. They also serve as antioxidants and help fight chronic illnesses like cancer.

Udon vs. Soba: Understanding the Differences

Udon noodles and soba noodles.

As a part of the “Big 3” of the Japanese noodle scene, soba has often drawn comparisons to ramen and udon. However, soba and udon are the two noodles that are most similar because they can both be eaten cold or hot. People who don't know the differences may even mistake one for the other.

This section of our post will help you avoid such mistakes by revealing the easily noticeable differences between udon and soba.

  1. Composition: Udon noodle is made from 100% wheat flour, while soba is made from a mixture of buckwheat and wheat flours.

  2. Texture: Udon has a dense and thick texture, while soba is more grainy. Udon also absorbs water more easily than soba.

  3. Flavor: Udon tends to have a neutral flavor that relies on its sauce, broth, and toppings for its taste. However, soba has a signature taste, which is a nutty flavor.

  4. Usage: Udon is more versatile in its usage, finding room in a variety of dishes such as stir-fries, soups, curries, and hot pots. Soba, on the other hand, is more suited for light dishes that don’t overpower its flavor.

  5. Nutrients: Udon is rich in carbs, while soba has a high fiber content.

  6. Thickness: Udon is much thicker than soba, which is considered thin noodles.

Soba Noodles in Popular Culture

Soba has made its way into Japanese popular culture and is an integral part of many festivals and events. The most iconic role of soba noodles occurs every New Year’s Eve in Japan.

Thanks to its long and slim shape, soba symbolizes long life and stability; hence, people eat it at the end of every year, hoping that it brings them prosperity, good health, long life, and good fortunes in the new year.

Several regions in the country also host soba festivals annually. One of the most famous is the Matsumoto Castle Soba Festival, which showcases a wide variety of noodles from different parts of Japan.

The noodle dish has also made famous appearances in popular anime series, including My Hero Academia, where fan favorite Todoroki can’t seem to get enough of the cold noodles.

Traditional Soba Dishes: A Guide to Classic Recipes

In Japan, there are two ways to serve traditional soba dishes. The first method is to serve soba in a hot soup. Hot soba is typically enjoyed fresh from the pot with the help of a pair of chopsticks.

The second method is to serve soba in a cold dipping sauce (tsuyu). The sauce is usually served on the side of the noodles.

The majority of popular traditional soba dishes can be served either hot or cold. However, only one kind of soba (zaru soba) is restricted to a chilled version. We’ll reveal more about these hot and cold soba noodles below. Remember, some of them have different names depending on their regional variety.

Zaru Soba: Enjoying Soba Cold with Dipping Sauce

A serving of zaru soba, served cold.

Zaru soba is the simplest form of chilled soba and is the ideal summer dish. It’s typically served alongside a dipping sauce made of soup stock (dashi), soy sauce, mirin, and water. It may include a garnish of green onion, scallion, or wasabi.

Zaru soba is often called mori soba in modern Japan, although both dishes were distinct in ancient times. These days, you can tell zaru soba from the presence of nori seaweed among its ingredients.

Hot Soba: A Comforting Japanese Noodle Soup

A bowl of tempura soba.

There are several other soba dishes, and while some can only be served hot, others can be served either hot or cold. Most times, people choose to enjoy hot soba during the winter. 

Let’s explore some of these soba noodles and what makes them unique.

  1. Tempura soba (hot or cold): tempura is used as a side dish or topping for the noodles. 

  2. Kitsune soba (hot or cold): topped with a kind of deep-fried tofu called aburaage.

  3. Kake soba (hot): uses a clear broth, which is a low-concentration version of the dipping sauce for cold soba. 

  4. Tsukimi soba (hot): contains a raw egg, which is traditionally used to represent the moon.

  5. Sansai soba (hot): topped with cooked sansai, a type of wild vegetable.

  6. Nanban soba (hot): contains leek vegetables, with chicken or beef.

Serving Suggestions: What to Pair with Soba

Feel free to elevate your soba-eating experience by pairing it with the right toppings, condiments, or side dishes.

For side dishes, consider pairing cold soba with kakiage (vegetable tempura), shiitake mushrooms, zucchini, crispy tofu, teriyaki, gyoza, edamame, miso soup, and Japanese pickles.

Toppings are best suited for hot soba, and they include radishes, bean sprouts, sesame seeds, green onion, and kizami shoga (shredded pickled ginger).

Wel-Pac Kizami Shoga Shredded Pickled Ginger

Enjoy the refreshing juicy flavors of kizami shoga (shredded pickled ginger). A staple for Japanese homes and restaurants, you will love the sharp flavor of this ready-to-eat pickled ginger. It’s great as a topping for rice and savory dishes like beef bowls, Japanese curry, or okonomiyaki.

11.5 oz

If you’re looking for a condiment to add to your soba dish, we highly recommend that you use Otafuku Yakisoba Sauce. This sauce brings a sweet and savory flavor to your soba noodles. Other condiments include sesame oil and tamari.

Otafuku Yakisoba Sauce

Yakisoba, which means "grilled noodles”, is one of the most popular Japanese street and bar foods in Japan. Otafuku is a beloved yakisoba sauce as it has perfected its rich formula of sweet and savory flavor that perfectly coats noodles and vegetables! Many claim that the sauce captures the authentic taste and aroma of cooking over a hot iron plate (which is how it's prepared in restaurants and food stalls!)

Common Allergens: Wheat, Soy.

10.6 oz

Where to Buy Authentic Soba Noodles

A man enjoys a bowl of soba noodles.

You can get authentic soba noodles from specialized restaurants in Japan and other countries, including the United States. The dish is a popular street food that is commonly served at food stalls, izakaya, tourist spots, and train stations. There are several standing restaurants in Japan that require you to buy a ticket from a nearby vending machine and give it to staff at the counter.

If you’d like to make soba dishes yourself, you should visit your nearest Asian grocery store. However, the most convenient way to get authentic soba noodles and other related products is to order them from a reliable online store like Bokksu Market. If you prefer quick preparation, we recommend that you explore our instant versions of soba noodles, such as the Myojo instant yakisoba, which is a stir-fried and sauce-infused frozen product.

Myojo Ippeichan Yomise no Yakisoba (2 servings)

Yakisoba is a popular dish of yomise (night vendors) at summer festivals in Japan. Experience its authentic flavors with Myojo’s Ippeichan, an instant yakisoba beloved in Japan since 1995. The delicious secret? A blend of karashi mustard and Japanese mayo adds a complex spice and tang to the savory salty noodles. Coming to you frozen to preserve freshness - these sauce-infused noodles will make you feel like you’re at yomise too!

Common Allergens: Egg, Fish, Wheat, Soy.

Storage: Store in the freezer at 0°F or lower until ready to use. Then, defrost in the fridge before using.

For more information about our Frozen products and how they ship, please click here to see our FAQ section.

Sale $5.25 Regular $10.49 50% OFF
14.6 oz

Why Soba Noodles Deserve a Place in Your Kitchen

Now that you know the essentials of soba, feel free to explore more traditional and innovative soba dishes and perhaps try making your own soba noodles at home. Soba’s unique taste, abundant health benefits, cultural significance, and undeniable versatility make it a must-have in any kitchen. Don’t forget to check Bokksu Market for different types of soba noodles available and key ingredients used to make the dish at home.

Author Bio

Exploring Soba: Japan's Beloved Buckwheat Noodles


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