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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Asian Noodles to Tickle Taste Buds

SINGAPORE -- Forget Italian pasta. The humble Asian instant noodle is set to take over the world.

Asians take pride in more than 100 varieties of noodle, all different in taste, shape and texture, and many of them eat noodles, in soup or lightly fried, three times a day.

Now, the United States is sponsoring research to bridge the gap between its wheat farmers and Asian consumers.

"Asia is the growth market. More than 50 percent of wheat consumption in this region comes from noodles," Loo Kai Soon of the U.S. Wheat Associate said at the Asian Noodle Technology Development Center.

"Asian noodles are changing the world. It's convenient food, cheap and nutritious. The best thing is that you can keep it long. Instant noodles will be the world national dish in future," he said.

Under Guoquan Hou, Asian products scientist at the U.S. Wheat Marketing Center, nine experts from Southeast Asia ran a study this month to identify the best wheat for Asian tastes.

"Though U.S. wheat is strong in bread, we have a long way to go in noodles," said the official, who has traveled the world over the past 15 years studying noodles.

Of total U.S. wheat exports of 28.6 million tons expected this year, Asia accounts for a mere 10.4 million tons, including 50,000 tons to China.

But Hou said the United States hopes to win the hearts of Asia's noodle lovers, even as more and more countries around the world - Russia among them - discover the delights and convenience of the Asian noodle.

"We learned much from Asia and we're introducing Asian noodles in other places," he said. "Latin America, like Mexico, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Brazil and Puerto Rico, and Africa are also getting into Asia noodles. The market is growing popular."

Asian countries have mostly opted for Australian wheat for their noodles because of its quality. "Japanese Udon noodle is made exclusively from Australian wheat, blended with some domestic wheat," said Hou. "They (Australians) understand quality requirements."

Hou said little has been known or written about the art of noodles in Asia, though the world's first noodles were produced during the Han Dynasty in China some 2,000 years ago. Italian pasta, made from durum wheat, was created after Marco Polo took home Chinese noodles from his trip to Asia in the 13th or 14th century, Hou said.

During a one-week noodle research project this month, experts from Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines studied different types of U.S. wheat for the right noodle color, texture and bite.

But the search for the perfect noodle is not easy. As well as numerous varieties, preferences differ in each country even for the same type of noodle.

"The Philippines like very chewy noodles, while Taiwanese like a fatty taste," said Samina Boukerchi from France, who has just completed a study on instant noodles in eight Asian countries.

Singapore Polytechnic's Noodle Center, partly funded by U.S. Wheat Associates, houses state-of-the-art noodle manufacturing machines and computers that measure dough colors and even check texture with a bite simulator.

While there is no wheat production in Southeast Asia due to the climate, consumption has grown among the traditional rice-eating countries during the recent economic slump.

"It's cheap and convenient," said Nasrudin Supratman from Indonesia. "People take instant noodle to work for lunch. It's easier and you don't have to spend money in restaurants."

Indonesia is now the world's biggest manufacturer and consumer of instant noodles, the fast food invented in Japan in the 1950s. The Indonesian government has even promoted noodles in an effort to achieve self-sufficiency in rice.

Some say noodles are more nutritious than rice because wheat contains protein, minerals and vitamins, which rice lacks.